Re: Open Letter to Philip Campbell, Editor, Nature

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sun, 13 Jul 2003 18:13:53 +0100

In view of the long delay, with still no fficial reply, I have
decided to post the following exchange from February 2003.

Date: Thu, 27 Feb 2003 13:11:00 +0000 (GMT)
From: Stevan Harnad
To: Jayne Marks [Nature]
Cc: Philip Campbell [Nature]
Subject: Re: Open Letter to Philip Campbell, Editor, Nature (Jan 13)

On Thu, 27 Feb 2003, Jayne Marks wrote:

> Stevan
> Thanks for being so patient on this issue. We have had extensive
> discussions internally and have been looking into the issues in a lot of
> depth. For the time being we would like our statements on our author
> licence to stand as they are but we would be very keen to discuss some of
> these issues with you so that we can be better informed and so that we can
> discuss some of our concerns which may be unfounded. For example the latest
> report from the RSLG makes interesting reading and it is clear that at least
> some interest groups intend to use institutional repositories not just to
> increase access but also to bypass publishers altogether, or have I
> misinterpreted?


Based on the often contradictory and incoherent plans that are being
voiced about institutional repositories these days -- particularly the talk
about bypassing publishers -- I can entirely understand your hesitation!
(It is not you who have misinterpreted, but some of the repository
enthusiasts who have misconstrued and misrepresented, because they have
not thought it through carefully themselves.)

Fortunately, it can all be clarified (some of it in this message, some
in an eventual meeting as you suggest below), and I think the picture
that emerges will be to your satisfaction.

    (1) Please bear in mind that the idea of institutional repositories
    is very new, so although there is a lot of talk these days about
    the *software* for creating these archives, there has been far
    less talk (and even less thought) about what sort of *content*
    these repositories should house, and why, and how.

    (2) Despite the lack of forethought (and often also a surprising lack
    of information), universities have pushed ahead with the momentum for
    institutional repositories (because they are basically a very good
    thing). I think I know quite well by now what the five main notions
    are that are churning around in administrators' and librarians'
    minds in this connection, and not all of them makes sense, nor are
    they all compatible, or even desirable:

        (2a) Preservation of Digital Content: This is the most general,
        hence the vaguest mandate of all. (What *kinds* of digital
        content? Whose? Why?)

        (2b) Publication, Alternative Publication, and Alternatives to
        Publication: This is in some ways the wackiest notion of all,
        and a microcosm of the incoherence I spoke of. Universities
        have the simultaneous desire to (i) become online publishers
        themselves (if there is money to be made that way), (ii) they
        want to provide alternative "forms" of publication (alternative
        forms of peer review, for example -- invariably untested and
        speculative, if not contentious ones), and (iii) they want to
        provide means of making some of their own output public in forms
        other than formal publication.

        (2c) Remedying the Serials Crisis: The serials crisis is real,
        but the notion that since it is our institution that generates
        our published content, we should not need to buy it back
        from publishers is incoherent (since universities are mostly
        buying in *other* universities' published content, not their
        own). Self-archiving our *own* refereed journal publications
        does make sense, but in and of itself it has nothing to do with
        the buy-in problem.

        (2d) Courseware: There is also the sense that these repositories
        could house the university's growing online courseware content,
        either to make it open-access or to cash in on it (e.g., through
        toll-access distance-education revenue).

        (2e) Maximizing the Research Impact of Institutional Research
        Output by Making it Open-Access (pre- and post peer review
        and publication). This is really the only coherent, focused,
        motivated agenda so far for Institutional Repositories. The
        rest is just a hodge-podge.

The last one (2e) is the only institutional repository agenda that is
pertinent to the point I am asking Nature to clarify. It is irrelevant
that some universities have silly, pie-eyed notions of becoming online
publishers at the moment: The published papers in the institutional Eprint
Archives for their own refereed research output are *by definition*
published by someone else and have nothing whatsoever to do with the
institution's inchoate yearning to become an online publisher! Each paper
in question is published by whichever of the 20,000 peer-reviewed journals
it appeared in. The only content in a university's Eprint Archive is its
*own* research output. This neither constitutes a university publication
(merely a means of providing open-access to its published output) nor
does it repackage the contents of a publisher's journal: Any University
Eprint Archive holds only its own vanishingly small contribution to the
contents of any of the 20,000 journals.

> So I would like to invite you to visit our offices in London. We thought
> perhaps a round table discussion, perhaps over lunch, with some of my
> colleagues would be interesting and helpful. Do you let me know if you
> would like to come and I will ask my PA to try to arrange a date fairly
> soon.

I am in Montreal now, and will be in the UK May 26-28 (Southampton)
and will be in London for a Royal Society Working Party on Peer Review
on one of those days (not yet fixed).

But Jayne, I cannot leave the Open Letter unanswered all this time as it
would do damage both to the cause of self-archiving and to the image of
Nature as an honest broker. I would accordingly like to say the
following, by way of a provisional "progress report" on the reply to my
Open Letter:

The current wording of the Nature License is the following:

  [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

These words themselves are adequate, and they cover the self-archiving
right fully. Nature stands by these words, but they would like a little
more time to reflect on the words they use to clarify them. The request
for clarification in my Open Letter did not concern these passages
directly, but other words used in Nature's FAQ and in the Permissions
Department's contradictory replies to more detailed queries about what
"counts" as "own Website." Some arbitrary and even incoherent information
had been given by Nature on this. In particular, it was implied that
the website could not be "open." As this is meaningless (because every
website is open), clarification was requested so that this stipulation
does not inadvertently discourage self-archiving. Confirmation is needed
also that which sector of the university disk is used, and which meta-data
tagging protocol is used likewise have nothing whatsoever to do with
what counts as "own Website."

On the other hand, it is entirely reasonable that Nature should want to
make sure that the language for the self-archiving right is not used as
a basis for legalizing the re-packaging and re-publication of Nature's
contents by a rival publisher. Whereas it is clear that the author,
self-archiving his own work only, is not a rival publisher, Nature
also wants assurances that Universities are not trying to become rival
publishers. I am confident that with some reflection Nature will see
that, like the author, the University is merely self-archiving its *own*
research output, which has appeared in minute portions of the 20,000
refereed journals that exist -- in particular, its *own* publications in
Nature, only. Hence there is no reason to worry that they are re-packaging
and re-publishing Nature. They are merely providing open online access
to their own researchers' contributions to Nature.

As all this is quite new, let us give Nature's legal department a little
more time to get their heads around it!

[I would like to post the above to explain the delay. Please confirm
that this is agreeable to you.] [[No reply received -- July 2003]]

Cheers, Stevan

> Kind regards
> Jayne
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Stevan Harnad
> Sent: 19 February 2003 19:23
> To: Philip Campbell; Marks Jayne
> Subject: Re: Open Letter to Philip Campbell, Editor, Nature (Jan 13)
> > 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
> >
> > 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
> work.
> aq.xsl
> 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!):
> ype=ALL&authors%2Feditors_srchtype=ALL&abstract%2Fkeywords%2Ftitle=&authors%
> 2Feditors=harnad&publicfulltext=TRUE&_satisfyall=ALL&_order=byyear&_action_s
> earch=Go
> 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.
> Policies.htm
> 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
> research.
> 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,
> Stevan
> 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.
> Policies.htm
> Stevan Harnad
Received on Sun Jul 13 2003 - 18:13:53 BST

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