Self-Archive Unto Others As Ye Would Have Them Self-Archive Unto You

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sun, 12 Jan 2003 13:07:37 +0000

    Self-Archive Unto Others as Ye Would Have them Self-Archive Unto You

                        Stevan Harnad

        Self-Archiving, Open Access, and the Research Impact Cycle

Scholars and scientists do research, to create new knowledge that can
then be applied to improve people's lives. They are paid to do research,
but not to report their research. That they do for free, because it is
not royalty-revenue from their research papers but their "research
impact" that pays their salaries, funds their further research, gets
them prizes, etc.

"Research impact" means how much of a contribution your research makes
to further research: Do other researchers read, use, cite, and apply
your findings? The more they do, the higher your research impact. One
way to measure this is by how many researchers use and cite your work
in their own research papers.

Well, it should be obvious that since research papers are rather like
advertisements -- they bring rewards the more they are read and used --
and since the researcher gives them away, then any barriers that deny
the access of potential users to this give-away research are a bad
thing, for research, researchers, and the society that funds research
and benefits from its findings.

Yet barriers do deny access to research papers. Tolls (in the form
of journal subscription/license fees) must be paid by researchers'
universities for access to the journals in which the research is
published, otherwise access is blocked. Yet the authors don't seek or
get the revenue from those tolls: They would much prefer if there were
no tolls at all, so that all potential users could access and use their
research, and thereby maximize its impact.

In the old days of on-paper publication, access-tolls were unavoidable,
because of the real and sizeable costs of printing and distributing the
paper. But today, in the online age, that can all be done for almost
nothing, on the Web. Yet access-tolls are still being charged. Why?

It's nobody's fault. Research journal publishers are still stuck in
the old system. Every journal now has both an on-paper edition and an
on-line edition, and those who can afford it are paying high tolls for
access to one or both. Besides, most other kinds of authors are not like
researchers: they want to be paid royalties out of the sales of their
writing, so the toll access suits them just fine.

So what are researchers -- who want only research impact -- to do?
The toll-booths deny access to all those potential users worldwide whose
universities can't afford to pay them -- and journals are so expensive
that most universities can't afford most journals (there are 20,000
research journals in all). Lost access means lost impact: lost research
productivity, progress, applications, benefits.

Yet if the publishers cannot or will not make their research accessible
for free on the Web, why can't the researchers do it for themselves?
They all have web sites. And their research papers are all in electronic
form. Why don't they just put them all up on the web for free?

That is what the self-archiving movement is doing: Self-archiving -- -- is one of the two open-access
strategies of the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) -- -- a growing international body of
researchers across all fields, funded by the financier George Soros, and
dedicated to making the entire research literature openly accessible to
everyone online. To self-archive it is to deposit it in the researcher's
own university "Eprint Archive" -- -- (eprints
are electronic versions of research articles). The other BOAI strategy -- -- is to create
new open-access journals, in place of the toll-access ones. But 20,000
journals is a large number to replace, so self-archiving will probably
need to come first.

By self-archiving their papers in their own university's Eprint Archive,
researchers not only make them openly accessible to all potential users
worldwide (which is their only real goal in doing so), but they also
create competition with the toll-access version sold by the journals in
which the research appears. No one knows what effect that competition
will have: The open-access version and the toll-access versions might
continue to co-exist indefinitely, with those whose universities can
afford the toll-access version using that, but those who cannot, using
the open-access version -- or the open-access version may shrink the
demand for the toll-access version, so the journals have to downsize
and cut their costs.

How much can journals downsize? They can jettison the paper edition;
they can even jettison the on-line edition, leaving the archiving and
distribution entirely to the university Eprint Archives. But there is one
essential function that they will always have to perform, and that is
called "peer review": Peers are qualified experts who evaluate research
before it is published, to check errors, recommend revisions and advise
the editor whether it meets the standards for publication. The surprise
is that the peers, like the authors, do what they do for free too! So the
only real expense is administering the peer review, and this is what the
journals have to keep on doing, because researchers cannot peer-review
and certify their own work; quality-control always has to be outsourced
to a reputable, neutral third party (between the researcher and the

The good news is that the cost of administering peer review is much less
per article than what is being paid in tolls by all the universities
that can afford to subscribe to the journal it appears in: Peer review
costs less than a third of what is being paid in tolls today for the
restricted access -- reserved only for those who can afford the tolls --
that is in turn blocking research impact.

Yet the solution is also clear: If and when the subscribing universities
are no longer spending all that money they spent annually on tolls for
access to the research output of other universities, they will easily be
able to pay publishers the peer-review costs for their own research output
out of only a third of their annual windfall toll-savings. That way, the
essential costs get paid and the research is all openly accessible. And
all it needs to make it happen is reciprocal self-archiving by
universities, according to the Golden Rule: "Self-archive unto others
as ye would have them self-archive unto you."

        Self-Archiving, Open Access, and the Research Impact Cycle


Harnad, S. (2001) Research access, impact and assessment. Times Higher
Education Supplement 1487: p. 16.

Hitchcock, S., A. Woukeu, T. Brody, L. Carr, W. Hall, & S. Harnad
(2003) Evaluating Citebase, an open access Web-based citation-ranked search and
impact discovery service

Lawrence, S. (2001a) Online or Invisible? Nature 411 (6837): 521.

Lawrence, S. (2001b) Free online availability substantially increases a
paper's impact. Nature Web Debates.


NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing open
access to the peer-reviewed research literature online is available at
the American Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00 & 01 & 02):

Discussion can be posted to:

See also the Budapest Open Access Initiative:

the Free Online Scholarship Movement:

the OAI site:

and the free OAI institutional archiving software site:
Received on Sun Jan 12 2003 - 13:07:37 GMT

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