Definition of Open Access

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Fri, 30 Jun 2006 00:15:30 +0100

Rick Anderson is unhappy with "my" definition of OA:

> > > > SH:
> > > > OA means free online access to published, peer-reviewed journal
> > > > articles.
> > >
> > > RA:
> > > No, Stevan, that's _your_ definition of OA. It is by no means the
> > > only one.
> >
> > SH:
> > No, Rick, that's the BOAI definition, and that was where the
> > word OA was coined:
> >
> RA:
> Actually, the Barcelona definition departs significantly from Stevan's.
> It does not require content to be either peer-reviewed or formally
> published in order for it to be considered OA, nor does it share
> Stevan's narrow focus on self-archiving. More significantly, the BOAI
> definition is itself not the only one.

To repeat, the term "Open Access" was introduced into the language
between December 2001 and February 2002 by the co-drafters of the
Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) (Peter Suber, principal drafter).

Language being what it is, once coined, the term was of course free
to take on any other meaning anyone wished to assign to it, but
there is much to be said for the co-drafters' original intention
and initiative: That was, after all, what launched the Open Access
movement. And the reason the original Budapest definition focussed
on published, peer-reviewed journal articles, rather than any and
every text appended to paper or screen, was twofold:

It was critical to distinguish (1) texts that their authors wanted to
give away free -- and had written only to be used by anyone who wanted
to use them -- from texts that their authors had written for
royalties or fees, to be sold.

And it was critical also to distinguish (2) texts of the above kind that
were currently behind toll barriers (subscription tolls) from texts that
were not behind any barriers at all.

And of course the new medium that made such free give-aways possible
was the digital one: We are talking about online give-aways, not
on-paper give-aways.

The only literature that fell, without exception, within both of these
criteria, was (the digital versions of) the 2.5 million annual articles
in the world's 24,000 peer-reviewed journals (and conference-proceedings)
-- all, without exception, being author give-aways, written purely for
their research usage and impact, and not for access-revenues.

There are of course other texts that fulfil both criteria (texts
written just to be read, yet currently only accessible through payment):
Some books might want to be such author give-aways, for example,
but currently those are the exceptions, not the rule in their category,
so they were not taken as the paradigmatic case: peer-reviewed journal
articles were.

There were also many examples that did not meet both criteria: Authors
give away their unpublished "grey" literature, and want it widely read
and used too, but there are no toll barriers that need to be overcome:
The author merely has to give it away. The same is true of research
data, and other digital content that is not now Toll-Access, so need not
be made Open-Access.

Nor did the BOAI definition restrict itself to self-archiving. From the
outset, *two* ways of making journal articles OA were described: BOAI-1
was to free them by self-archiving them (later dubbed the "green road
to OA") and BOAI-2 was to free them by publishing them in an OA journal
(later dubbed the gold road to OA").

All the essential elements were there, and clearly formulated, in the
original BOAI definition of OA.

But then came all the different OA Statements, Declarations, and
Manifestos, and they often put a spin on OA that was not part of either
the letter or the spirit of its original definition. The most prominent
spin (and the most damaging to the progress of OA for a number of futile
"gold rush" years thereafter) was the tendency to equate OA exclusively
with BOAI-2, OA publishing: as if OA *meant* OA publishing. This tendency
is still with us today (though diminishing at last, with the success of
the OA self-archiving mandate movement) and (I think) it began with the
Bethesda Statement, which was extremely gold-biassed (for a variety of
historical reasons that I won't describe here: they are summarised in ). Berlin was simply a clone of

> See also the Berlin Declaration
> at (which does
> not even mention peer review) and the Bethesda Principles at
> All three of these
> formal definitions differ somewhat from each other, and none of them is
> as restrictive as Stevan's.

On the contrary, they are both far more restrictive than BOAI, seeing
OA as being OA publishing, whereas in reality OA publishing is just one
of the two ways of reaching OA, which is: free, online, full-text access
(to peer-reviewed journal articles).

> Why waste so many keystrokes on this point? Because this whole argument
> has been about whether particular OA solutions should or shouldn't be
> supported by our community. Stevan has a personal and specific vision
> of what OA should be, and there's nothing wrong with that -- except when
> he pushes it as the One True Doctrine of OA and then tries to enlist
> everyone else's help in actively opposing OA solutions that he deems
> heretical.

Could I put it in a less tendentious way? I have evidence and reasons
suggesting that self-archiving mandates are the fastest and surest way
to 100% OA today, and I post and publish that evidence and reasoning to the
best of my ability, and try to show why self-archiving is indeed the
fastest and surest way to 100% OA today. I don't see anything that
warrants speaking of "Doctrine" and "Heresy" in this.

If, for example, I say that the OA means what the BOAI originally defined
it to mean, and I even say why that is the most natural and general
definition of OA, and why and how later rival definitions have biassed
and restricted it, I am not defending a Doctrine against Heresy. I am
simply trying to explain and promote the fastest and surest way to make
journal articles freely accessible online (call it whatever you like!).

> I suggest that the range of acceptable OA options is
> significantly broader than he thinks, and that we should push back when
> individuals push us towards an unnecessarily (and counterproductively)
> narrow vision of this issue.

I agree. Now please explain why we should narrow the definition of OA
to OA publishing? or empty it to mean "putting anything at all online
free for all"?

Stevan Harnad
Received on Fri Jun 30 2006 - 00:21:50 BST

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