Re: OA Primer for the Perplexed

From: Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_PRINCETON.EDU>
Date: Sun, 1 Jun 2008 13:40:18 -0400

On 29-May-08, at 4:43 AM, Talat Chaudri wrote (on AmSci Forum):

> Stevan, you don't answer the point. I have several departments most of
> whose members do not *want* their articles published on open access,
> as stated directly to me. Your idea that they want it but are afraid
> to do it is in direct conflict with what they themselves state. (I'm
> not in a position to give you a list of their names! This would
> clearly not be in the interests of advocacy in my institution.) It
> may well be because they are uninformed, but nonetheless the truth
> is clearly that at present they do not *want* OA for these reasons,
> whether or not they are afraid of it. The distinction you make is
> absolutely fallacious and does not serve your analysis.
> I am clearly not alone in this experience as a repository manager.
> Let's not post fiction on the list, it is risible to suggest as you
> do that all academics are of one mind in any respect as regards OA,
> which is patently untrue. This said, I regret that there is no point
> addressing the rest of your email at all.
> As stated many times, I support Green OA entirely, constant
> alterations to the terminology notwithstanding.

With all due respect, I think Talat Chaudri is not only mistaken, but
has not yet even grasped the fundamental point at issue, concerning
the profound difference between give-away and non-give-away writings --
the very cornerstone of OA:

The question is not whether, if one took an opinion poll, one would
not indeed find that the vast majority (85%) of researchers do not
currently want to provide OA to their articles by self-archiving them.
That is already abundantly apparent from the fact that they are not
doing it! (That is why the Green OA mandates were needed.)

The question is whether or not those researchers would want their
articles to be accessible to all users (rather than just those whose
institutions could afford subscription access) if it were possible/
feasible (despite the many worries they may have about whether it is
possible, legal, etc).

The answer to that question is not a self-serving counterfactual
tautology; rather, it reveals a genuine, fundamental and profound
PostGutenberg distinction, the one that gave birth to the OA era itself.

The answer to that specific, conditional question, by those specific
authors (refereed research journal authors), is needed to reveal the
real underlying distinction between their special case, and the case
of the authors of the many other kinds of content one can list (books,
textbooks, music, video, software, even data): The answer of the
authors of the latter kinds of content would definitely not be the
same as the answer of the refereed research article authors. The
authors of other kinds of content (though not necessarily all of
them!) do not create their content purely for the sake of research
usage and impact, but for the sake of potential sales-royalties. Hence
they would definitely not want those contents to be accessible free
for all.

I am certain that there are plenty of vague, uninformative and even
misleading ways of putting or understanding this question, ways that
will merely engage researchers' factual uninformedness or unfounded
assumptions about the consequences of making their research articles
freely accessible online. It is of no interest, Talat, if you keep
replying to me on the basis of such answers to such questions.

But as it is, you do not even reply at all. You quote anonymous
replies to unspecified questions as if they were the result of an
actual poll on the actual point I keep making, which is that all
authors of of one specific kind of content do want their documents
accessible to all users, regardless of whether they pay, whereas some
authors of other kinds of content do not.

Until you are prepared to be more specific, we are talking at cross

There is no reason, however, for anyone else to be deterred or
misdirected by this persistent incomprehension, as there are plenty of
public surveys that have already been conducted, across disciplines,
across institutions, across countries and across languages (several by
Alma Swan and co-workers, the latest a recently announced one by the
OAK Law Project in Australia). They all find exactly the same thing: A
virtually universal *desire* by research article authors that everyone
should be able to access their papers for free, but a desire that is
suspended in inaction for 50-85% of these authors by (1) unawareness
of objective, verifiable facts, (2) unfounded legal worries, and (4)
unfounded worries about whether their article would be accepted for
publication if it were made OA, (5) unfounded worries about peer
review, (6) unfounded worries about the amount of effort it would
require to make their articles OA, even if it were possible, legal,

Talat is well aware of all this misinformation, and the need to dispel
it through valid information and advocacy, but there is one
fundamental, underlying reality he himself has failed to understand,
which is that there is something profoundly different about refereed
research journal articles, something that is invariant across all
disciplines, and that distinguishes this sort of content from all
other forms of content, and that is that it is author give-away
content, written only to be used, applied and cited, not to be bought
and sold behind toll-access barriers. I continue to point out that
this alone is the fundamental reality distinguishing OA content (or
rather, OA's would-be target content!) from other kinds of content,
and the reality underlying the inevitability and optimality of OA
itself (for this special target content).

Talat has been influenced by vague, uninformed opinions expressed by
some of his institutional colleagues in some disciplines concerning
what is actually possible and what ought to be the case, and why. We
already know (and agree) that the vast majority of researchers -are
factually misinformed. Talat recognises the need to inform them, but
does not recognise that truth-valued propositions that are made about
matters of fact, on the basis of the presence of incorrect information
or the absence of correct information, are in fact untrue
propositions! That is why the only way to ask researchers about what
they truly want is first to dissociate their answers from these
incorrect facts, which they falsely believe.

Sorry to have had to take all this space to explicate the logic of the
disagreement with Talat's point, longhand. But unfortunately, if
unchallenged, Talat's statement that he has evidence (from un-named
informants) that they would not, in fact, want their refereed research
articles to be free for all (and hence that they do not differ from
most other authors of other kinds of content in this regard) would
simply add to the (already excessive) volume of misinformation (that
Talat is himself committed to dispelling).


Stevan Harnad
Received on Sun Jun 01 2008 - 18:44:40 BST

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