Re: Who Needs Open Access, and Why?

From: Matthew Cockerill <matt_at_BIOMEDCENTRAL.COM>
Date: Sun, 24 Oct 2004 14:18:21 +0100

It's important to be be more specific about the question under investigation
here, surely:

When critics say 'there is no evidence that researchers WANT open access',
do they mean:

(1) "There is no evidence that researchers feel that a lack of open access
to the literature in any significant way impedes their professional activity
as researchers."

We could call this 'Strong denial' of a demand for OA. [I don't think this
is a straw man argument - Elsevier's statements do indeed seem to take this

Or do they mean
(2) "There is no evidence that researchers are prepared to accept X, Y and Z
as a price worth paying in return for open access.", where X, Y and Z are
issues raised by critics as being risks associated with a movement to Open

We could call this 'Weak denial' of a demand for OA.

It might be informative to survey researchers (including those in other
countries) on both these issues.

But (1) is by far the more fundamental and important question: is there a
demand that is unsatisfied by the status quo, that implies, if nothing else,
that there may be a better system of publishing than thee status quo, if
only we could find it.

(2) is a far less objective question. What X, Y and Z are depends entirely
on who you ask.

Open Access proponents (including, to judge from their public statement,
major funders such Wellcome, HHMI and Max Planck) would say that X, Y and Z
amount only to a sensible change in the way in which the costs of original
research publishing are paid for, with (most likely) a progressive move away
from library budgets, towards research funding budgets as the prime source.

The extremist fringe of Open Access sceptics (from the 'Weak denial' camp)
might claim that X, Y and Z amount to the disappearance of scientific
societies as we know them, and the collapse of the edifice of scientific
peer review.

You're clearly going to get a completely different set of answers depending
on what version of (2) you ask...
So I would have thought that (1) would be the more useful question to ask.


Matthew Cockerill Ph.D.
Technical Director
BioMed Central ( )
34-42, Cleveland Street

Tel 020 7631 9127
Fax: 020 7580 1938

> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Scientist Open Access Forum
> Behalf Of Martin Frank
> Sent: 24 October 2004 03:43
> Subject: Re: Who Needs Open Access, and Why?
> While it is appropriate to survey scientists to get their opinions,
> it is also important to survey them in a way that clearly defines what
> the potential impact of open access might be for them. While
> they all want
> free and unfettered access to the scientific literature,
> something many of
> them have through their institutional subscriptions, they
> must recognize
> that obtaining free access might result in significant cost to their
> grants and institutions, and in the case of not-for-profit
> publishers,
> significant changes in the scientific societies that support
> the production
> of the journals, changes that might result in the elimination of the
> support that societies provide for the next generation of scientists.
> If the survey truly provides information that allows for reasoned
> decisions by the respondents, then a survey is worthwhile,
> otherwise it
> will not help any of us in our efforts to provide access as freely as
> possible within the framework of our existing business and
> publications
> models.
> Martin Frank, Ph.D.
> Executive Director
> American Physiological Society
> 9650 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20814-3991
> Tel: 301-634-7118 Fax: 301-634-7242
> Email:
> APS Home Page:
> "...integrating the life sciences from molecule20
> to organism"
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