Pitting Petitions Against Pit-Bulls: Sense Versus Sensationalism

From: Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_ecs.soton.ac.uk>
Date: Sun, 11 Feb 2007 01:39:43 +0000

On Sat, 10 Feb 2007, Velterop, Jan, Springer UK wrote:

> (1) The "open access movement" is not the "open access journal
> movement", but that doesn't mean there isn't something that can be
> described as an "open access journal movement" among publishers and
> editors (a growing number of sensible ones offering 'Gold' open access);

I agree.

> (2) At least one of the two 'Gold' publishing organisations (BMC) came
> *before* the BOAI and both BMC and PLoS were constituents of the BOAI
> (PLoS was not yet a publisher, but an open access advocacy group before
> the BOAI and arguably started the whole movement off);

I know the history quite well, right back to the (welcome but dreadfully
muddled) "e-biomed" proposal in 1999


which of course was far from the beginning of the drive to make
peer-reviewed research articles freely accessible online. Not even the
1994 "Subversive Proposal,"


nor the earliest OA journals (one of which I founded in 1989,
suspended in 2002)


were the beginning. The beginning was the Internet itself, and first computer
scientists and then other disciplines making their articles freely
accessible to all online on anonymous FTP sites in the 80's and on web
sites in the early 90's.


> (3) The need for access to medical literature and in developing
> countries is not "just" a small portion of the need for OA, but
> an important portion,

Agreed. I was not contesting the importance of having public access to
health-related research (nor of developing-country researcher access to
research in general). I was contesting public access to health-related
research -- or even developing country researcher access to research in
general -- as a viable rationale for OA in general.

There are about 2.5 million articles a year published in about 24,000
peer-reviewed journals in the physical, biological, engineering and
social sciences and humanities worldwide. The small subset of them
consisting of health-related research for which public access is
important can be accommodated in much simpler ways than by making all
2.5M articles OA. Not even the needs of researchers in developing
countries make the case for universal OA compelling. What makes the case
for universal OA compelling is the need of *all* researchers worldwide
to be able to access, use, build upon and apply all research, to the
benefit of the public that has funded it -- and not just those whose
institutions can afford access to the journal in which it was published.

    "CURES" trump publisher revenue risks: Public READS do not

> especially given the fact that a very high proportion of scientific
> research is medical, relevant to the entire world population (not just
> scientists and medics) and intellectually accessible to a rather wide
> range of well-educated people (again, not just scientists and medics),
> and a very low proportion of any research reaches developing countries;

Jan, I would be very interested to know what percentage of the annual
2.5M articles across all disciplines -- or even what percentage of the c.
800,000 articles across all disciplines indexed by ISI -- consists of
health-relevant biomedical research of interest to the public. Whatever
percentage that turns out to be, that's the percentage relevance of
public access to health-relevant research as a rationale for OA in

Access for developmental country researchers provides a stronger
rationale, but not nearly as strong a rationale as the primary rationale
for OA, which is access for *all* researchers -- in developing and
developed countries -- whose institutions cannot afford
access to the journal in which it was published.

Stevan Harnad
Received on Sun Feb 11 2007 - 02:18:26 GMT

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