Open Access Is Not Just A Health Matter

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sun, 29 Apr 2007 15:39:40 +0100

The interest and commitment of some of the supporters of Open Access
(OA) is derived from and motivated by the importance of making
health-related research accessible to those who need it: patients,
family, researchers.

This is certainly an important component of OA, and perhaps the aspect
that most directly touches our lives. But if OA is seen or portrayed
as being mainly a health-related matter, it not only leaves out the
vast majority of OA's target content-- which is all research in all
research areas, from the physical and biological sciences to the
social sciences and the humanities -- but it even under-serves OA's
potential benefits to health research itself.

Even the "tax-payer access" aspect of OA,
though important, is not quite representative, because the primary
benefit of OA to the tax-payer who pays for the research is not that it
makes the research freely accessible to the tax-payer (although it does
indeed do that too!),
but that it makes the research freely accessible to
the researchers for whom it was mostly written, but many of whom cannot
afford access to it -- so that they can use, apply and build upon that
research, in their own research -- to the benefit of the tax-payers who
funded it and for whose sake the research is conducted.

Again, a focus on the need for direct public access to health-related
research leaves out the vast majority of research that is not
health-related and that the public has no particular interest in reading
-- but a great interest in making accessible to those who can use and
build on it so as to increase research progress, which may in its turn
eventually lead to applications that benefit the public.

Paradoxically, it is in recognizing and supporting OA's much more
general research enhancing mission that we can also best support its
health-related potential.

Stevan Harnad
Received on Sun Apr 29 2007 - 15:54:46 BST

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