Re: Free Access vs. Open Access

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Mon, 15 Dec 2003 14:14:38 +0000

I think Jan Velterop might have misinterpreted the content of the "Free
Access vs. Open Access" thread. This thread is not in fact opposing two
rival forms of access. It is questioning the coherence and content of
the open vs. free access distinction itself.

On Mon, 15 Dec 2003, Jan Velterop wrote:

> It would be helpful if self-archiving enthusiasts would see and present
> self-archiving as an important step towards achieving open access at the
> root of scholarly communication, by eventually having all peer-reviewed
> research articles published with full open access from the outset.

I'm afraid that the incorrect and misleading distinction between "full"
and "non-full" open access (just as spurious as the distinction between
"free access" and "open access," and the counterproductive implication
that "open access" equals "open access publishing") permeates the very
premise of Jan's suggestion here.

The promotors of open-access provision through author/institution self-archiving
of their toll-access articles are promoting *open access*, not "an important step
toward achieving open access." Open access. Toll-free, immediate, permanent
online access to the full-texts of all those articles. Open access.

Yes, I too believe that the eventual outcome of all this is likely to
be all journals becoming open access journals.

But I know (not "believe": "know") that we first have to get there from here.
And I also know (because it has been successfully demonstrated already,
with hundreds of thousands of articles) that open access can be provided
*right now* to as many of the 2,500,000 annual articles in the 24,000
existing peer-reviewed journals as we choose to provide it for. I am not
a "self-archiving enthusiast" but an open-access enthusiast who has seen
that self-archiving is the fastest and surest road to open access today.

It is also a road ("green") that is still vastly underutilized. The
"golden" road is underutilized too, but not nearly as underutilized,
proportionately, as the green road, because the green road can already
today bear virtually 100% of the traffic -- if only the research community
can be persuaded to take make use of it!

I have been writing articles and postings for years about what the likely
sequel to universal open-access provision via self-archiving will be: a
universal transition to open-access journal publishing (an economic model
I described and have been advocating for years as the stable "end-game"
of open-access provision). But that eventual outcome is hypothetical,
and the endgame is nowhere in sight, whereas the feasibility and benefits
of immediate open-access provision through self-archiving are demonstrated
and certain.

So, far more useful than confusing authors who are neither publishing in
open access journals today nor self-archiving today -- by presenting
open-access self-archiving to them as a step toward open-access
journal-publishing -- is presenting open-access self-archiving to them
as the immediate open-access provision that it really is: done, not
for the sake of eventual open-access publishing, but for the sake of
immediate open access to their own work, today. Open access. That is what
it is all about, and for. Not possible eventual transition to universal
open-access publishing (even though I, like you, believe that that is
where it indeed leads).

Besides, what I always present is the unified dual open-access provision
strategy. (Does BMC always present this unified dual open-access provision
strategy too?):

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

That rightly presents OA journal-publishing and OA self-archiving as
complementary means to the same end: open access. It would not help to
misrepresent OA self-archiving as instead being merely a means to OA
journal publishing as the end! OA does not equal OA journal-publishing.

> It is fully acknowledged that publishing new open access journals is not likely to
> change science publishing overnight (although the momentum is growing fast),

This is not about changing science publishing, it is about providing
open access (preferably overnight!).

How fast is open access journal momentum (gold) growing in terms of
articles, relative to the total number of annual articles in journals
(2,500,000 in 24,000)? And how fast relative to the rate at which
open-access through self-archiving (green) is growing? Those are the
figures needed to make a rational strategic judgment here!

Both gold and green growth will be found to be lower than they could be,
but self-archiving will be found to be providing at least three times as
much annual open access, growing faster, and able to provide immediate
open access to virtually all of the annual journal literature overnight
-- if only open-access enthusiasts don't just keep passively Waiting
for Gold, in the mistaken impression that OA equals Gold!

> and self-archiving can potentially be a very important and effective catalyst.

OA self-archiving is not just a catalyst for OA publishing! It is a
means of providing immediate open access today (and far more or it,
both actually and potentially, than OA publishing today).

> For that, focus needs to be on commonalities rather than on differences.

I agree. The commonality is that both OA publishing and OA self-archiving
are (complementary, non-competing) means of providing OA. Both. Not OA
publishing for providing OA and self-archiving for providing something
else called "FA". OA and FA are identical anyway, so there is no need
to create a confusing and divisive lexical distinction between them.

> To describe self-archiving and open access publishing as
> somehow opposite solutions to the debilitating effects of toll-access to
> both the optimal dissemination of research results and the (related) budget
> crises in libraries, is not doing the movement any good.

Who is saying they are "opposite" solutions? They are complementary,
convergent solutions to the problem of open-access provision. Neither is
making an immediate contribution to easing library budgets yet, although
both may eventually help. But our target constituency is authors. And
authors will not be persuaded either to publish in new journals or to
self-archive in order to ease library budgets! They will be persuaded
to do one or the other if/when they are persuaded of the benefits --
to *them* and to their research -- of open access.

In other words, although toll-access has debilitating effects both on
library budgets and on researchers' impacts, there is not much point
invoking the library's problems to persuade authors to provide OA
(either way, gold or green).

> It should not be "free VERSUS open", but "free AND open" or at the very
> least "free AS A MOVE TOWARDS open".

Don't be misled by the subject thread "Free Access vs. Open Access":
you have to read the actual postings to see that this a critique of
the free/open distinction, which is the empty distinction causing the

It is not free/open anything because the free/open distinction is empty
and divisive if it amounts to one component of the unified OA provision
strategy claiming that the other component is not providing "true" or
"full" OA!

The unified OA provision strategy is:

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

That sounds like (inclusive) either/or to me, with a priority on
OA journals wherever possible! And, as I've said, the OA journal
cost-recovery model and the possibility of an eventual transition from
TA to OA publishing is and always has been part of the literature of
the OA self-archiving strategy.

But just as it is no use trying to persuade authors to self-archive (or
to publish in an OA journal) in order to help ease their library's budget
crisis, it is no use trying to persuade authors to self-archive in order
to help hasten the transition to OA journals! The appeal to authors must
be grounded in their own interests, namely, the power of OA to increase
the visibility, uptake, usage and citation impact of their own work, now.

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:

Unified 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 Mon Dec 15 2003 - 14:14:38 GMT

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