I missed the original “Open and Shut?” blog post, but reading Walt Crawford’s “Cites & Insights” for November 2009, I saw that Richard Poynder “seems to suggest that [I] have been an effective agent for ‘ambushing the OA movement’”. Ambushing? Not being a native speaker of English, I thought I’d better look up if ‘to ambush’ could have another meaning than “staging a surprise attack”, and to read Poynder’s original article. Actually, Poynder, in his post “Open Access: Whom would you back” of 10 March 2009, doesn’t just ‘suggest’ that I have been an effective agent for ambushing the OA movement, but he asserts: “Velterop began to mastermind stage two of the publisher's strategy for ambushing the OA movement: accelerating take-up of Hybrid OA in order to marginalise Green OA.” Perilously close to libel, Mister Poynder!
Poynder is entitled to his views, of course, but it would be nice if he could expound them without misrepresenting and insulting people (yes, I am offended, and an apology on his blog is appreciated!). He doesn’t do OA any favours, either, with a blog post that is teeming with inaccuraces, conjectures, and mistaken inferences, and given that, it doesn’t surprise me that he even misses the fact that BioMed Central, now Springer, actively promotes repositories (green!) and offers services to universities to install them. Fortunately for OA, there are many more people like me, who truly work on advocating OA in its wider sense, and who are not drawn into what in my view is a narrow-minded pseudo-orthodoxy that only sees green.
The idea that whatever I did or advocated with regard to accelerating gold OA was in any way an ‘attack’ on green OA (“…in order to marginalise…” even) is preposterous, and that it could be a surprise is nothing less than absurd. The surprise is more likely that anybody could see advocating OA in general and working on gold OA as an attack on green OA.
How advocating gold OA as one of the routes to OA could be an attack on green OA is a complete mystery. The original Budapest Initiative recommended two, complementary, strategies, that later came to be called ‘green’ and ‘gold’ open access by Stevan Harnad. Both were hailed as welcome strategies to achieve Open Access, and Harnad, as well as I, and all the other participants of the meeting that effectively kick-started the ‘movement’, signed the Initiative. Poynder was not on the OA scene yet. Although the Budapest Initiative spoke of ‘OA journals’, a little while later the Bethesda Statement clarified that Open Access is a property of individual works, not necessarily journals or publishers. Poynder has a problem with so-called hybrid journals, but according to ‘Bethesda’, the OA articles in hybrid journals are true open access. No surprises there, no attack on the OA movement, no ambush. Just genuine, pure OA. Of articles in otherwise traditional journals.
Hybrid journals were an attempt at transiting existing journals to OA. In some cases it worked (Nuclear Acid Research), and in other cases not (yet). I would be the last to deny that the hybrid model is problematic. Because it gives a choice to authors, it cannot impose either the traditional model or the OA publishing model. And because of the widespread, but naïve, perception that a journal’s subscription price is, or should be, proportional to the number of papers published, it is not understood and sometimes severely criticised. Publishers, therefore, have good reason to dislike the hybrid model as well. They will, I suspect, move in the direction of full OA (what might be called the “pay-or-go-away” or “POGA” model), or revert back to subscriptions/licences (the “licence-sphere”, or “L-sphere” model).
Poynder brings up the affordability issue. And he complains about the level of article charges. That’s to the point, and fair comment. But it seemingly hasn’t dawned upon him that gold OA is open to competition, and these charges are bound to converge on a level that reflects this competition. Green OA, on the other hand, relies on the L-sphere, with its monopoloid characteristics, remaining intact for the foreseeable future. Dismissing the role of gold OA publishers in moving OA forward, because they see it as a business opportunity, is deeply misguided. It is like dismissing companies for making equipment to generate clean energy and reduce CO2 emissions on the grounds that they may benefit from doing that. Or venting the opinion that what these companies do is bad, because there might be even better techniques. Quite absurd.
Poynder seems to have it in for publishers, any publishers, be they OA publishers or not, and sees any differences between OA publishers and traditional subscription publishers as “a figment of OA advocates' imagination.” As one of the early OA advocates, I couldn’t disagree more. Besides, if OA is about publisher bashing and money only, then it’s bound to fail. Sure, a more economical system may be a desirable side effect of OA, but can’t be the core aim of it all. The mistake Poynder (and, I’m afraid, his guru Harnad) make(s) is to see so-called ‘green OA’ – seemingly not even OA as such – as an end in itself. It isn’t, and it shouldn’t be. The ultimate goal is to universally share (scientific and scholarly) knowledge, in what I call the noösphere (a term taken from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin), a ‘knowledge-sphere’ around the world that everyone can ‘inhale’. And OA is just one of the methods to share knowledge. Any OA. Including gold OA, and even ‘delayed OA’ (after all, ignoring the value of opening up older knowledge is devaluing older knowledge). Is delayed OA ideal? No, of course not. But OA itself is not ideal and is no more – or less – than one of the first steps to be taken to come to true knowledge sharing, to a true noösphere. OA is mostly about sharing documents, often enough just in PDF format. Access to documents is great, but it still leaves formidable barriers to knowledge sharing intact. One of the examples I have in mind is the language barrier.
English may be the lingua franca of scholarly exchange; the notion that there is no unique scientific knowledge available in other languages is absurd. And even the notion that if it is available in English its true availability is universal is a wholly unrealistic one.
But it’s not just the barrier put up by different languages. Even between native speakers of English a lot of knowledge that is published and openly available in English is nonetheless lost. Lost in ambiguity. Researchers are famously (infamously?) sloppy with their language. And publishers, although they sometimes ameliorate the worst excesses, do not, on the whole, seem to set a lot of store by disambiguation of scientific literature. OA publishers are no better than traditional ones in that regard.
Open Access is a most significant element in getting to a global noösphere, and although it’s clearly not the only element, all efforts to promote OA, in any form, help. Unlike dismissing gold OA, which doesn’t.