Re: Priorities: OA Content Provision vs. OA Content Preservation

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 5 Oct 2004 13:39:32 +0100

On Tue, 5 Oct 2004 Brian Simboli wrote:

> Let us say that one is concerned with the good of preservation and places it at
> least on par with the good of open access, and perhaps even trumps the latter.

Hard to see how preserving content can trump providing content: One cannot preserve
non-existent content...

> That person, according to the account below, would be advised to focus efforts
> on preserving the stock of subscribed journal articles that is the foundation
> for those self-archiving efforts.

Yes, and it is strictly analogous to preserving La Gioconda, rather than worrying
about preserving the replicas provided for those who cannot afford the cab-fare
to the Louvre...

> The argument is apparently that once a critical mass of green self-archived
> articles hangs out on the web, attention will then somehow turn to preserving
> open access to those freely available versions.

No, the argument is that while experts are working on solving the problem
of preserving the original Gioconda, would-be viewers worldwide should
still be able to see a replica. (The analogy falls short, because the
would-be users of journal articles are not merely passive viewers but
active researchers who build their own work on what they read.)

And there are no assumptions -- other than that providing immediate access
to all would-be users now is preferable to waiting to find a way to guarantee
that that access will last forever; and that providing immediate access
to all would-be users now increases rather than decreases the probability
of eventually finding a way to guarantee that that access will last forever.

> The assumption here is that people will be so enamored of their free
> availability that they'll want to continue that status quo.


> This to me is a quite significant speculative leap about the future
> behavior of thousands of institutions and individuals.

It is speculative to assume that people will want to hold onto
a good thing, once they get used to having it?

> The readers of those free articles will be happy that they exist freely,
> but will their free availability supply the motivation for them to devote
> funds and energy to preserving the items?

Let that be a matter of empirical test rather than speculation: If the
research access/impact benefits of OA now are sufficient to induce the
research community to provide OA now, let us leave it to the same forces
to decide whether, once they actually have OA, they will want to continue
to have it. (If they don't, they can always revert to the Toll-Access
[TA] they have now.)

> Maybe they will be so motivated, maybe not. It may well depend on the
> perceived value, to research, of any given article. And we know that not
> all articles are of equal interest from a preservation standpoint, since
> articles vary greatly in their perceived contribution to the advancement
> of knowledge. It is true, too, that an article that now appears to be
> of little value may later spark a scientific revolution. That is the
> very article that might have disappeared from view, given that lack of
> interest in preserving its free status quo makes it likely that it will
> *not* be preserved.

Disappeared from OA, not disappeared from view, for those with the
cab-fare. (You seem to keep forgetting that OA self-archiving is a
supplement to, not a substitute for, TA, and that, until further notice,
it is the TA version -- the original of La Gioconda -- that has the
preservation burden, not the self-archived replicas.)

> For one concerned about preservation, there are more organized and
> predictable routes than green, from an infrastructural standpoint.

Yes, but are there more probable, reachable and immediate routes?

Because while we wait for OA content provision, research impact is being
needlessly and cumulatively lost, daily, weekly, yearly.

Fulfilling immediate needs surely trumps waiting for guarantees that that
fulfillment will last for ever.

Stevan Harnad

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Received on Tue Oct 05 2004 - 13:39:32 BST

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