Re: Free Access vs. Open Access

From: Barbara Kirsop <>
Date: Fri, 2 Jan 2004 17:37:47 +0000

Dear All,

I have sympathised with Stevan's New Year message on the
misunderstandings and digressions regarding acceptance of OA (see We faced all these
uncertainties at the Bangalore workshop last year and developed a FAQ
similar to Stevan's for the EPT web site ( The
present discussions on the AmSci forum on whether 'open' is the same
as/different from 'free' access and comparing this with the need to feed
the starving now or wait a bit til everyone can have 'organic' food is
spot on. I reflect that these discussions, erudite and entertaining as
they are, are of little interest to science in the developing world.
Scientists (and patients with malaria) in the developing world need the
information now, asap, in any format that can best be provided, don't
wait til everything is perfect, just do it. And science in the developed
world equally needs the highly relevant research from the developing
regions now - though it mostly doesn't recognise this knowledge gap.

So I was pleased to read the message from Dr. T.B. Rajashekar of the IIS
that he and his colleagues plan to promote and inform the scientists
in India about their institutional archive ( in
the coming months. Great. Perhaps the most important message that is
least understood by scientists is that they can 'do it now' and still
continue to publish in their favoured journals, in parallel. We are all
naturally hesitant to give up the system we know and love and trust, so
people should understand that there is no need to. Just do it now and the
world will not collapse around them, they will not be criticised by their
colleagues, but infinitely more fellow scientists will be aware of their
research, their organisations will be promoted and they will themselves
have contributed to the global knowledge pool, currently only half-filled.

So good luck to Raja, to Arun's indefatigable efforts and to the
excellent Bioline ( for helping the developing
country publishers understand OA and providing a place for them to do it
( Maybe we would be right, as Arun suggests, to
focus on India, China and Brazil first, and maybe the 2004 e-publishing
workshop in Brasilia could be a start, and could be cloned for other


Stevan Harnad wrote:

> On Fri, 2 Jan 2004, Subbiah Arunachalam wrote:
>>Please visit <
>><> > and look up the presentations
>>and recommendations made at the INDEST meeting held in October. INDEST is a
>>consortium of libraries of select higher education institutions in India.
>>Their emphasis on theses is surprising. The substance of every thesis
>>appears in research papers published in journals. Besides, many theses from
>>Indian universities are of dubious value, although IISc and IITs are a lot
>>different from the run-of-the-mill Indian university.
> Dear Arun,
> As time goes by, the OA initiative begins to look like a microcosm of
> all human history and human folly. I don't know that I have learned as
> much about life from anything else.
> The answer to your question of why it is that this INDEST meeting
> seems to grasp so little is that it is very much like other such
> meetings worldwide, for at least a decade now. Although there is nothing
> conceptually deep or even practically revolutionary about any of this,
> it has become obvious that it is prone to a seemingly endless series of
> systematic misunderstandings and digressions, never quite able to get to
> (or grasp, or stick to, or act upon) the point.
> The reasons are both local and global. At this particular INDEST meeting,
> one obvious reason is that it is again primarily a meeting of the library
> community, which is well-meaning and (because of the pressure of the
> serials budget crisis) was the first messenger to alert us all that
> something was amiss and needed to be done.
> But having drawn our attention to the access problem, the library
> community has proved unable either to see the solution or (in the
> minority of cases where it did see the solution) unable to get the
> research community to do anything about it.
> The preoccupation with dissertations is typical, and has happened
> repeatedly worldwide. Dissertations are paradigmatic examples of the
> "grayish" literature that it is the easiest to (mis)focus upon and take to
> be the paradigm for a solution: It does not consist exactly of published
> books, it is university output, and it has a visibility/accessibility
> problem. In that way it is reminiscent of the refereed-journal literature.
> The idea that providing open access to institutional dissertation
> output would be one good start toward providing open access to all
> institutional research output seemed a promising one, but in practise
> it has gotten bogged down -- partly in one of the library's community's
> main red herrings: preservation.
> The agenda keeps getting mixed -- budget crisis, digitization,
> preservation, access, visibility/impact -- and a coherent focus never
> quite seems to emerge (or when it does, it turns out to be a focus on
> the wrong thing -- or at least the wrong thing from the point of view
> of those of us who have not forgotten that this was originally about
> the problem of access to refereed journal articles!).
> So the self-archiving of dissertations -- even if it began,
> clear-headedly, with the intention of spearheading an overall
> institutional drive to self-archive its research output, extending
> to preprints and postprints of refereed journal articles -- ends
> up getting bogged down in (1) archival-preservation issues (irrelevant
> to refereed journal articles, because the self-archived versions are
> merely duplicates, and not the originals that need to be preserved) as
> well as in (2) the unbiquitous problem that the library community itself
> is not in a position to provide content (other than bought-in content):
> It is the research community that needs to provide the (outgoing) content.
> The latter is true both in the case of dissertations and of refereed journal
> articles.
> So dissertations have both side-tracked us from the primary target
> (journal articles) and made little headway in their own right (for lack
> of a systematic institutional policy of content-provision). Some progress
> is being made, but it is still frustratingly slow, considering that
> providing open-access to dissertation output does not even have to contend
> with the (real and perceived) complications of toll-based publishers
> and copyright!
> The library community's handicap of not being the content-providers
> (the research community) is compounded by its tendency to see the
> access problem as exclusively, or primarily, a publishing problem,
> calling for exclusively, or primarily, a new way of publishing. They
> are not alone in this simplistic and misleading view.
> The access problem is primarily an access problem, calling, essentially,
> for an access solution. It may be that a new way of publishing will
> contribute to or result from the solution (I believe it will), but that
> is merely a speculation at this point. What is certain is that the problem
> is access-denial, and that its solution will have to be access-provision.
> Hence it is a mistake -- not just a possibly-erroneous speculation but
> an outright mistake -- to speak of or think of access-provision through
> institutional self-archiving as a new form of publication! Yet that
> is how it keeps being described and conceptualized -- not only at this
> INDEST meeting, or by the library community as a whole, but even by the
> research, research-institution and research-funding communities.
> And the "model" case of dissertation self-archiving encourages this
> error, because of course its dissertations *are* self-publications of
> the research institution, whereas its refereed-journal articles certainly
> are not. And dissertations are the primary versions, hence they do have a
> preservation problem, whereas the preservation problem for university
> refereed-article output and the primary versions of all the articles
> themselves both rest with the journal publishers and the institutions
> subscribing to the journals (the libraries again, but wearing another
> hat), not the self-archiving institution that is providing the secondary
> access (open access) to its own output through self-archiving!
> I have gone on at some length about these three red herrings --
> dissertations, preservation, and publishing -- to illustrate how it is not
> just India and INDEST that keep getting things confused. The confusion
> is endemic, and epidemic, worldwide. The head-shaker in it all is that,
> in reality, and upon a little reflection (not much), none of this is
> very deep or complicated -- nor even controversial!
> That is why I say I have learned so much about life from all this:
> Because if it is taking humanity so long -- with so many false-starts,
> recurrent misunderstandings, red herrings, canards and digressions --
> to figure things out and do something about it in the conceptually
> trivial case of providing open access to refereed journal articles
> (where the solution is simple, obvious and inevitable), how long must it
> take where there are genuine conceptual complexities and profundities --
> and urgencies?
> Best wishes for 2004!
> Stevan Harnad
Received on Fri Jan 02 2004 - 17:37:47 GMT

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