Wednesday, August 01, 2012

The triumph of cloud cuckoo land over reality?

It should be abundantly clear that Open Access policies by Finch, RCUK, Wellcome Trust and many others are very important for the development of universal OA, in that they not only indicate practical ways of achieving it, but also signal to the scholarly community and the wider society interested in scientific knowledge and its advance that OA should be the norm.

The 'sin' that RCUK, Finch and the Wellcome Trust committed is that they didn't formulate their policies according to strict Harnadian orthodoxy. It's not that they forbid Harnadian OA (a.k.a. 'green'), oh no. It is that they see the 'gold' route to OA as worthy of support as well. Harnad, as ultimate arbiter of Harnadian OA (though he has acolytes), would like to see funder and institutional OA policies focus entirely and only on Harnadian OA, and would want them, to all intents and purposed, forbid the 'gold' route. In Harnad's view, the 'gold' route comes into play (as 'downsized gold', whatever that means) only once all scholarly journal literature is OA according to Harnadian rules. These rules are quite specific:
  • articles must be published in peer-reviewed subscription journals; 
  • institutions must mandate their subsequent deposit in an institutional repository (not, for instance in a global subject repository); 
  • there must be no insistence on OA immediately upon publication (his big idea is ID/OA — Institutional Deposit / Optional [sic] Access); 
  • here must be no insistence on CC-BY or equivalent (which would make re-use and text-mining possible — OA in his view should just be ocular access, not machine-access).
It must be difficult to comply with these rules, and seeing his recent applause, subsequently followed by withdrawal of support, for the RCUK policy, even Harnad himself finds it difficult to assess whether his rules are 'properly' adhered to. It also seems as if his main focus is not OA but mandated deposit in institutional repositories. Probably hoping that that will eventually lead to OA. He would like to see 'gold' OA — OA at source — considered only if and when it is "downsized Gold OA, once Green OA has prevailed globally, making subscriptions unsustainable and forcing journals to downsize." It is the equivalent of opening the parachute only a split second before hitting the ground. It would be the triumph of a dogmatically serial process over a pragmatically parallel one. The triumph of cloud cuckoo land over reality.

Open Access is more than worth having. Different, complementary, ways help achieve it. There are many roads leading to Rome.

Jan Velterop
OA advocate

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