Re: Open Access vs. NIH Back Access and Nature's Back-Sliding

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sun, 30 Jan 2005 23:46:24 +0000

Ray English wrote:

> In response to Stevan Harnad's comment below, I think it's important
> to note that the revised NIH policy (as best we can determine it,
> since it hasn't been officially announced yet) is actually closer to
> OA than the policy that NIH vetted earlier. As Peter Suber noted in
> an earlier message today, It gives the researcher control over when
> the article will be made openly accessible, without having to
> request permission from the publisher.

Please consider the logic underlying this inference:

Either the author (1) did or (2) did not have to request permission
from the publisher to make his own article OA (by self-archiving it)
before there was any NIH policy.

(1) If the author did not have to request permission from the publisher
to make his own article OA (by self-archiving it) previously, then the
author does not have to request permission subsequently, and the NIH policy
is neither here nor there.

(2) If the author did have to request permission from the publisher
to make his own article OA (by self-archiving it) previously, then
the author would still have to request permission subsequently (since
presumably NIH cannot grant permission on the part of the publisher),
and hence again the NIH policy is neither here nor there.

What is true is that the NIH had added an extra, unnecessary and
counterproductive complication to the process of trying to make the
author's own article OA (by self-archiving it) -- by insisting that it
must be self-archived in PubMed Central. For that, one does indeed have
to ask permission -- but not from the publisher: from NIH! So the new
(proposed) NIH policy differs from the old one only in that NIH has
over-ridden its own prior refusal to grant the author the permission to
self-archive in NIH's own archive, PubMed Central, prior to 6 months after

    "A Simple Way to Optimize the NIH Public Access Policy"

This is a rather circular and empty gain, since there is no particular reason that
an author should want to make his article Open Access by self-archiving it in
PubMed Central at all -- except that that is what NIH happens to be
specifically bidding him to do (for no good reason). The author could have
self-archived it in his own institutional archive all along, from day 1, with or
without NIH's permission, and with the blessing of 92% of journals:

So the new NIH policy is only "closer" to OA in the sense that it is
less-far than it had itself arbitrarily distanced itself from OA in
the first place. And it is still nowhere near OA. Nor has it given
the researchers "more control" over anything except their ability to
fulfill NIH's own arbitrary stipulations (about PubMed Central), which
have nothing whatsoever to do with OA (and instead make OA more unlikely).

> Authors have the clear option to make their work openly accessible
> immediately at the time of publication.

Authors had that option all along, irrespective of NIH: The NIH policy had been
intended to induce them to *use* that option; instead, it added further
constraints, then removed some of them, without inducing the author to provide OA
at all. (By the way, OA, by definition, can only be provided immediately; delayed
access is not Open Access but Back Access.)

> (The policy also calls for articles that are deposited to become openly
> accessible after 12 months, if the author did not choose earlier open
> access.)

The idea had been to induce authors to provide OA (the OA that they were
already able to provide if they chose, without NIH, but they were
not yet choosing to). Instead, the NIH policy would induce them to provide access
within 12 months, and in PubMed Central. The result is not only a policy
that would not induce authors to provide OA, but it would induce publishers
(and already has) to renege on giving authors the green light to
provide OA by immediate self-archiving, back-sliding instead to Back Access --
in the name of NIH, in the service of OA!

> I think it remains to be seen if this will turn out to be better or worse
> than the original NIH proposal that had a six-month delay, with earlier
> open access only with permission of the publisher.

Both versions are bad, but whether increasing the needless delay from
6-12 offsets NIH's initial needless and arbitrary refusal to allow
self-archiving in PubMed Central before 6 is a minor matter: the policy
would not require authors to provide OA by self-archiving immediately
and it already does induce publishers to back-slide on their prior green
light to immediate self-archiving. I don't think we need to wait several
years to pronounce the policy as bad and ill-conceived.

> It will be possible to measure the outcome based on the percentage of
> research articles funded by NIH that are deposited in PubMed Central
> and the average time from publication to open access.

One can always measure outcomes. In the meantime, however, I hope other
institutions and other nations will adopt a genuine solution for inducing
immediate self-archiving rather than sitting around waiting to see whether
there is any net benefit at all from the ill-conceived NIH proposal.

Stevan Harnad

Stevan Harnad wrote:

> > These developments are not a blow to the OA movement, they are merely a
> > challenge, a challenge that can and will be met in the following way:
> >
> > (1) The NIH Proposal -- provisionally supported by the OA movement, will
> > now no longer be supported as it stands by the OA movement:
> >
> > NIH's 6-12 month embargoed access is not Open Access but Back Access, and
> > if it had continued to be supported by the OA movement as a step toward
> > OA it would have had the exact opposite effect, locking in a 6-12-month
> > access delay for years to come, and providing a pretext to publishers
> > like Nature to Back-Slide from their prior policy of giving their authors
> > the green light to self-archive immediately -- a policy that had been
> > adopted to accommodate the expressed wishes of the research community to
> > maximise access -- to a policy of 6-month embargo and mere Back Access.
> >
> > (2) Nature's Back-Sliding, like NIH's Back Access Policy, will be
> > portrayed as exactly what it is:
> >
> > Nature's is a recent policy change adopted so as to minimize possible
> > risk to publishers' revenue streams even though all actual evidence is the
> > opposite: that toll-access and self-archiving can co-exist peacefully for
> > years to come, with no effect on journal revenue streams. Hence Nature's
> > back-sliding is entirely contrary to the interests of research and
> > researchers, minimizing a minimal hypothetical risk, against all evidence,
> > at the expense of maximal benefits to research and researchers for which
> > there is a growing body of evidence -- and done on the NIH-supplied
> > pretext of being in the service of research and researchers and a step
> > toward OA!
> >
> > Stay tuned.
> >
> > Stevan Harnad
> >
> > A complete Hypermail archive of the ongoing discussion of providing
> > open access to the peer-reviewed research literature online (1998-2004)
> > is available at:
> >
> > To join or leave the Forum or change your subscription address:
> >
> > m.html Post discussion to:
> >
> >
> > 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.
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
Received on Sun Jan 30 2005 - 23:46:24 GMT

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