Re: Chronicle Article: John Ewing/American Math Society

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Fri, 1 Oct 2004 11:33:46 +0100

Elena Fraboschi unfortunately has not quite understood either
self-archiving or Open Access (OA). She seems to think that self-archiving
is another form of publication, and one in which naive authors fail to
ensure preservation.

In reality, self-archiving is not a form of publication, it is a
supplement to publication -- publication which authors continue to do,
as they did before. The purpose of the supplement is immediate
*access-provision* for those would-be users whose institutions cannot
afford to pay for the published official version. Moreover, it is not the
self-archived, supplementary version that has the preservation problem,
but the official published version. Hence the preservation problem
has nothing whatsoever to do with Open Access (OA), which is about
the access/impact problem. The access/impact problem is that research
impact is lost if research is inaccessible to any of its would-be
users (*especially* early-on).

    "Shulenburger on open access: so NEAR and yet so far"

Self-archiving has been going on since as long ago as the early 1990's. If
those early self-archiving authors had mistakenly thought that what they
were doing was not supplementary access-provision for access-denied users
but a reckless substitute form of self-publication, and had for that
reason abstained from self-archiving, they and their users would have
lost a decade and a half of access and impact, as all non-self-archiving
authors have meanwhile done, and their supplements would not be here
today (as they still are), many even happily retrofitted in the late
1990's for OAI-compliance.

    "Re: EPrints, DSpace or ESpace?"

    "Re: Central vs. Distributed Archives"

There are many reasons why open-access provision through self-archiving has
been growing so much more slowly in the past 15 years than it could have
done. Historians will in due course have to analyse and explain the
reasons why it took so long for the obvious, optimal, and inevitable
outcome of 100% OA to prevail (as it soon will). There are at
least 31 reasons for this delay, every single one of them based on a
misunderstanding, and it is the research community itself that is mainly
to blame for those misunderstandings.

But the well-meaning library community -- which will receive due
historical credit for having first alerted the research community to
the access problem -- will also share some of the blame for the delay,
mainly because of their continuing fixation on pricing and preservation
(two of the many "p-words" that seem to keep dogging the progress of both
self-archiving and OA!).

    Some of OA's p's and q's










I will now briefly reply to Elena Fraboschi's specific comments, but note that
I could have replied by number, from the self-archiving "p" FAQs above
-- which can alternatively be dubbed, with yet another p-word, the causes
and symptoms of a Zeno's Paralysis:

    "Zeno's Paradox and the Road to the Optimal/Inevitable"

On Thu, 30 Sep 2004, Elena A Fraboschi wrote:

> On Tue, 28 Sep 2004, Stevan Harnad wrote:
> > (2) OA is not the same as OA journal publishing (and its cost-recovery
> > model); and OA journal publishing is not the way most OA is being
> > provided: authors self-archiving their own articles (published in non-OA
> > journals) is.
> I regret not having the time for a thorough and "perfect" answer but, in
> my world, something is better than nothing. Here is "something".

In the research world something is better than nothing too, and immediate
access to the author's self-archived supplement to the otherwise inaccessible
(because unaffordable) official published version of a research finding
for all its would-be users is incomparably better than access-denial.

> There once was a bard by the name William Shakespeare I think? He
> "self-archived" all his works, thus paving the way for thousands of jobs
> centuries later in order to find out all his works, and nothing but his
> works...

One could hardly find a more invalid and misleading analogy. Shakespeare
did not self-archive, he wrote. And fortunately some of his folios were
preserved and published and preserved. All of today's research authors
publish their articles. The digital version of those publications
may have a preservation problem (which will be and is being solved),
but that has nothing whatsoever to do with the self-archived version,
which is merely an OA supplement, to provide immediate access for those
potential users who cannot afford the official published version.

> "Self-archiving" by authors unfamiliar with "what is acid-free paper?" -
> unfamiliar, therefore, with the notion that "permanency" should be
> measured by 100 years or more, and not by "While I am at this university,
> I assure you that the URL will not change", authors that have the
> slightest idea that there is such as thing as metadata that permits
> retrieval by search engines...

One need not be a preservation expert to provide immediate supplementary
access to one's findings for all would-be users who cannot afford
the official published version. And to continue to deny users immediate
access for such completely irrelevant reasons would be (and is) downright
foolish! (In fact, 100% OA will no doubt also be one of the strongest
drivers toward finding a reliable solution to the true, primary digital
preservation problem, which concerns the published original and not the
OA supplement.)

> Please, Stevan, give me a break. I deal daily with such authors.
> Authors are supposed to know their field, be it medicine, mathematics, or
> what have you. They are not supposed to know computer-ese and library and
> information science, in order to publish, disseminate, market, and archive
> their works. Most of the ones who say they do know and can do "a better
> job than John Wiley" know less than the ones who say that they know that
> they don't know. :-)

And a good thing too, that authors don't fret about irrelevant preservation
problems when the real problem is immediate access provision for published
articles. If authors wrongly thought of this as primary publication, as
so many librarians continue to do, OA would even be a longer time coming!

> I am being obtuse deliberately. Maybe that way there is a better chance
> of being heard than by spewing platitudes.

What is needed is neither obtuseness nor platitudes, but a clear understanding --
still so sadly lacking this late in the day -- for a message that is no more
complicated than: "Look kids, it's raining. Time to put on your raincoats."
We have continued to be drenched for over a decade now with worries worthy of
Zeno, of the order of:

But raincoats may disintegrate!
But it's illegal to use a raincoat!
But raincoats won't protect you from the rain!
But God meant us to get wet!
But it's not really raining!
etc. etc.

I do not envy the historians of this silly interlude for what is reputed
to be the brainiest stratum of our populace...


Stevan Harnad

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Received on Fri Oct 01 2004 - 11:33:46 BST

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