Re: Open letter to Congress from 25 Nobel Laureates

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Thu, 9 Sep 2004 15:53:09 +0100

On Thu, 9 Sep 2004, Matthew Cockerill wrote:

> Given that the proposal, as it stands, relates to NIH-funded research, it is
> rather natural that the requirement for archiving should be in NIH's own
> institutional archive (PubMed Central).

Matt, I am afraid you have missed my point completely: As "natural" as it may
seem (from an obsolete, paper- and place-based standpoint) that NIH-funded
research papers should be placed in an NIH-funded place, this intuition is
not only irrelevant to the distributed online medium (where the specific
location of immaterial bits is immaterial) but it is contrary to the
best interests of Open Access (OA) growth.

The functional effects of both central and distributed self-archiving in the
age of OAI-interoperability are exactly the same. Hence no functionality
whatsoever would be lost if NIH-research-based journal articles were
self-archived in the NIH fundees' own distributed institutional
OAI-complaint OA archives rather than in PubMed Central's one central
(likewise OAI-compliant) OA archive (PMC).

Hence the issue is not functionality but OA *growth*: The probability
that the force of the US/NIH mandate to self-archive all NIH-funded
(biomedical) research will propagate to articles in biomedical research
*not* funded by NIH, and to disciplines other than biomedical sciences,
would be greatly increased if the mandated self-archiving were distributed
and institution-based, rather than restricted specifically to PMC.
Far more potential OA would be gained, and no functionality whatsoever
would be lost.

Hence the "natural" paper- and place-based notion that the full-texts of NIH
research should all be placed in an NIH archive is misplaced. (Its metadata can
of course all be *harvested* into PMC, if we like, from their distributed
locus in institutional OAI archives, but that is another matter.)

> Institutional repository advocates,
> as I understand it, would not object to a University requiring that its
> authors self-archive a copy of their publications in the Universty's own
> repository (though that doesn't prevent authors from archiving their article
> elsewhere too).

Matt, you have it backwards! We are talking about what should be *mandated* here,
in order to generate more OA! Of course no one *objects* if authors elect to
self-archive. The trouble is that too few of them do; and that's why we need the

So the rest is about what is the optimal form for that mandate to take:
*Where* should it be mandated that researchers self-archive? If the
mandate is to self-archive specifically in PMC, with "no objections"
to self-archiving elsewhere -- why on earth would one have thought NIH
would object? and what difference does it make that they don't object,
when authors are not doing it anyway? -- then the effect is precisely
that, and *only* that: NIH-funded authors will have to self-archive
their NIH-funded research articles in PMC. Period.

If, instead, it is not specified that fundees must self-archive
their NIH-funded research articles in PMC, but simply that they
must self-archive them (preferably) in their own institutional or
departmental OAI-compliant OA archive (and only if they do not yet
have such an institutional or departmental OAI-compliant OA archive,
in PMC instead), then the very same mandate has a high probability of
making not only NIH-funded research OA, but a lot of other research too,
within and across disciplines, at each fundee's institution. A distributed
institutional self-archiving mandate is likely to propagate across
institutions and disciplines; a central PMC-specific self-archiving
mandate is far less likely to propagate beyond its own specific remit.

> Similarly, it seems quite reasonable for NIH to consider
> requiring its employees and grant recipients to lodge a copy of any
> resultant articles in NIH's archive (while also encouraging them and
> allowing them to archive it elsewhere).

We are talking about what -- specifically -- needs to be *mandated*, and why;
not about what might be "encouraged." Encouragement has been going on for years,
with little result!

> Re: Donat's original point:
> The remit of PubMed Central is sufficiently broad that it can easily
> accomodate any research that is NIH supported, even if not directly
> biomedical.
> Certainly, ecology and conservation biology are well within its scope:
> e.g.

NIH can only mandate the self-archiving of NIH-funded research. Of course
it is a good idea to allow researchers to self-archive non-NIH-funded
research in PMC too (and this sensible policy has been a long time
coming, after several years of only allowing journals and not authors
to self-archive in PMC); but here too, PMC is most useful as a back-up,
for those authors whose institutions have not yet created OAI-compliant
OA archives. (Meanwhile, if the NIH mandate is amended so as to target
institutional self-archiving specifically, it will also help to spur
the creation of more institutional OA archives!)

> Also, PubMed Central already includes a significant amount of totally
> non-biomedical content, which is not NIH supported.
> e.g. It archives the whole of PNAS, including all the physical Science
> articles...
> So there is certainly no technical obstacle to archiving non-biomedical
> content in PubMed Central.

Yes, PMC has long hosted articles archived there by willing *publishers*
(such as PNAS), but we are talking here about self-archiving by *authors,*
which PMC has for some reason not allowed until recently.

> PS Note that BioMed Central has no formal connection with PubMed Central
> except that our Open Access content is archived there.

BMC, like PNAS, is one of the *publishers* that makes its content OA by
archiving it directly in PMC. The proposed US/NIH mandate, in contrast,
is about another form of Open Access provision, not Open Access Publishing
but Open Access Self-Archiving, by the *authors* of the articles.

And the issue here concerns how to maximize the scope of that mandate,
so as to maximize OA growth, across institutions and across disciplines,
across the world.

Stevan Harnad

> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Scientist Open Access Forum
> Behalf Of Donat Agosti
> Sent: 09 September 2004 14:17
> Subject: Re: Open letter to Congress from 25 Nobel Laureates
> Why is this initiative just one for the biomedical community? It seems
> strange to me, that it doesn't cover science in general. For example, one of
> the major problems in Conservation Biology is in fact access to the widely
> scattered publications, and increasingly, a digital divide is being widening
> between North and South (where most of the biodiversity is), as well as
> between those being part of a wealthy university system and those not.
> Donat Agosti
> [Moderator's Note: A simple way to extend the scope of the US/NIH
> initiative (to mandate the open-access self-archiving of all
> NIH-funded biomedical research) so as to cover all of scientific and
> scholarly research is to drop the stipulation that the self-archiving
> must be done in PubMed Central (PMC): Just mandate that it should
> be self-archived in an OAI-compliant archive, without stipulating
> PMC, just as the UK's proposed self-archiving mandate has done. If
> NIH authors self-archive in their own institutional OAI archives,
> the practise will propagate naturally across all the disciplines at
> their institutions. -- Stevan Harnad]
> 3.htm
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Received on Thu Sep 09 2004 - 15:53:09 BST

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