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Open Access vs. NIH Back Access and Nature's Back-Sliding Stevan Harnad 23 Jan 2005 20:33 UTC

        ** Apologies for Cross-Posting **

NIH's proposed "Public Access" policy of requesting that NIH-funded
research should be made freely accessible online 6-12 months after
publication is not Open Access (OA), nor is it a satisfactory substitute
or compromise for OA, nor is it a policy that helps OA happen sooner.

NIH-6/12 is Back Access (BA) (as in back-issue or back-volume), not
Open Access (OA), and if the NIH-6/12 proposal were cloned and copied
by other research funders and other nations in the mistaken belief that
it was OA or would help hasten OA, that cloned NIH-6/12 policy would
in fact lock in a 6-12 month delay/embargo period for years to come,
and this would (unintentionally) set back the prospects of OA very
substantially for years to come.

Some signs of this untoward effect of NIH's ill-conceived BA-6/12
proposal are already visible: The Wellcome Trust has already adopted
(pre-emptively) BA-6. And Nature Publishing Group, formerly green on
immediate self-archiving of the peer-reviewed postprint, has recently
made a press release -- perhaps timed (unsuccessfully) to coincide
with the expected (but now delayed) announcement of NIH-6/12 -- to the
effect that Nature is Back-Sliding from its postprint green policy and
replacing it by BA-6 (presumably in line with NIH-6/12):

Although one cannot legislate by lexicon, the meaning of the recently
coined term "Open Access" is:

    Immediate, permanent, online access to the full-texts of
    peer-reviewed research journal articles, free for all users,

The term was coined to contrast Open Access with Toll Access, in which
the only users who can access and use the articles online are those whose
institutions (or the users themselves) can afford the publisher's access
tolls (subscription, license, or pay-to-view). Note that TA is spatially
restricted access -- only users at the right place can have access --
whereas OA is spatially unrestricted access for all would-be users,
everywhere. What about temporally restricted access?

The purpose of Open Access is to maximize the usage, impact and benefits
of research articles, by making them available to *all* their would-be users
worldwide, not just to those whose institutions can afford Toll Access. It
is through research uptake and usage that research progresses. Indeed, that
is why research is published at all: to be accessed, used, applied, built upon.

The difference between current issues and Back Issues or Back Volumes is
clear. It's the difference between current research and past research,
between the growth region and the static core, between cutting-edge
immediacy and past history.

How much difference does a 6-12 month access delay make, then?

Although this will no doubt vary somewhat with the discipline involved,
it is *particularly* true in the fast-moving biomedical sciences (NIH's
focus, after all) that research usage and impact and progress begins
from the moment a refereed piece of research is made available to the
world research community (even earlier, at the pre-refereeing stage,
sometimes), and things can potentially move lightning fast thereafter --
*if* the results are accessible to use and build upon.

Any needless access-delay from that moment onward is exactly that:
needless delay, hence needless loss of research access, usage, impact
progress, and benefits. And it is precisely so as to put an end to that
needless delay and loss that the Open Access initiative came into being:
Temporal access restrictions are every bit as inimical to the progress
of research as spatial ones are.

It must not be forgotten that it is the online medium (the Web) that has
made it possible to put an end to all needless delay and loss in research
usage and impact. Before the advent of the online medium, the costs and
constraints of paper publication and distribution made Open Access an
impossible proposition, regardless of how beneficial it would have been
for research progress. Now it is 100% feasible and fully within reach to
make all refereed research immediately accessible to all its would-be
users worldwide. Hence all further delay and loss of research access
and impact now amounts to needless and unjustifiable loss and delay.

Can the access delay be justified by considering factors other than its
effects on research? If there were any credible evidence that Toll Access
publishing and cost-recovery cannot peacefully co-exist with authors
immediately making supplementary copies of their peer-reviewed drafts OA
by self-archiving them for all would-be users whose institutions cannot
afford the official Toll Access version then there might be grounds
for further reflection on this. But all the evidence is precisely in
the opposite direction:

There are (Toll Access) physics journals whose articles have been
made accessible for free online in author-provided supplements
since 1991, and for some, 100% of their contents have been freely
accessible in this way for years now, yet their subscription revenues
have not eroded. The American Physical Society (APS) was the first
publisher to give its green light to author-provided free-access online
supplements. One physics journal -- Journal of High Energy Physics (JHEP) -- launched in 1997 as a (subsidised) Open Access
journal, even successfully converted back to Toll Access
cost-recovery in 2002, by migrating to a subscription-based publisher
(IOP All of JHEP's contents remained
freely accessible: before, during and since.

So, no, there is no sense whatsoever in research funders and research
employers mandating self-archiving 6-12 months too late instead of
immediately, when it is needed most; and no justification whatsoever
for Publishers to Back-Slide from giving their green light to immediate
self-archiving in favor of merely encouraging Back Access 6-12 months
after the access was needed most!

Stevan Harnad

Nature 10 September on Public Archiving (1998)

E-Biomed: Very important NIH Proposal (1999)

Floyd Bloom's SCIENCE Editorial about NIH/E-biomed

Evolving APS Copyright Policy (American Physical Society)

Nature's vs. Science's Embargo Policy (2000)

AAAS's Response: Too Little, Too Late (2001)

APS copyright policy (2002)

Open Letter to Philip Campbell, Editor, Nature (2003)

Shulenburger on open access: so NEAR and yet so far

Nature Web Debate on Open Access (2004)

Elsevier Gives Authors Green Light for Open Access Self-Archiving

URGENT support for NIH public access policy

Nature Back-Slides on Self-Archiving  [Corrected] (2005)

Please Don't Copy-Cat Clone NIH-12 Non-OA Policy!