Re: On the Need to Take Both Roads to Open Access

From: Jan Velterop <>
Date: Mon, 12 Jan 2004 23:50:32 +0000

Dear Jim,

It seems that Open Access can mean many (well, at least two) different
things, and perhaps in that respect the analogy with food is appropriate.
With a dearth of food it's just anything edible one craves, even though it
doesn't taste nice or has long-term undesirable effects; if there is an
abundance, one doesn't have to be concerned about mere sustenance and the
taste, quality, nutritiousness, and general effect on one's health becomes
more important.

So with Free Access and Open Access. Discussing the difference is only
important in the sense that perceptions of what Open Access is may influence
some expectations. The agenda -- or I should perhaps say the focus -- of the
two principle strands of Open Access advocacy is somewhat different, but not
in any way conflicting. The self-archiving strand, if I may call it that,
aims to ensure free access to research articles as fast and as wide as
possible. Period. And that's a very good thing, particularly for
access-starved researchers and students in developing countries. "Free
Access for the starving" if you wish. The more of it, the better, and I
fully agree with that aim. Even some traditional publishers do (which I find
puzzling at best and suspicious at worst; either they don't understand the
consequences or they don't believe there will be any; it's not researchers
that need to worry about that, but librarians, I guess).

The other strand, Open Access publishing, aims to fundamentally transform
scientific publishing so that sustainable free access (and more; hence the
difference in terminology: Open Access - Free Access) becomes the norm. If
successful, this delivers "Organic Open Access"; Open Access from inception;
structural Open Access; for the starving and the well-fed alike. No support
here from the traditional publishers, perhaps not very surprisingly.

The two strands are related, of course, but not the same. Eventually, also
the self-archiving strand will effect a transformation of scientific
publishing. The benefit of a discussion like the one on this list is that we
all gain understanding of what exactly is going on.

Some of the confusion may be attributable to the two stands co-inciding.
Were self-archiving successful already (no reason why that shouldn't have
been possible; Stevan's been banging the drum for at least a decade now),
the transformation of science publishing might have been seen as a
completely natural and logical consequence. Conversely, had Open Access
publishing been started earlier and be the norm by now, self-archiving would
be pretty much redundant.

But neither is the case, and it makes sense to keep pushing on both fronts.
As a movement, open access could do worse than follow Stevan's strategy:
publish in an open access journal when you can; if there is no open access
journal for you, publish where you can and self-archive. As a company, we
have taken on the daunting task of delivering open access to the academic
community, as a service that is superior to the toll-access that traditional
publishers offer and in head-on competition with them.

With regard to preservation and your anecdote, in the short term
preservation may not be all that important (if you're very hungry, the
long-term effects of eating only carbohydrates doesn't worry you). But in
the long term it is. Not for every article, you're right, and, as you say,
probably only for a small minority. But as we cannot at this juncture know
for which ones it will be important (the future 'paradigmatic' articles) and
for which ones not, it is important for every article. Do you mind if I
don't speculate with regard to the OA articles that may be judged as
'classical' in the future? I feel only safe speculating that it will be none
of mine!

Best regards,


> -----Original Message-----
> From: Jim Till []
> Sent: 10 January 2004 23:28
> Subject: Re: Stable Self-Archiving Software
> 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 Mon Jan 12 2004 - 23:50:32 GMT

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