Re: Bethesda statement on open access publishing

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 8 Jul 2003 23:59:07 +0100

On Tue, 8 Jul 2003, Jeff Weber wrote:

> Open Access Publishing removes the protection of copyright law from
> publishing efforts.

This is incorrect. Open Access Publishing allows the author to retain
the copyright, and with it the full protection that copyright is accorded
by law. For the open-access author, the only protection required is
protection from plagiarism (i.e., from someone else passing off the
text has having been written by him) or corruption (i.e., from someone
passing off an altered text in place of the original one). Copyright law
is what protects authors from this, and violations can be pursued in the
courts if authors wish. Publishers are mainly interested less in protection
from text plagiarism or text corruption, than in protection from text
piracy, i.e., theft of the text itself (taking it without paying for
it). But this is precisely the copyright protection that the open-access
author does *not* seek!

> By offering free and open dissemination of research
> results, it invites alteration of conclusions, misinterpretation of
> research methods and scope, and misleading condensation of the original
> work.

How does it invite this any more than *publishing* the paper invites
it! Open access simply makes the publication accessible to more users.

> Moreover, it eliminates many existing systems for commentary on
> published works (such as published letter forums), which often are
> necessary for refinement of conclusions and setting the direction of
> subsequent research.

How so? Can't open-access journals publish comments and letters too?

> Finally, giving the public the right to reproduce at
> will would surely result in widespread author attribution errors, which
> could be misleading at best and reputation-damaging at worst.

Making a publication openly accessible merely increases its
accessibility. If the objective is to make misattribution impossible,
not publishing it at all is the only solution!

> The emphasis on immediate access to research findings, would create
> pressure to speed peer review (or at least to perform it less carefully),
> which could make it difficult to distinguish between flawed research and
> groundbreaking discovery.

How? Why? Peer review itself is not altered at all in open-access
journals; only access to the post-peer-review article is.

> It would also make plagiarism harder to detect.

Harder? Wouldn't a publicly accessible digital draft rather make
plagiarism much *easier* to detect?

> In other words, as the original publisher fades into obscurity
> through unrestricted duplication, a situation develops where no one is
> responsible for quality and accuracy.

Authorship and text integrity are protected by copyright law, not by the
publisher. Nor does the open-access publisher fade into obscurity. It is
just that open-access publications are openly accessible to all would-be
users, and not only those who can afford to pay access-tolls.

> There is an essential flaw in your assertion that research should be judged
> on its intrinsic merit rather than the title of the journal publishing
> it. Journal reputations, developed over many years, say much about how
> seriously the scientific community should view published research. Would
> you make no distinction between research papers published in JAMA and The
> Stargazer's Folk Medicine Monthly?

The very same journal-quality distinctions and track-records
distinguish open-access journals as toll-access journals.

> The proposal removes a significant revenue source for many publishers,
> particularly those that rely on subscription profits, reprint revenues, and
> book sales of compiled research on specific topics.


> Since it would no
> longer be protected, intellectual property contributing to this revenue
> stream would be essentially valueless as a publishing commodity.

Translation: open-access publication will not be recovering its
peer-review costs from access-tolls but in other ways (q.v.).

> This certainly could result in an end to traditional, formal research
> publication, and ultimately in less research being conducted.

Not at all. It would mean the transition from toll-access to open-access
publication and an increase in the access to and impact (and perhaps
also quantity) of research conducted.

> I hope you will consider these comments constructively, as they are
> intended. Please keep in mind that, if you get too loose with the rules,
> you'll soon be unable to separate valuable information from nonsense. If
> you doubt this, visit any broad Internet search engine and look at that
> garbage that pops up on your screen.

The open-access journals are to be peer-reviewed, exactly as the
toll-access ones are.

Stevan Harnad

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 & 03):

Discussion can be posted to:
Received on Tue Jul 08 2003 - 23:59:07 BST

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