Shulenburger on open access: so NEAR and yet so far

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sun, 14 Dec 2003 17:53:03 +0000

David Shulenburger's NEAR proposal was advanced in its time, but today
-- as a *proposal* -- it is behind the times and greatly underestimates
both what is needed and what is (easily) attainable.

The NEAR proposal is the same as it was six years ago: that journal articles
should be made freely accessible after an embargo period of 6 months or more.

We still do not have even that; so the point of this critique is not
that free access after a 6-month delay is not preferable to no free
access at all!

The point is that even six years ago, this was asking for too little,
too late -- and far less than what could already be had without asking,
and had already been enjoyed (without asking) for six years (then,
twelve years now) by, for example, physicists: and
computer scientists

    Harnad, S. (2001) AAAS's Response: Too Little, Too Late.
    Science dEbates [online] 2 April 2001.

    "Six Proposals for Freeing the Refereed Literature Online: A Comparison"

But today, when "open access" has found not only a name, and several active
movements (e.g., ) and international
declarations in its support (e.g., ) but an
explicit strategy for attaining it:

    "(1) Publish your article in an open-access journal if a suitable one
    exists, (2) otherwise publish your article in a suitable toll-access
    journal and also self-archive it."

it seems curiously anachronistic, if not counterproductive, to still
be calling for free access only after a 6-month embargo!

I think I know why David is still so NEAR and yet so far: He is still
thinking of open access primarily as a cure for the universities' serials
crisis (which it may eventually become, secondarily -- but surely not
before it comes to pass!). The primary need for open access, however,
is not in order to cure the serials crisis, but in order to put an end
to cumulating loss in research impact, hence research productivity
and progress, because of access-denial to all would-be users whose
universities cannot afford the journal access tolls.

And this needless loss in research impact, productivity and progress
would still continue even if (1) all journals were sold at-cost, and (2)
all articles were accessible for free after a 6-month embargo. For it would
still be true even then that most universities could not afford access
to most of the refereed journals (there are 24,000 in all) and hence
that most research would lose most of its would-be users during the
all-important first six months from when it is accepted as having
met the journal's peer-review standards (not to mention the potential
use of the pre-peer-review preprint for as much as a year or more before
that). This is research's growth region in many fields, and the NEAR
proposal proposes to cut it off!

Why still propose providing open access only after a 6-month embargo
when one can propose providing open access throughout the research cycle,
from the pre-refereeing preprint to the peer-reviewed postprint?

    "(1) Publish your article in an open-access journal if a suitable one
    exists, (2) otherwise publish your article in a suitable toll-access
    journal and also self-archive it."

Is it still because of copyright concerns? But why does David still have
those copyright concerns when 55% of journals already formally support
open-access provision through author/institution self-archiving (and
many others would agree if asked)? And if you must ask something of the
remaining 45% of journals, why ask them to provide delayed access after
a 6-month embargo, rather than just that they support self-archiving
like the rest?

Better still. Don't ask publishers to provide anything and simply mandate
that researchers provide open access -- one way or the other -- and then
trust nature to take its course.

> Posted by Peter Suber in Open Access News at:
> Shulenburger on the path to open access
> David Shulenburger, "The High Cost of Scholarly Journals (And What
> To Do About It)", Change Magazine, November/December 2003
> (not online). Excerpt: "Scholarship,
> and hence the content of scholarly journals, is a public good. A
> public good is one for which on consumer's use of the good is not
> competitive with, or exclusive of, another consumer's use of the
> same good. [He then gives examples of national defense and clean
> air.] It has long been recognized that provision of public goods
> cannot be organized efficiently through the private market....The
> United States government believes so strongly in research as a
> public good that it funds NSF, NIH, and the research divisions of
> other federal agencies with public dollars so that scientists will
> create research on behalf of the larger society. It is nonsensical
> to provide billions each year for research and then completely
> ignore the mechanism by which the results of that research are
> disseminated... A federal statute should require that, as a condition
> for accepting a federal research grant, the scientist or scholar
> agrees to place each article reporting results from the research
> in a free, publicly accessible electronic domain after some period,
> say six months, of exclusive publication in a journal or other
> medium."

PS It can't be "scholarship" or "knowledge" simpliciter that is the "public
good," otherwise we are asking book-authors to provide open access too, even if
they don't want to. But all refereed journal-article authors want to -- and that's
the point.

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 Open Access Forum (98 & 99 & 00 & 01 & 02 & 03):
    Post discussion to:

Dual Open-Access-Provision Policy:
    BOAI-2 ("gold"): Publish your article in a suitable open-access
            journal whenever one exists.
    BOAI-1 ("green"): Otherwise, publish your article in a suitable
            toll-access journal and also self-archive it.
Received on Sun Dec 14 2003 - 17:53:03 GMT

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Dec 10 2010 - 19:47:12 GMT