Submission to Open Access Now

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Fri, 12 Dec 2003 15:35:45 +0000

After a month of waiting in vain for a reply about this submission
to BioMed Central's "Open Access Now"
I have decided it is time to make it Open Access, Now!

Date: Fri, 14 Nov 2003 18:21:59 +0000 (GMT)
From: Stevan Harnad <harnad AT>
To: Jonathan Weitzman <JWeitzman AT The-Scientist.COM>
Cc: openaccess AT, Fiona Godlee <Fiona.Godlee AT>,
     Peter Newmark <peter AT>, pritpal AT
Subject: Submission to Open Access Now

           The Golden and Green Roads to Open Access

                      Stevan Harnad

The authors of a recent article in the Lancet (Tamber et al. 2003)
seem to have got OAI and BOAI-1 (and JISC) somewhat muddled:

    "The Open Archives Initiative ( aims
    to create a global online archive of all published research and
    is funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee, part of the
    UK government's Higher Education Funding Councils of England,
    Scotland, and Wales. Its chief proponent, Stephen [sic] Harnad
    of Southampton University, UK, calls for all research, after
    publication, to be posted on personal or institutional websites
    and tagged in a standardised form, making it searchable, navigable,
    and retrievable. If publishers do not allow authors to post their
    articles on personal or institutional websites, Harnad suggests they
    post the submitted draft together with a corrigendum file highlighting
    the differences between it and the published version. Although this
    approach is not an alternative to the current subscription-based
    publishing model, it could improve access within it."

    Pritpal S Tamber, Fiona Godlee, Peter Newmark
    Open access to peer-reviewed research: making it happen

What these authors don't seem to be able to quite bring themselves
to say (perhaps because they are advocates of the golden road rather
than the green road to open access!) is not only that the green road of
open-access self-archiving is indeed a road to *open access* (not merely
"improved access" but *open access*, in the full sense of the word),
but that it is a far faster and surer road than the golden one, and the
only one open for most of the annual research literature today!

The golden road to open access is to publish all research in an
open-access journal. There are currently about 600 open-access journals and about 23,400 toll-access journals

Of the 24,000 journals, about 55% are blue/green,
i.e., they already officially support author
self-archiving of the preprint, the postprint, or both

Many of the remaining 45% that are "white" will agree if asked. The
preprint-plus-corrigenda strategy is only meant to show that even
the articles in the small and shrinking minority (probably <10%)
of white journals that will not agree to author self-archiving
even if asked can be legally, if less conveniently, self-archived:

Tamber et al instead seems to imply that open-access self-archiving
amounts only to this special strategy for the 10% minority; they pass over
the fact that for the rest of the literature open-access self-archiving
can provide immediate, full open access -- and that it already provides
open access to three times as many articles annually as open access
publishing does.

The popular press is at the moment in a paroxysm of euphoria about
the golden road to open access (open-access publishing), and mute or
muddled about the green road (open-access self-archiving).

When the noise subsides and the air clears we will view the real access
landscape more verdically again, and what we will see is that all the
euphoria has been about a very small portion of the yearly traffic
of 2,500,000 toll-access articles. The 600 golden journals are only
conveying about 75,000 of those 2,500,000 yearly articles to open access
(i.e., much less than 5%).

The green road is conveying at least three times as many already, and
is growing faster (without getting the press fanfare -- partly, no doubt,
because no product is being promoted, and partly because of just plain
simplistic thinking by the press and the public); but even that three-fold
greater volume of open access is still a pathetically small portion
of the yearly journal-article traffic. The difference, though, is that
the traffic along the green road can be immediately increased to (at the
*very least*) 55% of the total annual 2,500,000, virtually overnight,
whereas the traffic along the golden road can only be increased as
quickly as we can create, fund, fill and sustain new golden journals,
journal by journal.

I hope we will soon separate the reality from the rhapsodizing, rechannel
the welcome new open-access awareness and support, and focus on providing
more open access, now, in the way that is so clearly within our
reach. I'm afraid that all this eminently accessible open-access will
continue to be needlessly delayed as long as our attention and enthusiasm
continue to be directed solely or primarily toward the slower road. We should
really be promoting both roads, and each in proportion to its immediate
capacity to deliver open access. What is happening now is instead rather
like trying to increase the size of the population by promoting in vitro
fertilization alone, neglecting the faster, surer path...

It is certainly true, as the authors of the Lancet article state,
that open-access self-archiving "is not an alternative to the current
subscription-based publishing model." But let us not forget that this is
not the "alternative-to-the-current-subscription-based-model"
initiative. It is the *open-access* initiative! And the golden road
(with the changes in the subscription model that it requires) is just
one of the two roads leading to it (and not the fastest or surest).

The rest is just speculation.

Stevan Harnad
Received on Fri Dec 12 2003 - 15:35:45 GMT

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