The launching of PLoS Biology -- an outcome of Harold Varmus's highly influential 1999 Ebiomed Proposal -- -- is a very important event for research and researchers, for two reasons:

(1) It is another step forward in providing open access to peer-reviewed research, a major step.

(2) It both demonstrates and will further stimulate the research community's growing consciousness of the need for open access as well as the possibility of attaining it.

It is all the more important, therefore, that on this auspicious occasion for the open-access publication strategy (BOAI-2) we not forget or neglect the other, complementary open-access strategy, open-access self-archiving (BOAI-1) -- -- particularly because systematically supplementing BOAI-2 with BOAI-1 has the power to bring us so much more open-access, so much more quickly.


Here is an extremely conservative calculation that will give you an (I hope unforgettable) intuition for the importance of not neglecting the other road to open access:


-- in addition to signing the PLoS open letter (pledging to boycott toll-access publishers unless they become open-access publishers, not even all the 30,000 PLoS signatories had self-archived not even all their own toll-access articles, nor even the 55% corresponding to the proportion of “blue/green” (self-archiving-friendly) toll-access journals {} but --

just the 18% of the PloS signatories corresponding to the proportion of “postprint-green” journals had self-archived just one of the articles they had published in just one of those toll-access journals:

THEN the number of open-access articles (5400) resulting from just that minimal act would already have been more than 4 times the number of open-access articles that PLoS Biology will publish in 5 years (1200, assuming 20 articles per monthly issue at $1500 a pop).

And all at the cost of only a few keystrokes more than what it cost to sign the petition.

Yet the only thing researchers did then was sign the PLoS open letter, and then wait, passively, for toll-access journals to turn into open-access journals in response to their petition. And today researchers seem ready to wait yet again, passively, for more open-access journals like PLoS Biology to be created or converted, one by one.

As we make our estimate less conservative and arbitrary, and scale it up first to 55% of all annual biology articles, and then beyond that, to the many journals that will support self-archiving if asked, I hope the scales will at last begin to drop from the eyes of those who have not yet noticed the tunnel vision and paralysis involved in focusing only on open-access publishing, when it is open access that is our target.

And perhaps then we will be less surprised that the 23,500 toll-access publishers did not take our boycott threat seriously -- and that, by the same token, they still have no reason to take the handful of open-access journals created since the beginning of the '90s (of which PLoS Biology is about the 543rd) seriously -- if that's all we're prepared to do to demonstrate our need for and commitment to open access for our research, as we just keep sitting on our hands instead of adding the modest number of further keystrokes it would take to make at least 55% of our own articles open-access overnight, tonight! - researcher/authors-do

Note that this is in no way an argument against open-access publishing as one of the two viable means of attaining open access! It is just an argument against pursuing open access only or even mainly through open-access publishing, rather than explicitly coupling it with open-access self-archiving, in a rational, systematic dual strategy. Indeed, open-access self-archiving can also be seen as a means of preparing the road for open-access publishing -- while already providing us with open-access itself in the meantime!

The existing "publish or perish" mandate of our research institutions and research-funders keeps us productive and rewards us for it. But now, in the online age, this mandate needs to be updated, quite naturally, to "publish with maximized impact" by making all research publications open-access. This means: “Publish your research in an open-access journal, if/when a suitable one exists, and in a toll-access journal otherwise, but in that case self-archive it as well.” (Shorter mnemonic for the rule: Self-archive all your research output!) - institution-facilitate-filling - research-funders-do

Stevan Harnad

Canada Research Chair

Unversité du Québec à Montréal

NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing open access to the peer-reviewed research literature online is available at the American Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00 & 01 & 02 & 03):


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