Re: Washington DC Principles for Free Access to Science

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Wed, 17 Mar 2004 15:18:43 +0000

My friend David Goodman's well-intentioned posting inadvertently
illustrates how the library community sometimes underestimates
the real powers and possibilities of the online age:

On Tue, 16 Mar 2004, David Goodman wrote:

> > Forty-eight non-profit publishers of 380 journals...
> > posting 800,000 articles on line each year..
> > signed the "Washington DC Principles for Free Access to Science"...
> >
> > Selected important articles of interest are free online from the
> > time of publication;
> >
> > The full text of our journals is freely available to everyone
> > worldwide either immediately or within months of publication,
> > depending on each publisher's business and publishing requirements;
> >
> >
> from which it would appear that they regard much of what their
> journals publish as not important, or at least less important. If this
> was what they intended to say, they must mean that there is really very
> little need for the publication of most of their material, except in a
> delayed and subsidiary fashion.

I would say that the more charitable interpretation is that these journals
and publishers recognise and support the value of open access (OA)
but they are not ready to take the risk of converting to OA publishing
("gold") at this time. Instead, they are making some of their articles
OA. If (as I assume) they at the same time also endorse author
self-archiving (i.e., if these journals are "green" -- it would help if a
spokesman let us know) then they have done as much as it is reasonable for the
research community to ask the publishing community to do at this time:

If OA is really as important to the research community as they say it is
(and it is!) then it is up to the research community now to provide OA for
its own published articles, particularly when they have the publisher's
green light to do so! If they do not self-archive, then that is not the
publisher's fault, nor should the publisher be faulted for standing in
the way of Open Access!

It is absurd and self-defeating (and unnecessary and even unfair) for the
research community to keep clamouring about the importance of OA, but only
to the extent of berating publishers for not immediately providing OA for
them, at their own sacrifice and risk, when the door has been opened for
the research community to provide OA for itself, at no sacrifice or risk.

    "The Green Road to Open Access: A Leveraged Transition"

> What will be the effect of this on the user and the library? Put simply,
> the user will not know, for any given article, whether or not it is
> available free

First, it is not clear whether online-age users will be still best off
searching the OA literature through their libraries. That is
precisely the purpose for which cross-archive search engines like
OAIster and citebase are being created. And even secondary
indexing services like ISI are now collaborating with web OA engines
like Citeseer to offer users both Toll-Access (TA)
and OA articles under the same roof.

> for any given biomedical library, it will represent no
> savings, as they cannot provide the full content of the journals without
> continuing all the subscriptions.

David, the primary purpose of the OA movement is not to save money for
libraries (though that may eventually be one of its side-effects). The
purpose is to maximize research impact by maximizing research access --
through OA.

> >sh> if these publishers' policy
> >sh> on the 50% of their articles that are not immediately free is
> >sh> "green" (i.e., their authors are welcome to self-archive them)
> >sh> then one could not ask for more!
> Stevan correctly adds that the content not immediately available (which he
> estimates at 50 percent) should be available at the individual authors'
> self-archiving sites, if they choose to archive them. Of course they
> should; many of them will, and some will not.

100% of the efforts of the OA movement should be directed at ensuring
that OA is provide for 100% of journal articles (via either the gold or
green road), as soon as possible:

> I cannot imagine any way to produce greater confusion in access to the
> journal literature. From the perspective of a librarian responsible for
> providing access to this material, I cannot imagine any way to properly
> deal with it.

Don't worry about how to deal with all that OA content when we still have so
little of it! Worry about getting more OA. As the OA content grows (the hard
part), the tools for navigating it (the easy part) will come.

> We have been developing software to make links to journal articles
> when the library holds the journal, and such systems are at various
> stages of partial deployment at most research libraries. They are not
> capable of dealing with situations where some of the articles in the same
> journal are available. Such programs could be developed, if there were
> centralized arrangements for distributing an up-to-date list of just
> which articles were considered important enough for immediate access,
> and which had reached that particular publishers availability date.

David, you don't need a centralized list. You just need a way to find the
online OA versions when they exist (if you're a user) and linking them
with your journal holdings (if you're a librarian). That is what the
OAI protocol was devised for, that is why self-archivers are urged to
self-archive in OAI-compliant, hence interoperable OAI Eprint Archives,
and that is why collaborations like the ISI/citeseer collaboration
(non-OAI) and perhaps eventually ISI/citebase (OAI) will be arising. The
only thing they are waiting for is more OA content -- which, to repeat,
is to be *encouraged*, not discouraged on the ground that it fails to
conform to libraries' existing systems in some way! Libraries will adapt
with new online-age systems.

> As is, we couldn't even prepare a catalog record or a printed list.
> All we can tell the user is: try the journal site; if it works, good,
> if not, try the authors' home page; if not, try to guess where the
> material might be archived; if not, ask us for a copy by interlibrary
> loan and we will try to guess what library actually might have it. Or
> try a search engine, as the authors suggest--if all goes well, it will
> lead to a site that may or may not let you see the full text

The last of these is the only sensible route for today's online user, at this
early stage of OA content-provision.

> This is not "free access"; I do not think it could even properly be called
> "access" at all. The statement is, after all, entitled "Washington DC
> principles for free access to science."

I would say every single instance of a full-text article that is
immediately and permanently accessible toll-free to anyone on the Web is
a case of Open Access (OA). In our day, when there is still so precious
little of that, there is nothing to be gained from declining to call OA
by its proper name!

    "Free Access vs. Open Access"

> Authors who actually want others to access their articles would do well
> to avoid all the publishers listed--or at least all those who do not
> provide immediate access to all the articles. Those publishers can best
> be found if they immediately announce which they are, and dissociate
> themselves from their less enlightened colleagues.

I have to say that this sounds like an astonishing suggestion,
David! Avoid these publishers (because they are not 100% OA publishers)
instead of providing OA for the articles you publish in their journals
by self-archiving them (because it does not conform with current library

> The press release ends by giving contact information for those who wish
> to interview a member of their group; if any of the members of the group
> would like a fuller explanation of what they are doing is suicidal,
> my email address is below, and we can set a time to talk.

Suicidal for whom? Journals making even 50% of their content OA on their own, and
giving the green light to their authors to make the other 50% OA sounds very
positive to me. Who is the suicide-victim here?

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 Wed Mar 17 2004 - 15:18:43 GMT

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