APA: Open Access and Public Understanding

From: Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_ecs.soton.ac.uk>
Date: Tue, 25 Apr 2006 00:01:16 +0100

On Mon, 24 Apr 2006, Christopher D. Green wrote:

> Did you see this?
> http://www.apa.org/science/psa/apr06_edcol.html

The APA is green on author self-archiving. They are here challenging
one of the NIH's rationale's for requesting (soon, I hope, requiring)
public access, namely, that it is so that the public should have access
to research articles.

The critique is a little silly ("Would the public be interested in
reading this?" "Could they understand it?" Wouldn't it be better to
spend some money on public education on scientific findings?").

If it were true that the primary or sole rationale for Open Access were
that the public needs and wants to read the peer-reviewed research
literature, the case for Open Access would collapse with chuckling for
most research. (The exceptions would be some areas of clinical and
applied sciences, but that would amount to a tiny fraction of the annual
2.5 million articles published in the world's refereed journals across
all disciplines; it would only apply to a tiny fraction even of
biomedicine, or even the biomedicine that is funded by NIH.)

But that is of course *not* the case for Open Access. The case for Open
Access is based upon making research available to all its would-be users
among the researchers and practitioners with the expertise to use and
apply it, not the general public. That is how the general public, who
pays to fund the research, derives the benefits it has paid for from its
findings, not by reading about them (though they are certainly welcome
to try!).

Why would NIH have set itself up for the kind of obvious prima facie
criticism opened up by using public access as the rationale for Open
Access? Partly because (viewed superficially and naively, as most things
are), it *sounds* like a good argument for Open Access: your health, the
health of your loved ones, new medicines your doctor may not know about,
cautions about possible side-effects -- and even general "right-to-know"
issues are all dramatically engaged by the public-access argument. It has
political and tax-payer lobbyist appeal. And it is in fact perfectly
valid, for the small fraction of the target Open Access literature that
it applies to.

But unfortunately, *it does not scale*! On the contrary, it provides an
excellent argument (and APA is making it) for *not* providing Open
Access to most of the target Open Access literature because it not only
has no interest for the general public, but the general public could not
make the faintest sense of it even if they showed the slightest inclination
to do so (and they don't). So APA can in this way effectively lampoon
the entire case for OA -- *if* public access were indeed the primary or
sole rationale for OA. But it is not.

Not even educational access for teaching/learning is a compelling enough
argument for making the primary research literature OA, because most of
the primary research literature is not used in teaching and learning.
The only ones who make heavy use of the primary research literature are
researchers, and no wonder, since that literature was written by and
for them. But the trouble is that no researcher can access all or most
of it, because no researcher's institution can afford to buy access to
all or most of it. And hence much of the research that the public funds
is losing much of its potential usage and impact. And *that* is the real
rationale for OA.

It would be nice if the NIH (and others) got this into focus, because as
long as they keep going on and on about minoritarian trifles like public
access to research that the public has next to no inclination or ability
to read, the optimal and inevitable outcome for research, researchers,
*and* the public that supports them will continue to be delayed.

And while they're at it, sorting things out, it would not be a bad idea if
NIH at last gave some thought to the other flaws in its current policy,
namely, that self-archiving needs to be (1) required, not requested, that
it needs to be (2) immediate, not delayed, and that deposit needs to be (3)
done in the author's own Institutional Repository (and then harvested to
PubMed Central) and not directly in PubMed Central.

The reason it needs to be required (1) is that otherwise researchers will
not do it.

The reason it needs to be immediate (2) is that for many fast-moving
research areas, uptake within the first 6-12 months, the growth tip, is
the most important and fruitful for new findings, and that allowing any
delay simply encourages publishers to adopt and entrench embargoes. (The
right policy is to mandate immediate deposit upon acceptance for
publication, and to allow delay, if any, only on the date at which
access is set to Open Access; during any delay period, the full-text
can be set to Closed Access, but the bibliographic metadata (author,
title, journal, date, etc.) are openly accessible, and the Institutional
Repository software will allow any would-be user to automatically email
the author to request to be emailed an eprint.

The reason self-archiving has to be in the author's own Institutional
Repository (3) is that *that is the practice that will scale* to all
the rest of the Open Access target content. An NIH mandate to deposit
NIH-funded content in PubMed Central affects NIH-funded biomedical
research alone; an NIH mandate to deposit NIH-funded content in the
author's own IR propagates across disciplines within institutions and
across institutions. Institutions will be encouraged to extend the mandate
to all of their research output. Institutions are the primary research
providers and share with the researcher the benefits of maximizing their
research impact. There is no such shared benefit with PubMed Central
-- yet nothing is lost, as PubMed Central can harvest the metadata or
even the full-texts from its NIH-funded researchers' IRs. And as the
self-archiving practice propagates across disciplines and institutions,
PubMed Central (and other Central Archives) will be able to harvest a
lot more than just NIH-funded research.

So let's hope NIH will use this opportunity to correct all four of the
policy's flaws -- request-->require, embargo-->immediate,
PMC-->IR, public access rationale--> researcher access rationale.

    "Harnad Comments on APA Interim Internet Publishing Policy" (1996)

    "Psychology and self-archiving" (2001)

    American Psychological Association (APA) and Open Access (2004)

    "A Simple Way to Optimize the NIH Public Access Policy"
Received on Tue Apr 25 2006 - 13:30:13 BST

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Dec 10 2010 - 19:48:19 GMT