Re: Stable Self-Archiving Software

From: Jim Till <>
Date: Sat, 10 Jan 2004 23:27:38 +0000

On Fri, 9 Jan 2004, Jan Velterop wrote:

> The potential for instability you describe lends support
> to the necessity of inclusion in the definition of Open
> Access of this: "['open access' means that:] The article
> is universally and freely accessible via the Internet, in
> an easily readable format and deposited immediately upon
> publication, without embargo, in an agreed format -
> current preference is XML with a declared DTD - in at
> least one widely and internationally recognized open
> access repository (such as PubMed Central)" (from the
> BioMed Central definition:
> We
> deposit also in HTML and PDF, but both are of course based
> on the underlying XML. [remainder of message snipped]

Dear Jan -

Thanks for your response, and for your reference to the BMC definition
of open access. Although I do have some doubts about this particular
definition, I don't have similar doubts about what BMC is actually
doing. I think that it's playing an exemplary role as a publisher of
"gold" open-access journals.

Clearly, as Stevan Harnad has already emphasized, BMC's definition,
in comparison with the BOAI definition, is a much "stronger form of
open access" (wording used by Michael Eisen, who would, if I understand
correctly, also include "conversion to XML" and "reuse and redistribution"
in his own preferred "stronger" definition of open access), see:

At present, I'm inclined to side with those, like Barbara
Kirsop, who regard a "stronger definition" of open access
as "organic food for the starving" - see Barbara's post:

Or, in less dramatic language, very desirable for fostering open access
and making it more attractive to authors, but not essential components
of a basic definition of open access (such as the BOAI definition).

Do such quibbles about definitions really matter much? I'm inclined
to agree with those who believe that they do. For example, immediate
deposition "in at least one widely and internationally recognized open
access repository (such as PubMed Central)" is clearly a requirement
for "long-term" or "strong" (or, "organic") open access. But, it isn't
essential for "open access for the starving".

A stability issue of some substantial importance (e.g. from the
perspective of authors) is the stability of the URL(s) that provide OA
to a research report (whether or not it's "strong" OA). A URL that's
prone to "link rot" probably shouldn't be included in the reference
list of any research report that it's author hopes will be an endurable
one. Of course, because a great many articles are never cited at all,
this is only an issue for those articles that *are* cited.

And, it's very difficult to predict, in advance, which articles will be
of enduring interest, and which will not. My own opinion is
that prior-to-publication peer review plays a necessary (but not
foolproof!) role in attempts to make such predictions. But, peer review
is probably much more effective at identification of the currently-
fashionable, rather than the endurable.

I'll end this rather long message with an anecdote. Some time
(decades!) ago, I was fortunate enough to be involved (along with some
very talented colleagues) in novel research on murine hematopoietic
stem cells. Some of this work (to my surprise!) has had lasting
impact. See, for example, "Hematopoietic Stem Cells Classics":

To the best of my knowledge, only one of our old stem cell papers is
currently openly accessible (via a URL that may not have long-term
stability). The paper is:

"Cytological demonstration of the clonal nature of spleen colonies derived
from transplanted mouse marrow cells", Becker, A. J., McCulloch, E. A. &
Till, J. E. Nature 197, 452-454 (1963).

A (rather poor-quality) PDF version of this paper is at:

My main points? I suppose that they are these: There are various ways to
obtain open access to published research reports. For most such reports,
there will be only a few (if any!) interested readers, and the reports
will be of only fleeting interest (for, say, about a year or so?),
and then the research field will move on.

Only a small minority of reports will be of enduring interest (e.g. to
historians and/or philosophers, as well as to other researchers). It's
these latter reports that are most in need of very stable URLs.

But, most truly novel contributions are, quite often (how often?) not
fashionable initially. That's why they are truly novel. They become
fashionable (a "new paradigm") only later on, after they have passed some
"tipping point", and have been accepted and adopted quite widely. It's
very difficult to predict exactly which contributions will turn out to
be merely fashionable, and which will prove to be endurable.

The OA movement itself is providing an interesting case study. Which
articles on OA will, in the future, be cited as "classics"?

Predictions would be welcomed (but, only one per respondent, please!).

Jim Till
University of Toronto
Received on Sat Jan 10 2004 - 23:27:38 GMT

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