On the Need to Take Both Roads to Open Access

From: Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_ecs.soton.ac.uk>
Date: Sat, 6 Sep 2003 00:34:07 +0100

       On the Need to Take Both Roads to Open Access

                    Stevan Harnad

As something of a veteran in the crusade for open access, I feel that I
have to point out to the growing number of open-access advocates that we
have lately been getting a little carried away with open-access publishing
-- as if it were the *only* way to attain open access, rather than
just one of two complementary ways (open-access self-archiving being
the other way).

This one-sided impression (that open-access = open-access publishing)
is all over the public press at the moment, in the US and Europe. This is
a (gentle) irony that historians will eventually have some fun sorting
out: How did it happen that when at long last we finally began to awaken
to the need for open access to research we first went on to risk losing
yet *another* decade waiting passively for open-access publishing to
prevail, when we could in the meanwhile already have had open access too?

Waiting passively for what? For the 24,000 existing toll-access
journals http://www.ulrichsweb.com/ulrichsweb/ to either convert to
open-access of their own accord or to go belly-up in the face of new
open-access competitors (24,000 of them?) that would capture their
authorship. This, at a time when in reality there existed only about
500 open-access journals http://www.doaj.org/ -- which is less than 5% of
the refereed research literature even if we double the estimate.

The crux of the matter is this: 24,000 journals (or even ISI's hard-core
8,000) are unlikely to be induced to convert to open-access on the
strength of a press flurry, petitions, declarations, threats to
boycott, promises of government subsidy for open-access author-costs, US
congressional bills, and songs of praise for open access by the research
community and the media worldwide. For there is one glaring omission in
all of this: It is all based on passivity on the part of the research

(It is not even clear what percentage of researchers would actually be
willing to switch from publishing in their currently preferred journals
to open-access journals even if 24,000, rather than just 500, open-access
journals already existed for them to switch *to*!)

Why would publishers take the research community's much publicized
yearning for open access seriously as long as that yearning is expressed
only in this passive way, with the expectation that all the effort should
be made on their behalf by journal publishers, for the sake of this open
access that the researchers purport to need and want so much? Who would
not question the depth of the research community's desire for open access
as long as that desire keeps being voiced only vicariously, rather than
through self-help efforts, as if all possibility and responsibility for
action lay exclusively with publishers?

What will make publishers take the research community's expressed
wishes seriously will be *action* on the part of researchers, taking the
powerful self-help step that is actually within their own power to take
right *now*, in the interest of immediate open access: self-archiving
their own published research output. This will be the only credible (and
indeed irresistible) proof of the research community's desire for open
access. Moreover, it is guaranteed to provide immediate open access for
the research of every author who actually does self-archive.

The only reason the research community is not yet taking this simple
self-help step in sufficient numbers -- they *are* taking it in
increasing numbers, but those numbers are as yet far from sufficient
http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Temp/self-archiving.ppt -- is that
the research community does not yet *understand* that this more direct
means of gaining immediate open access for their own research output
(through institutional self-archiving) is already within their reach.

The one-sided emphasis that the research community is currently
placing on the 5% solution (open-access publishing), instead of
also promoting -- at least as vigorously -- the complementary 95%
solution (open-access self-archiving of the remaining 95% of their
refereed-research publications) is now becoming part of the problem
instead of the solution, leaving researchers and their institutions and
funders both inactive and unaware about what they could already be doing
in order to provide open access right now, rather than just waiting
passively and hoping that the 500 figure will somehow climb to 24,000
just on the strength of polemics and wishful thinking alone!

It will take a long time and a lot of effort to spawn or convert
24,000 journals, but their current full-text contents could already be
made openly accessible in no time, if researchers would only take the
action that is already open to them: immediate self-archiving.

The most common brake on researchers' taking this immediate
action is an inchoate worry about copyright. But the proof that
copyright cannot be the real obstacle is already available! Even on
the most conservative construal of the Romeo copyright-policy statistics
at least 55% of the research literature could already be self-archived
(and hence openly accessible) with the journal publisher's formal and official
blessing *today* (indeed, yesterday) -- yet researchers are still not
doing it in anywhere near the numbers that even the most conservative
percentage would allow!

(The potential percentage is in reality much higher than 55%:
for the rest of the authors publishing in journals that do not
yet officially support self-archiving can simply *ask* their
publishers, on a per-article basis, to agree to their self-archiving;
many more publishers will agree. And that percentage can be raised
to 100% if the remaining authors, in those cases where their
publisher refuses, simply use the preprint-plus-corrigenda strategy
http://www.eprints.org/self-faq/#copyright1 ).

But even as the 55% solution, self-archiving trumps the 5% solution by
an order of magnitude, and instantaneously! If only it were actually
practised. But it is not, yet. And that is what needs to be remedied.
It is not remedied by focusing all attention and effort on the 5%

In October, Germany will have a national policy meeting (through its
Max-Planck Societies, and in collaboration with the European Cultural
Heritage Organization) on "Open Access to the Data and Results of the
Sciences and Humanities" with a view to formulating and signing the
"Berlin Declaration," which is meant to be a model open-access policy
for Europe as well as the rest of the world. In November there are
Norwegian and UK national meetings on the same theme. The US has the
Public Access to Science Act (Sabo Bill, H.R. 2613) pending. It is so
important that all of these timely efforts give due weight to *both* of
the complementary open-access strategies, rather than just open-access

Here is a simple, transparent, unified strategy for an institution,
or a research-funder, or a nation wishing to maximize the access to --
and thereby the impact of -- its research output:

    (1) All research output should be published in open-access journals
    if and when suitable ones exist (5% of research, currently) and

    (2) the other 95% of research output should be published in
    the researcher's journal of choice, but also self-archived in the
    author's institutional open-access archive -- now.

Our research group at Southampton and Loughborough will soon report
data on the current rate of growth of open access via each of these
two complementary strategies, in terms of the annual number of
articles that are openly accessible each way as a percentage of total
published articles per year so far. We will describe how Tim Brody's
citebase http://citebase.eprints.org/ and citation/usage correlator
http://citebase.eprints.org/analysis/correlation.php can be used to
measure the citation and usage impact of open-access articles and
authors, and how Mike Jewell's standardised open-access CV software
http://paracite.eprints.org/cgi-bin/rae_front.cgi can be used to encourage
and assess research output and impact. We will re-present Steve Lawrence's
finding http://www.neci.nec.com/~lawrence/papers/online-nature01/
that in computer science, open-access articles are cited 4.5 times as
often as toll-access articles. (And if our own data from an ongoing
collaboration with Charles Oppenheim are ready, we will report the open-
vs. toll-access impact-advantage for other disciplines, in controlled
pairwise comparisons of open vs toll access in the same journal and year,
for self-archived and non-self-archived articles, and across time.)

The cumulative message will be that the 95% solution (self-archiving),
if implemented now, would increase research visibility, research
impact, and hence research progress and productivity substantially.
We will will even estimate graphically how much research impact US,
UK, and French research -- and research in general -- are losing daily,
monthly and yearly, because of *lack* of open access, and how long it
would take to stanch that daily/monthly/yearly loss if the research
community pursued only the passive 5% solution, rather than also
actively self-archiving immediately!

A proposal for an institutional
and national
self-archiving policy will also be described, to help focus and put into
context open-access efforts such as the Public Access to Science Act
and the Bethesda Statement

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: american-scientist-open-access-forum_at_amsci.org
Received on Sat Sep 06 2003 - 00:34:07 BST

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