A Keystroke Koan For Our Open Access Times

From: Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_ecs.soton.ac.uk>
Date: Tue, 14 Oct 2003 01:22:15 +0100

The launching of PLoS Biology -- http://www.plosbiology.org/-- an
outcome of Harold Varmus's highly influential 1999 Ebiomed Proposal
-- http://www.nih.gov/about/director/ebiomed/ebiomed.htm -- is a
very important event for research and researchers, for two reasons:

    (1) It is another step forward in providing open access to
    peer-reviewed research, a major step.

   (2) It both demonstrates and will further stimulate the research
   community's growing consciousness of the need for open access as well
   as the possibility of attaining it.

It is all the more important, therefore, that on this auspicious
occasion for the open-access publication strategy (BOAI-2) we not
forget or neglect the other, complementary open-access strategy,
open-access self-archiving (BOAI-1)
-- http://www.soros.org/openaccess/read.shtml -- particularly because
systematically supplementing BOAI-2 with BOAI-1 has the power to
bring us so much more open-access, so much more quickly.


Here is an extremely conservative calculation that will give you
an (I hope unforgettable) intuition for the importance of not
neglecting the other road to open access:

    SUPPOSE that
            -- in addition to signing the PLoS open letter (pledging to
            boycott toll-access publishers unless they become open-access
            publishers {http://www.plos.org/support/openletter.shtml}),
            not even *all* the 30,000 PLoS signatories had self-archived
            not even *all* their own toll-access articles, nor even
            the 55% corresponding to the proportion of "blue/green"
            (self-archiving-friendly) toll-access journals
            {http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Temp/rcoptable.gif} but --
    just the 18% of the PLoS signatories corresponding to the proportion
    of "postprint-green" journals had self-archived just *one* of the
    articles they had published in just *one* of those toll-access

    THEN the number of open-access articles (5400) resulting from just
    that minimal act would already have been more than 4 times the number
    of open-access articles that PLoS Biology will publish in 5 years
    (1200 articles, assuming 20 articles per monthly PLoS issue at $1500
    a pop).

    And all at the cost of only a few keystrokes more per article than
    what it cost to sign the petition.

Yet the only thing researchers did then was sign the PLoS open letter, and
then wait, passively, for toll-access journals to turn into open-access
journals in response to their petition. And today researchers seem ready
to wait yet again, passively, for more open-access journals like PLoS
Biology to be created or converted, one by one.

As we make our estimate less conservative and arbitrary, and scale
it up first to 55% of all annual biology articles, and then beyond
that, to the many journals that will support self-archiving if
asked, I hope the scales will at last begin to drop from the eyes
of those who have not yet noticed the tunnel vision and paralysis
involved in focusing only on open-access publishing, when it is
open access that is our target.

And perhaps then we will be less surprised that the 23,500 toll-access
publishers did not take our boycott threat seriously -- and that,
by the same token, they still have no reason to take the handful
of open-access journals created since the beginning of the '90s
(of which PLoS Biology is about the 543rd) seriously -- if that's
all we're prepared to do to demonstrate our need for and commitment
to open access for our research, as we just keep sitting on our
hands instead of adding the modest number of further keystrokes it
would take to make at least 55% of our own articles open-access
overnight, tonight!

http://www.eprints.org/self-faq/ - researcher/authors-do

Note that this is in no way an argument against open-access publishing
as one of the two viable means of attaining open access! It is just
an argument against pursuing open access only or even mainly through
open-access publishing, rather than explicitly coupling it with
open-access self-archiving, in a rational, systematic dual strategy.
Indeed, open-access self-archiving can also be seen as a means of
preparing the road for open-access publishing -- while already
providing us with open-access itself in the meantime!


The existing "publish or perish" mandate of our research institutions
and research-funders keeps us productive and rewards us for it.
But now, in the online age, this mandate needs to be updated, quite
naturally, to "publish with maximized impact" by making all research
publications open-access. This means: "Publish your research in an
open-access journal, if/when a suitable one exists, and in a
toll-access journal otherwise, but in that case self-archive it as
well." (Shorter mnemonic for the rule: Self-archive all your research

http://www.eprints.org/self-faq/ - institution-facilitate-filling
http://www.eprints.org/self-faq/ - research-funders-do

Stevan Harnad

    "Why price boycott is the wrong strategy" (Feb. 2000)

    "Petitions, Boycotts, and Liberating the Refereed Literature Online"
   (Oct 2000)

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: mailto:american-scientist-open-access-forum_at_amsci.org
Received on Tue Oct 14 2003 - 01:22:15 BST

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