The Bangalore Commitment: "Self-Archive Unto Others as You Would Have Others Self-Archive Unto You"

From: Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_ecs.soton.ac.uk>
Date: Mon, 16 Oct 2006 11:01:16 -0400

    SUMMARY: There is no need for developing countries to wait for the
    developed countries to mandate Open Access (OA) self-archiving:
    They have more to gain because currently both their access and
    their impact is disproportionately low, relative to their actual and
    potential research productivity and influence. Lately there have been
    many abstract avowals of support for the Principle of OA, but what
    the world needs now is concrete commitments to its Practice. Under
    the guidance of India's tireless OA advocate, Subbiah Arunachalam,
    there will be a two day workshop on research publication and OA
    at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore on November 2-3,
    at which the three most research-active developing countries --
    India, China and Brazil -- will frame the "Bangalore Commitment":
    a commitment to mandate OA self-archiving in their own respective
    countries and thereby set an example for emulation by the rest of
    the world.

Most of the 2.5 million articles published yearly in our planet's
24,000 research journals are inaccessible to a large portion of their
potential users worldwide, but especially in the developing world.
One might think that the reason for this is that no research
institution can afford to subscribe to all 24,000 journals and that
most can only afford a fraction of them -- and this is true, but it
is not the whole story, nor the main part of it: For even if all
those journals were sold at cost -- not a penny of profit -- they
would still remain unaffordable for many of the research institutions
worldwide. The only way to make all those articles accessible to all
their potential users is to provide "Open Access" to them on the Web,
so anyone can access and use them, anywhere in the world, at any
time, for free.

One could have said the same of food, medicine, and all other human
essentials, of course, but one cannot eat digital food or cure
diseases with strings of 0's and 1's. Nor, alas, are all the
producers of digital products -- let alone of physical food or
medicine -- interested in giving away their products for free. So
what makes research different (if it is different) and why is it
urgent for all of its potential users to have access to it?

Research is the source from which future improvements in the quality,
quantity and availability of food, medicine, technology, and all
other potential benefits to mankind will come, if it is to come at
all. And researchers -- unlike the producers of commercial products
-- give their findings away: Unlike writers or journalists,
researchers do not seek or get fees or royalties for their articles.
They give them to their journals for free, and they even mail (and
these days email) free copies to any potential user who writes to ask
for one.

Why do researchers give their articles away for free? Partly for the
same reason they are researchers rather than businessmen: They want
to make a contribution to knowledge, to research progress. Partly
also because that is the nature of the reward structure of science
and scholarship: Research is funded, and researchers are employed and
paid, on the strength of their "research impact." This used to mean
how much they publish, but these days it also means how much their
publications are read, used, and built upon, to generate further
research and applications, to the benefit of the tax-paying society
that funds their research and their institutions.

And now we can see why researchers give away their articles and why
it is so important that all their potential users should be able to
access and use them: Because all access-barriers are barriers to
research progress and its benefits (as well as to the advancement of
researchers' careers and productivity): If you cannot access a
research finding, you cannot use, apply or build upon it.

Researchers are not businessmen, but they are not always very
practical either. The reason publications need to be counted and
rewarded by their employers and funders -- "publish or perish" -- is
that otherwise many researchers would just put their findings in a
desk drawer and move on to do the next piece of research. (That is
part of the price that humanity must pay for nurturing a sector that
is curiosity-driven rather than profit-driven.) So, since researchers
do need to fund their research and to feed themselves and family,
their publications are counted and then rewarded proportionately. But
counting publications is not enough: It has to be determined whether
the research was important enough to have been worth doing and
publishing in the first place; its "research impact" has to be
measured: What was its uptake, usage, influence? How many pieces of
further research and applications did it generate? Although the
measure is crude, and far richer measures are under development,
citation counts -- the number of times an article is cited by other
articles -- are an indicator of research impact.

So, along with publications, citations are counted, in paying
researchers and funding their research. And recent studies have shown
that the citation counts of articles that are freely available on the
web (Open Access) are 25%-250% higher than the citation counts of
articles that are only available to those researchers whose
institutions can afford a subscription to the journal in which it was
published.

One would think, in view of these findings, and of the fact that
researchers give away their articles anyway, that researchers would
all be making their published articles Open Access by now -- by "self-
archiving" them in their own institution's online repositories, free
for all. Ninety-four percent of journals already endorse self-
archiving by their authors. Yet in fact only about 15% of
researchers are self-archiving their publications spontaneously
today. Perhaps that is about the same percentage of researchers that
would be publishing at all, if it were not for the "publish or
perish" mandate. So it is obvious what the natural solution is, for
research and researchers worldwide, in the online era: the existing
publish-or-perish mandate has to be extended to make it into a
"publish and self-archive^ mandate.

International surveys have shown that 95% of researchers would comply
with a self-archiving mandate. This has since been confirmed by seven
research institutions worldwide (two in Australia, two in Switzerland
[one of them CERN], one in Portugal, one in the UK and one in India
[National Institution of Technology, Rourkela]) that have already
mandated self-archiving: their self-archiving rates are indeed
rapidly climbing from the 15% baseline towards 100%.

But those are spontaneous institutional mandates, and there are only
seven of them so far. There are also a few systematic national
mandates: four of the eight UK research funding councils and the
Wellcome Trust have now mandated self-archiving. And there are
several other national proposals to mandate self-archiving, by the
European Commission, a Canadian research council (CIHR) and all of
the major US funding agencies (FRPAA).

There is no need, however, for developing countries to wait for the
developed countries to mandate self-archiving. Developing countries
have even more to gain -- for the impact of their own research on the
research of others and for their own access to the research of others
^ because currently both their access and their impact is
disproportionately low, relative to their actual and potential
research productivity and influence.

In the past few years there have been many abstract avowals of
support for the Principle of Open Access (e.g., the Bethesda and
Berlin and Valparaiso and Goettingen and Scottish and Buenos Aires
and Messina and Vienna and Salvador and WSIS and Riyadh
Declarations), but these have all merely declared that providing Open
Access is a "good thing" and "should be done" -- without saying
exactly what should be done, and without committing themselves to
doing it!

This is rather as if there were a global warming problem, and region
after region kept making pious pronouncements to the effect that
"something should be done about the global warming problem" instead
of affirming that they have actually implemented a concrete emission
policy locally, and are now inviting others to do likewise.

What the whole world needs now is concrete commitments to the
Practice of Open Access. Under the guidance of India^s tireless Open
Access advocate, Subbiah Arunachalam, there will be a two day
workshop on research publication and Open Access at the Indian
Institute of Science in Bangalore on November 2-3, at which
representatives from the three most research-active developing
countries -- India, China and Brazil -- will confer in order to frame
the "Bangalore Commitment": a commitment to mandate Open Access self-
archiving in their own respective countries and thereby set an
example for emulation by the rest of the world: "Self-archive unto
others as you would have others self-archive unto you"

Stevan Harnad
Received on Tue Oct 17 2006 - 03:19:53 BST

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