In 1994 Harnad posted an online message calling on all researchers to archive their papers on the Internet in order to make them freely accessible to their peers — a strategy that later became known as Green Open Access, or self-archiving. The message — which Harnad headed “The Subversive Proposal” — initiated a series of online exchanges, many of which were subsequently collected and published as a book in 1995.
Harnad was also one of the small group of people who attended the 2001 Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI). It was in Budapest that the term Open Access was coined, and a definition first agreed upon.
The first interview in this series was with palaeontologist and computer programmer Mike Taylor, and can be read here.
Q: What in your view have been the major achievements of the OA movement since you posted the Subversive Proposal on a mailing list in 1994?
A: The creation of institutional OA repositories and the adoption of mandates by institutions and funders to deposit in them — the Liège model mandate especially, and, if it is adopted, the proposed HEFCE/REF mandate.
Q: What have been the main disappointments?
A: Growth of mandates is still too slow, and it is still too often not the most effective mandate (Liège/HEFCE) that is adopted. (The Finch Committee recommendation to downgrade Green OA self-archiving and finance Gold OA fee payment also set things back, in the UK at least. Disappointing because the UK had been in the worldwide lead previously, on OA.)
Repeated setbacks have also come — and are still coming — from “Gold Fever” (the mistaken notion that OA means Gold OA publishing, and that the goal of OA is not OA, but OA publishing, because Green OA is not “real” OA, or not OA enough) and from “Rights Rapture” (the mistaken impression that “Gratis OA” — free online access — is not important enough to focus on getting OA first: we must have “Libre OA” — free online access plus various re-use/re-mix-re-publication rights — at all costs, even if the cost is not having Gratis OA till we can get Libre OA).
Gold Fever and Rights Rapture have both been holding us back from OA in exactly the same way: They have held us back from grasping the Gratis, Green OA that is already fully within reach of mandates, and kept us over-reaching instead for still more, which is still beyond our grasp. Worst of all: (1) Neither Gold OA nor Libre OA are urgently needed today (the latter perhaps only by a few specialty fields) whereas Gratis OA has been urgently needed by all for decades. (2) And if only the Gold OA and Libre OA enthusiasts could set aside their impatience long enough to let 100% Green Gratis OA prevail thanks to mandates, they would have their Gold and Libre OA more quickly and surely that way then if they keep on over-reaching for it pre-emptively now, at the expense of Green Gratis OA.
Q: There has always been a great deal of discussion (and disagreement) about Green and Gold OA. In light of recent developments (e.g. the OSTP memorandum, the RCUK OA policy, and the European Research Council guidelines on OA) what would you say are the respective roles that Green and Gold OA should be playing today?
A: Green OA should be effectively and globally mandated by institutions and funders worldwide first, rather than pre-emptively double-paying (essential subscription journals + Gold OA fees) for today’s vastly over-priced Gold (and even allowing hybrid Gold publishers to double-dip). In my view, all that pre-emptive Gold today is Fools Gold.
Only after Green OA has prevailed worldwide and thus made it possible for institutions to cancel subscriptions should (a fraction of) the institutional subscription savings be used to pay (not double-pay) for the much lower-priced, affordable, sustainable Fair Gold that universally mandating Green will have made possible:
Universal Green makes all articles OA, thereby making subscriptions unsustainable, forcing publishers to cut needless costs and downsize to managing peer review alone. No more demand for a print edition. No more demand for an online edition. All access-provision and archiving offloaded onto the global network of institutional OA repositories.
Q: What about Hybrid OA?
A: A waste of money (and time). Subscription journals price their hybrid OA in such a way as to keep their total subscription + Gold OA revenue constant (or increasing, if they double-dip). If we bought into this, it would protect them from ever having to do the downsizing that would be by far the cheapest and best for research, researchers, their institutions, their funders, and the public that funds the research.
Hybrid Gold is double-paid, over-priced, unnecessary and potentially also double-dipped Fools-Gold. It delays reaching 100% OA by holding it hostage to publishers’ current revenue streams.
You didn’t ask about publishers’ embargoes on Green OA, but it’s time that everyone understood that those embargoes (now gratuitously given new gravitas by Finch/RCUK’s folly) — far from being natural or necessary in order to prevent catastrophic collapse of journal publishing and peer review, as publishers keep pretending, in performances worthy of Chicken Little — are in reality publishers’ ploy to keep holding research-access hostage to publishers’ prevailing revenue streams for as long as possible, and to prevent online publishing from evolving naturally to the post-Green Fair Gold, that the online medium itself has made possible.
