Re: Open Letter to Philip Campbell, Editor, Nature (Jan 13)

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Wed, 19 Feb 2003 19:22:49 +0000 (GMT)

> Date: Mon, 13 Jan 2003 11:04:00 -0000
> From: Philip Campbell <>
> Subject: Re: Open Letter to Philip Campbell, Editor, Nature
> Stevan - I am just back from travel abroad. Either I or a publishing
> colleague will get back to you before long. Phil
> Date: Fri, 31 Jan 2003 10:39:25 -0000
> From: Marks Jayne <>
> Cc: <>, <>
> Steve, This is proving to be a much more complex issue than we had first
> thought and some new perspectives on this were raised at a meeting that
> some of my colleagues attended on Wednesday. I would therefore like to
> take some more time to think through our options rather than jumping to
> a quick conclusion either way on this issue. I am sorry that you have
> had to wait so long for our reply but I want to make sure that this
> is considered. I will get back to you as soon as I possibly can. Jayne

Dear Jayne & Phil,

I wonder if there has been any progress in formulating a clear answer to
the question I raised in my Open Letter. (Thousands of very interested
researchers on a number of Lists and Forums are eagerly waiting for the
other shoe to drop!)

Note that there is no problem whatsoever with Nature's License Policy
itself. It clearly states that the author may self-archive his paper on
his own institutional website, and that is fine:

  [From Nature License]
  The Authors retain the following non-exclusive rights:

  To post a copy of the Contribution on the Authors' own web site after
  publication of the printed edition of the Journal, provided that they
  also give a hyperlink from the Contribution to the Journal's web site.

The Nature FAQ adds the following, likewise conistent with the above:

  [From Nature License FAQ]
  The licence says I may post the PDF on my "own" web site. What does
  "own" mean?

  It means a personal site, or portion of a site, either
  owned by you or at your institution (provided this
  institution is not-for-profit), devoted to you and your

The problem is that in other places there are further stipulations that
are put on what an institutional website is that are unfortunately
completely meaningless, rather like saying you may self-archive with
your left hand, but not with your non-right hand.

It is an incoherence of that order that I am asking you to clear up in
language that will not confuse or discourage an author simply by
repeating the same untenable distinctions.

I, as an author, find the current Nature License wording perfectly
adequate. It is for the would-be self-archiving author who is confused
or uncertain about what it means that it is important for Nature to
be clear rather than otherwise.

To see the institutional website at Southampton University
for my publications, please see:
To see all the papers in my sector, go to (se the first link:
the second one is long!):

My suspicion is that it is Nature's own legal advisers who have
formulated the untenable distinctions out of an incomplete understanding of
the nature of the Web. I don't think there is any choice but to clarify
these, and state unambiguously that a website at the author's
institution means just that: a website at the author's institution.
There is no way to make a website (anywhere) "non-open." What is archived
on the website is searchable by and accessible to everyone and anyone on
the web. That is the nature of the web. Moreover, the metadata (author,
title, date, journalname) are harvestable by any harvester (like google)
to help point searchers to the website. That all comes with the
territory whenever a paper is publicly self-archived on the web.

Note that Nature is far from alone by now. About half the journals published
today already formally support self-archiving of the preprint, the
postprint, or both, and the proportion is growing as the momentum for
self-archiving itself grows. It was commendable and progressive of Nature
to be among the first publishers to support this growing movement, which
is so clearly in the best interests of research and researchers. It
would be very disappointing indeed to hear that Nature had now decided
to withdraw that policy.

As I wrote earlier, it is undeniable that self-archiving does pose some
non-zero risk to the current model for refereed-journal publishing. But
that risk comes with the new territory -- the Web -- which cannot be
withdrawn. The risk to established journals that is posed by
self-archiving is not nearly as great, however, as the risk assumed by
the brave new open-access journals such as BioMed Central. Moreover,
I think it is still smaller than the risk that would be invited by going
into overt opposition to self-archiving, which would be to put what is
clearly in the best interests of protecting journals' current revenue
streams and business models above what is clearly in the best interests
of research, researchers, and the society that funds and benefits from

Below is the summary of an invited talk I will shortly be giving in Amsterdam
at the STM Publishers' meeting on this very topic.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes,


Abstract of invited talk to be given on Thursday May 15 in Amsterdam
at the STM Conference "Universal Access: By Evolution or Revolution?".

    Open Access by Peaceful Evolution
    Stevan Harnad

The open access movement was originally inspired by research-author and
research-user frustration with the continuing loss of research impact
because of access-blockage by unaffordable tolls in a new era when
all peer-reviewed research output is so clearly within universal reach
thanks to the Internet. The movement's efforts and motivation were at
first led by the library community and directed against the publisher
community. The motivation was right, but the target was wrong, and indeed
unfair, and little progress was made. (Prices would probably have come
down anyway, with global licensing developments.) The research community
has since realized that its real target should have been *itself* all
along: Only now are researchers and their institutions grasping
that the way to maximize their research impact is to self-archive their
own peer-reviewed research output in their own institutional open-access
Eprint Archives. The toll-access and open-access versions will co-exist
and co-evolve, possibly indefinitely, or they may converge on a new
system, whereby the publisher is paid for the peer review and any
other essential added value as a service-cost on each institution's
own *outgoing* research, instead of an access-cost on the *incoming*
research from all other institutions.
The Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) is promoting both
self-archiving (BOAI-1) and open-access journal publishing (BOAI-2), and
SPARC is promoting business models for both. The only thing publishers
must avoid at all costs is to appear to be trying to deliberately
block the evolution of self-archiving through restrictive copyright
policies! That would would be very bad public relations with the research
community, creating and highlighting a dramatic conflict between what
is obviously in the best interests of research and researchers, their
institutions and funders, and the society benefitting from the research,
on the one hand, versus what is in the best interests of journal
publishers' current revenue streams and business models on the other
-- a conflict of interest that could indeed precipitate a revolution,
now that necessity is so obviously no longer a justification, as it was
in paper days! Far better to allow evolution to take its natural course
peacefully, and adapt to it accordingly.

Stevan Harnad
Received on Wed Feb 19 2003 - 19:22:49 GMT

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