Re: Mandating OA around the corner?

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sun, 25 Jul 2004 16:16:51 +0100


Apart from the fact that the US recommendation only applies to biomedical
research and the UK recommendation applies to all research, there are
only two substantive differences between the US and UK recommendations:

    (US) The US House of Representatives Appropriations Committee
    recommends that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) provide
    free public access to research articles resulting from NIH-funded
    research :


    (UK) The UK Government Science and Technology Committee's recommends
    that all UK higher education institutions establish institutional
    repositories on which their published output can be stored and from
    which it can be read, free of charge, online

The two differences are:

    (1) The UK Select Committee is recommending immediate self-archiving
    of all funded research (within a month of publication), whereas the
    US House Appropriations Committee is recommending self-archiving
    after six months.

    (2) The UK is recommending self-archiving in the author's
    own institutional OA Archive, whereas the US is recommending
    self-archiving in in a central OA Archive (PubMed Central).

On the one hand, the differences are not important enough to bother
too much about. On the other hand, if something is worth doing, it's
worth doing optimally, and there are 2 simple ways to optimize the
US/NIH policy:

(1) SIX-MONTH-TIME-LIMIT: The wording of the NIH mandate should be that
all research must be self-archived "by 6 months after publication at
the latest." Nothing further should be specified explicitly about the
purpose of the 6-month delay. It is not a good idea at all to state
that the delay is needed in order to allow journals to make their
sales. The effect is the same either way. Allowing up to 6 months will
have the intended effect, and will calm publishers' fears, and their
motivation to resist the US recommendation. But stating explicitly that
the purpose of the 6-month delay is to allow journals to survive and
to make their sales is speculative, unnecessary, and establishes an
extremely bad precedent, one that would then be even harder to uproot

What NIH needs to bear clearly in mind is that 84% of journals already
give their official green light to *immediate* self-archiving (with no
6-month embargo)! See:

So if NIH were to make an explicit pre-emptive point that implied that
journals for some reason *need* to impose a 6-month embargo in order to
survive -- when in reality they do not, and 84% have already realized
this! -- then NIH would be needlessly inviting a big step backward for OA!

The up-to-6-months condition option is fine for now, and is just what
is needed to encourage the remaining 16% of journals that are not yet
green; but explicitly portraying this as a *necessary* delay, for the sake
of journal sales and survival, would be a big strategic mistake.

(2) INSTITUTIONAL VS. CENTRAL SELF-ARCHIVING: The self-archiving mandate
should be generic: All NIH-funded articles must be self-archived within 6
months of publication. That's all that's needed. Don't stipulate that the
self-archiving must be central, in PubMed Central (PMC)! NIH can mention
PMC as one of the options for self-archiving, but don't stipulate it; and
mention the option of self-archiving it in the author's own institution's
OAI-compliant OA Archive -- preferably as the preferred option.

The three reasons why preferential institutional self-archiving is the
optimal strategy are:

    (i) Given the existence since 1999 of the OAI archive-interoperability
    standard we are now in the age of distributed digital archives,
    all made interoperable by compliance with the OAI convention.

The reason the OAI standard was created was precisely this: So that
articles could be archived in any OAI-compliant OA archive on the web,
and then they would all be interoperable with one another, which means
they could all be harvested into one global "virtual" archive, they
could all be jointly searched, indexed, etc., by multiple harvesters and
searchers, including those specialized only for the OAI literature -- such
as OAIster and the citation-based
OAI engine, Citebase --
as well as all other search engines (including google).

PMC is itself OAI-compliant:
But PMC is only one of a growing number of OAI-compliant OA Archives:

There is no reason to constrain the NIH-mandated self-archiving to
PMC: What should be mandated is self-archiving in an OAI-compliant OA
Archive. PMC can be given as an example of a central OA archive, but the
default option should be the author's own institutional OAI-compliant
OA archive, with PMC recommended only as a back-up option, in case the
author's institution does not yet have an OAI-compliant OA Archive.

The reason institutional OA Archives should be given priority is
explained in (ii) below. Here let me just add that no functionality
whatsoever is lost by having the biomedical OA literature distributed
across institutional and central OAI-compliant OA Archives rather than all
being self-archived in one central archive (e.g., PMC). On the contrary,
much more functionality is gained. This is because of the distributed
searching, harvesting and indexing capabilities that are provided by
OAI-compliance. It would be a handicap, not a benefit, to have all of
the OA biomedical literature in PMC only. The idea that it would be either
necessary or preferable to have it all in one place is just a hold-over
from obsolete paper-based thinking! That is not the nature of the digital
medium or its many newfound powers.

On the contrary, the best policy is for authors to self-archive in their
own OAI-compliant OA archives and for PMC to harvest the metadata, so
PMC too indexes those articles! There is no reason whatever for their
full-texts to be physically deposited in PMC. Offering central full-text
self-archiving in PMC is a good back-up option for those authors who do
not yet have an institutional OA Archive, but it is a bad and restrictive
option if it is the only option, or the primary one, that is mandated.

    (ii) The reason institutional OA self-archiving should be made the
    preferred option for the NIH self-archiving mandate is that that is
    the way to generalize the effects of NIH policy on OA in general,
    across disciplines and institutions.

If the NIH self-archiving mandate is made specific to self-archiving in
PMC, then those authors reporting NIH-funded research will self-archive
in PMC, and that will be all. When they do non-NIH-funded research, or
if they are not in the biomedical sciences, the NIH mandate will have
minimal influence on them, and on whether OA grows beyond NIH-funded
biomedical research.

If, on the other hand, it is institutional self-archiving that is mandated
by NIH, then the NIH influence is most likely to propagate beyond just the
boundaries of NIH and PMC and biomedical research to all disciplines,
at all institutions. Much will be gained for OA to research in general,
and nothing will be lost -- and a good deal gained also for NIH-funded
biomedical research in particular.

    (iii) Another reason central self-archiving should not be specifically
    stipulated or preferred is that a number of the 84% of journals that have
    given their green light to self-archiving have specified that this
    must be institutional self-archiving, not 3rd-part central archiving.

In the OA and OAI world, once an article's full-text is OAI-compliant and
openly accessible (OA) anywhere on the web, it is in fact *irrelevant*
where it is actually located physically -- whether at the author's
own institution site or a central site -- but publishers are still
understandably leery about having their green light to *self*-archive be
interpretable as a legal green light for 3rd-party free-rider publishers,
re-publishing their content and perhaps even re-selling it.

As I say, this worry is wrong-headed, because once a paper is accessible
free for all, there is not much to be gained by anyone's trying to
republish or re-sell it. But here again, as with the 6-month delay,
it is better not to add needless specifications or restrictions that
will needlessly encourage publishers to want to fight, and perhaps even
to withhold their green light to self-archive.

Just mandate that all NIH-funded research must be OA self-archived within
6 months of publication, preferably in the author's own institutional OA
Archive, otherwise in PMC, but that's all! Don't give a rationale for
the 6 months and don't stipulate that the self-archiving must be central

The UK recommendations are spot-on already, hence require no further
optimization, just implementation!

Stevan Harnad

UNIVERSITIES: If you have adopted or plan to adopt an institutional
policy of providing Open Access to your own research article output,
please describe your policy at:

    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.

A complete Hypermail archive of the ongoing discussion of providing
open access to the peer-reviewed research literature online (1998-2004)
is available at:
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Received on Sun Jul 25 2004 - 16:16:51 BST

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