Re: Ian Gibson on open access

From: guedon <>
Date: Fri, 28 Apr 2006 23:08:04 -0400

Allow me once more to comment. The functional mark of OA certainly
centers on, and finds its core business, so to speak, in the research
communities. However, and once again, the function of research is not
limited to researchers. Directly, or indirectly, according to the topic
and the technical requirements of the topic, it percolates to much wider
circles. Researchers and non researchers are not separated by some wide,
somewhat enigmatic, chasm. Many non-researchers have the capacity to
access high-level scientific literature and make use of it. For example,
all these Ph. D.'s that practically never publish, yet teach, can make
use of high-level research. They train people out of which a certain
proportion will go into research, so that the research communities are
also affected by this kind of access, given enough time. Theyalso happen
to be the majority among Ph. D.'s.

The issue of publishing reform brought up repeatedly by Stevan Harnad is
equally strange: while it is clear that the gold road leads to
publishing reform and that the gold road demands publishing reform, no
one knows what consequences 100% self-archiving OA will generate and no
one claims it will generate publishing reform. Only speculations have
been aired in this regard, most of which by publishers. Indeed, many
publishers, however, fear it. For example, last week in Lund, Derk Haank
expressed these kinds of fears in his inimitable style: first, he stated
that repositories were years away from being significantly full; then,
and more ominously, he stated that, should the repositories begin to
fill up, he would certainly reconsider the green attitude of Springer.
Whether he could politically afford this once the habit is taken is
questionable, but that is another speculation. Meanwhile, the threat was
clearly expressed in public.

Stevan Harnad endlessly repeats a message which, alas, appears
increasingly elitist and increasingly dismissive of the complex
realities of the social life of the sciences and other scholarly studies
(humanities and social sciences). This is truly to be regretted as
whatever he defends, many of us also defend, but, unlike him, we also
believe we can enrich and widen the issues one should address to achieve
full OA. In so doing, we also believe we can open possibilities for
important and powerful alliances with various groups that are interested
in the results of science research. In other words, if Stevan Harnad
were not so doctrinaire in his views - and the only rationale for this
rigidity seems to be that he fears a loss of focus on the part of people
that, clearly, are not as intelligent as he -, the OA movement could
proceed on a large front with many allied people focusing their efforts
wherever they feel they are most useful. The Ivy League alone will not
succeed in achieving full OA.

To conclude, and this is simply a logical point, if x agrees with y on
everything except one point - namely y does not hold the whole of the
truth -, it does not follow that x totally disagrees with y. It does not
follow either that x is undermining y's efforts. It only follows that
what y takes to be the whole truth is nothing more than part of the
truth for x. A prudent thinker would leave some room for the possibility
that there may be more to the perceived truth than one thinks.



