Re: Open Access and Abstract/Indexing Services

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 20 Jan 2004 14:40:24 +0000


On Tue, 20 Jan 2004, [identity deleted] wrote:

> I feel a little uneasy about complete espousal of open-access
> publications and the phenomenon of self-archiving from one's institution:
> I'd like to ask you about the process of abstracting and/or locating
> and/or retrieving such articles.
> Would we rely on some sort of super-Google, with a consequent
> poor signal/noise ratio?

No, you can rely on something infinitely better, thanks to OAI tagging:
OAI search engines like OAIster
and citebase
targeted exclusively on the annual 2,500,000 articles in the world's
24,000 peer-reviewed journals (once each article has been made OA by
either publishing it in an OA journal or self-archiving it in an OA

Here's a list of OAI service providers that exist already, even for the
little OA content so far:

And last, even google could in principle be aimed exclusively at the OAI
subset of the literature if the search included an OAI search-limiter.

> Published chemical research has a VERY efficient tracking mechanism
> for retrieval of peer-reviewed articles. The Chemical Abstracts Service [CAS]
> database has about 25 million abstracts of papers, searchable conveniently
> for many keywords and chemical structures and chemical properties.

I bet that most or all of that functionality can easily be duplicated
on an OA version of that literature, once it exists.

But here is the right question to ask: Those who would-be users whose
institutions can afford CAS can continue to enjoy it. An OA version
of this literature is for those who would-be users whose institutions
cannot afford CAS: I am sure they will be happier having the OA functionality
even if it is not 100% than having the 0% functionality they have now!

> CAS information would be defined as toll-access, and the American Chemical Society
> obtains annual revenue of over $300 million from its use, BUT charges for access
> by academic institutions are 10-20% those of "commercial" users
> [for-profits, governments]. Their coverage is essentially complete back to 1907.

Those charges are fine for the minority of institutions that can afford them.
OA is for the majority that cannot. Self-archiving provides a *supplement*
to toll-access, not a substitute for it.

> Analogously the US National Library of Medicine's MedLine database [aka PubMed]
> covers all peer-reviewed articles in biomedical science with over 10 million
> abstracts, and provides free access to all Americans [pace Donna
> Shalala] and to everyone else. Of course the "free" access is paid for by
> the U. S. taxpayer.

PubMed is a splendid indexing service, subsidized by NIH and free to
all users. But it does not and cannot provide full-text access (only
the abstracts) apart from the tiny portion of the full-text biomedical
literature that is OA and available through PubMed Central.

Let us not mix apples and oranges. The overwhelming need is to provide
OA to the full-texts of all 2,500,000 annual articles in all 24,000
peer-reviewed journals. The search/indexing services on that literature
will come with the territory, as noted above. First, we need the OA
territory! It makes no sense to delay providing it because the secondary
OAI services on the not-yet-existent territory are not-yet-in-place!

> Maybe the for-profit sector should have to pay the freight when they use
> the open-access resources, thus lowering expenses for the non-profit
> institutions who are paying up front when articles are submitted for publication.

The non-profit institutions are currently paying for access to one
another's peer-reviewed output (which they always give away free: both
to the publisher and to every would-be user). First, the toll-access has
to be supplemented by each institution's self-archived versions versions
of its own output, at virtually no cost per article (about $10 annual
archiving cost per article). That is already the solution for OA. If is
causes journal cancellations, TA journals can cut costs by downsizing
to the essentials only (probably just peer review) and convert to OA
upfront cost-recovery, which the institutions will by then have more
than enough to pay for out of their annual windfall toll-savings.

It is unlikely that the institutions will want to restrict access to their
open-access output by requiring OAI service-providers -- even for-profit
ones -- to pay for access in order to provide their enhancements. More
likely, they will stay out of it and let the market decide whether users
want to pay for for-profit OAI service-providers or are happy enough
with non-profit or free OAI service-providers such as OAIster.

Stevan Harnad

NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing open
access to the peer-reviewed research literature online (1998-2004)
is available at the American Scientist Open Access Forum:
        To join the Forum:
        Post discussion to:
        Hypermail Archive:

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 Tue Jan 20 2004 - 14:40:24 GMT

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