Q: How would you characterise the current state of OA, both in the UK and internationally?
A: Compared to where it might have reached since the early 1990’s, OA’s current state is needlessly, shamefully retarded, worldwide. But the transition to the optimal and inevitable seems to be accelerating, at long last.
The UK, which has led with both institutional and funder mandates since the early 2000’s, was soon joined by the EU and the US (especially the Harvard and OSTP mandates). Last year, the UK lost its lead with the Finch fiasco and the RCUK ruckus, but HEFCE/REF may now be remedying that. Australia and Canada have been coming along too. Asia has been slow to awaken, despite some hopeful signs from India, Indonesia and China.
Once the funder mandates are adopted, optimized and effectively implemented worldwide, the next really big wave will come from the slumbering giant of OA, the institutions (universities and research institutes worldwide), for they are the universal providers of all research output, funded and unfunded, across all disciplines. Once they are up to speed too, we will have the 100% OA we could (and should) have had two decades ago.
Q: What still needs to be done, and by whom?
A: Research funders all need to mandate (require) that the final, refereed, accepted draft of every journal article must be deposited in the fundee’s institutional repository immediately upon acceptance for publication (whether or not access to the article is made immediately OA) as a condition for research funding. Publisher embargoes on making access to the deposit OA, if allowed at all, should not be allowed to be longer than six months — and during any OA embargo, the repository’s eprint request Button should be implemented to provide individual copies to users who request them.
Funder mandates should on no account require institution-external deposit. Metadata (or full-text) can be automatically harvested, imported or exported where needed. Institutional deposit engages institutions in monitoring and ensuring timely compliance with funder mandates, and it also gives institutions a strong incentive to adopt complementary institutional mandates of their own, for all their research output not covered by funder mandates. Institutions and funders should also designate repository deposit as the sole mechanism for submitting publications for institutional performance review or national research assessment, as in the Liège model and the proposed HEFCE/REF model.
Q: What in your view is the single most important task that the OA movement should focus on today?
A: The creation of institutional OA repositories and the adoption of mandates by institutions and funders to deposit in them – the Liège model and HEFCE/REF models.
Q: What does OA have to offer the developing world?
A: Exactly the same thing it offers the developed world — maximal research access, uptake, usage, applications, impact, productivity and progress — except that the Have-Not nations need it all the more desperately.
Let us not forget, though, that there are plenty of Have-Not institutions in the developed world too — and that even the Harvards cannot afford access to all the journals their users mi ght need; nor does the research output of Harvard authors reach all of its potential users, in either the developing or the developed world.
OA is win-win for the entire global research community.
Q: What are your expectations for OA in 2013?
A: I’ve long exhausted my expectations across the past two and a half decades; all I have left is the hope that the worldwide research community will at long last come to its senses and realize that 100% OA is (and has been) fully within their reach, so all they need do is grasp it.
Q: Will OA in your view be any less expensive than subscription publishing? If so, why/how? Does cost matter anyway?
A: Yes, I do think it will be much cheaper, because it will just be the cost of managing peer review. Researchers do all the rest for free already. Journals will continue to manage the peer review, but the costs of print and PDF will be gone, and the costs of access-provision and archiving will have been offloaded onto the distributed network of institutional OA repositories. (And peer review, being a service, not a product, will be provided and paid for per round of review, regardless of outcome — acceptance, revision or rejection — instead of wrapping the cost of rejected articles into the price of accepted articles.)
But I have to remind everyone that OA means Open Access. It is about refereed research access, not about journal affordability. The accessibility problem and the affordability problem, though not entirely unconnected, are not the same problem. So once we reach 100% Green OA, my OA work is done. I am confident it will soon lead to a transition to Fair-Gold OA, copyright reform, publishing reform, Libre OA and all the re-use rights users need and authors wish to provide. But OA is OA, even if universal Green does not make subscriptions unsustainable — it will just make affordability no longer a life or death issue for institutions and their researchers.
But first the research community needs to grasp what is already within its reach: The creation of institutional OA repositories and the adoption of mandates by institutions and funders to deposit in them — the Liège model and HEFCE/REF models.
A longer 2007 interview with Stevan Harnad can be read here.