Le vendredi 28 avril 2006 à 16:03 +0100, Stevan Harnad a écrit :
> Ian Gibson (whose introduction to the forthcoming OA book is appended
> below) is remarkable, and will certainly get the historic credit for
> having shepherded-through the landmark UK Select Committee
> recommendation:
> Historians and sociologists of science will find it especially
> interesting that Ian has done what he has done despite the fact that
> much of his admirable populist rationale for OA will prove to have been
> completely wide of the functional mark (though perhaps not of the
> practical, political mark).
> In the PostGutenberg Era, OA will be seen clearly to have been a research community
> objective and a research community benefit, in making research
> accessible to all researchers who need to use it, not just to those
> whose institutions can afford the journal in which it happens to have
> been published (as in the Gutenberg Era). OA may or may not eventually
> lead to publishing reform, but in and of itself it will become clear that
> OA was not and would not have been provided by researchers merely or
> primarily in order to reform publishing, nor in order to make journals
> more affordable. It will have been provided *by* researchers *for*
> researchers because that is what research and researchers need and want,
> and the Web has at last made it possible for them to give and get it.
> The idea that OA is needed in order to break journal publishers'
> "monopoly" may hence prove to have been one of OA's actual intermediate
> selling points, in inspiring indignation and action, but it will also
> prove to have been a specious point.
> Missing the mark too is the notion that OA is needed to feed a "hungry"
> public with the content of peer-reviewed research journals. Apart from a
> few small and non-representative fields, such as clinically relevant
> biomedical research and possibly some areas of applied and social
> science research, there is not only no hunger but no appetite on the part
> of the general public for reading the mostly specialised and esoteric
> peer-reviewed research literature, written by researchers, for researchers
> with the expertise to understand and use it (2.5 million articles per
> year, across all research fields, in 24,000 peer-reviewed journals). It
> is through researchers using, building upon and applying the fruits of
> research that the general public benefits from OA, not from reading it
> for themselves.
> Developing-world access on the part of developing world *researchers*
> (rather than the general public) is of course part of the rationale
> for OA, but let us not imagine that it is merely or mainly an act of
> charity! There are just as many "needy" would-be users in the developed
> world as in the developing world, insofar as the research literature is
> concerned, because no researcher's institution can afford all the journals
> any researcher might ever need, and, a fortiori, none can afford all the
> peer-reviewed journals there are (24K). And this would still be true (please
> note carefully!) *even if all journals were sold at cost* (zero profit,
> hence no point blaming monopolists and price-gougers).
> And Ian is even off the mark insofar as "free-riding" is concerned. His
> own committee's (spot-on) recommendation was that all researchers should
> be required to self-archive their own published research article output in
> their own institutional repositories, free for all. Publishers have filled
> Ian's ears, no doubt, with apocalyptic alarms about the possibility of
> rival publishers free-riding on and underselling that free content. Utter
> nonsense, because based on a *profound* misunderstanding of the Web,
> of OA itself, and what comes with the territory:
> For if/when all articles are available free for all on the web, it is
> absurd to imagine that any free-riding rival publisher will be able to
> *sell* them, to anyone! On the contrary (and somewhat incoherently),
> the original publishers have also raised alarms out whether they
> themselves will continue to be able to sell them, under competition
> from their own author's free versions. All evidence to date is that they
> can and will, but if/when the subscription/license market ever shrinks
> to a non-sustainable level, there can and will be a natural adaptive
> transition to OA publishing -- but not before, and no sign on the horizon
> of anything like that yet.
> But having said all that: Neither Ian nor OA enthusiasts (or detractors)
> seem to be aware of or deterred by such inconsistencies. So let them
> keep fighting for (or against) OA on the grounds of journal
> affordability, public accessibility, or what have you. Just as long it
> is Ian's own remedy that the proponents promote (mandated self-archiving
> in the researcher's own IR).
> For those who are actually in a position to mandate self-archiving,
> however -- namely, researchers' own institutions and their research
> funders -- it might be helpful if we gave them a more compelling and
> face-valid reason for mandating OA than merely to fight publisher
> monopolies or to feed peer-reviewed research information to a hungry
> general populace: OA self-archiving dramatically enhances the uptake
> and usage -- and hence the progress -- of research itself, and that is
> what pays researchers' salaries, funds their research, and provides the
> return on the tax-payer's investment in research. OA is optimal (hence
> inevitable) for research. It is also already well overdue, having been
> reachable for well over a decade now...
> Stevan Harnad
> ---------- Forwarded message ----------
> Date: Fri, 28 Apr 2006 08:03:24 -0400
> From: Peter Suber <>
> To:,
> Subject: [BOAI] Ian Gibson on open access
> This is Ian Gibson's foreword to Neil Jacobs (ed.), Open Access: Key
> strategic, technical and economic aspects, Chandos Publishing, forthcoming 2006. Forwarding with permission.
> Peter
> ----------cut here----------
> Foreword
> The era of open access is dawning and it could not come a moment too soon.
> The rapid development of the internet and its increased use across the
> globe has meant that there is a wide and growing audience that is hungry
> and in some cases, desperately in need of information that traditionally
> few have been able to access.
> The idea of open access is highly controversial and divisive. If one were
> to politely mumble the phrase at a dull gathering of academics, publishers
> and policy makers, one would be sure to instantly divide the room and
> instigate a heated debate. This book is therefore an important introduction
> for those who know nothing of a debate that has been raging in academic
> circles for a long time. And for those with seemingly entrenched positions,
> this book will most certainly change some minds.
> In science, my own area of expertise, the issue of open access has been
> making troublesome waves in the last few years. The 2004 House of Commons
> Science and Technology Committee inquiry 'Scientific Publications: free for
> all?' which I chaired, looked into a number of issues; such as whether the
> market for scientific publications was working well, the trends in journal
> pricing, the impact of new publishing trends on the scientific process, the
> integrity of journals and so on. What we found was not pleasant.
> The commercial publishing world has an increasingly harmful monopoly on a
> number of prestige journals which are essential to disseminating new ideas
> and research. This monopoly over knowledge has been one factor underlying
> an increase in the price of subscriptions, leaving some academic libraries
> with no choice but to cancel subscriptions as they can no longer afford to
> pay for a full range of journals.
> I believe the current situation is highly unethical. As vast amounts of
> public money is used to fund research, it should follow that such research
> should be freely available to the public to boost up their knowledge and
> appreciation of science, instead of increasing the profit margins of a few
> publishing houses. One therefore would be hard pressed to deny the ethical
> case for open access. Indeed one only has to think of the need to make new
> research readily available to developing countries which do not have the
> resources to purchase such information and yet face some of the world's
> most devastating problems.
> However, better ethical conduct is only one of the many objectives of the
> open access project as this excellent collection of essays will show. I do
> not deny that there are legitimate fears about the implications of open
> access. It is one thing to make information readily available for the
> public who through taxation fund such research, and developing countries
> who need access to life-saving ideas; but it is quite another matter to
> make knowledge available for those who will free ride their way through
> improved access to profit themselves. But these are problems I believe can
> be overcome with a bit of creativity as some of the authors in this
> collection show. Turn the page and start reading.
> Ian Gibson MP
Received on Sat Apr 29 2006 - 05:15:49 BST

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