Thursday, July 10, 2008

Nature Letters to the Editor

Update July 10 - see Peter Suber on Open Access News for more on the story.

It seems that Nature ran a Letter to the Editor claiming that open access is harmful to developing countries, but is not publishing critical letters from scholarly authorities in this area (Peter Suber, Stevan Harnad, Subbiah Arunachalam, Leslie Chan, and Barbara Kirsop). In the interests of both open access and intellectual freedom, following is the text of the letters, thanks to the American Scientist Open Access Forum.

A number of people responded to the letter to
Nature, from Dr Gadagkar, IISc Bangalore, India,
by sending corrections of the impression given by Nature's headline
(Open Access more harm than good for developing countries) and the
misunderstandings of the policies of OA journals.

Unfortunately none of the letters I know about were published by
Nature. Other letters may have been sent unknown to me. Therefore,
so that misunderstandings may be corrected, I attach the letters sent
by Peter Suber, Stevan Harnad and three of the EPT Trustees (Subbiah
Arunachalam, Leslie Chan and myself).

It is important the Nature headline and the misunderstanding are
corrected as the EPT and many other colleagues are very concerned that
the economically poor countries do indeed benefit from the very significant
benefits that OA offers.

Here are the letters, in the order in which they were sent to Nature:


[1] Text of letter sent to Nature by Professor Stevan Harnad, Canada
Research Chair at the University of Quebec at Montreal, and Professor of
Cognitive Science at the University of Southampton, UK


Open Access (OA) means free online access to peer-reviewed journal
articles. There are two ways to provide OA:

(1) either by publishing one's article in an OA journal that makes all
articles free online ("Gold OA")

(2) or by publishing one's article in a non-OA journal and
self-archiving it to make it OA ("Green OA")

R. Gadagkar (Letter to Nature, 22 May 2008) suggests that although
denying access to users because of unaffordable subscription fees
to the user-institution is bad, denying publishing to authors because
of unaffordable OA publishing fees to the author-institution is
worse, especially in the Developing World.

The usual reply is that (1) many Gold OA journals do not charge
a publishing fee and (2) exceptions are made for authors who
cannot pay. More important, there is also Green OA self-archiving,
and the self-archiving mandates increasingly being adopted by
universities (e.g. Harvard) and research funders (e.g. NIH).

Self-archiving costs nothing, and if it ever makes subscriptions
unsustainable it will by the very same token generate the windfall
institutional savings out of which to pay for OA publishing instead.

Nor are the costs of publishing likely to remain the same under
self-archiving: If journal subscriptions are ever no longer in
demand (because users all use authors' self-archived drafts
rather than publishers' subscription-based versions) journals
will not convert to OA publishing under its current terms (where
journals still provide most of the products and services of
conventional journal publishing), but under substantially
scaled-down terms.

Current costs of providing the print and PDF edition, of access-provision
and of archiving will all vanish (for the publisher). Those
functions will have been off-loaded onto the distributed network of
OA institutional repositories, each hosting its own peer-reviewed,
published output. The only service that peer-reviewed journal
publishers will still need to provide then will be peer review itself and the
windfall institutional cancellation savings will be more than enough to
pay for that.

But until then, Green OA is OA enough -- and free.


Stevan Harnad


[2] Letter sent to Nature by Trustees of the Electronic Publishing Trust
for Development


As Trustees of the Electronic Publishing Trust for Development working
with research scientists and publishers in developing countries* for
over a decade, we write to correct misunderstandings conveyed in the
correspondence from Raghavendra Gadagkar (Nature, 453, 450, May 22nd,

First, the choice for researchers in the economically poor regions is not
between 'pay to publish' versus 'pay to read' since by far the majority of
'Gold' Open Access (OA) journals make no charge to authors whatsoever.
Most are therefore free to both authors and readers.

Second, the alternative 'Green' route to OA for universities is to create
low-cost institutional repositories (IRs) -- in which their researchers
can self-archive their publications to make them freely available to
all users with Internet access -- and this has already been adopted by
about 1300 institutions worldwide.

A growing number (44) of universities and funding organisations (including
Harvard, Southampton, Liège, CERN, NIH, Wellcome Trust, 6 of the 7 UK
research councils, and India's National Institute of Technology) have
already gone on to officially mandate Green OA self-archiving for all
their research publications.

Usage of these resources by developing countries is now well recorded.
As examples, usage of journals published in developing countries
(and making no charge to authors or readers) was recorded by Bioline
International as having reached 3.5 million full text downloads in
2007. Usage of research publications archived in IRs shows India, China,
Brazil and South Africa among the top15 most active user-countries, and
smaller developing countries to a lesser degree. Full text downloads
from just one of the 1300 registered repositories showed UK: 10,174;
India: 5,733; China: 5,070; South Africa: 1155. Detailed usage of 4
such IRs by 6 countries is shown in the EPT Blog.

It is clear from these small but representative examples of usage that OA
has huge benefits for the progress of research in the developing world,
and advances steadily.


Subbiah Arunachalam, Flat No. 1, Raagas Apts, 66 Venkatakrishna Road,
Chennai 600 028, India. Tel: +91 44‰? 2461 3224, Mobile: 97909 23941

Leslie Chan, University of Toronto, Department of Social Sciences, 1265
Military Trail, Scarborough, Ontario, M1C1A4, Canada, Tel: +1 416 287

Barbara Kirsop, Electronic Publishing Trust for Development, Wilmots,
Elmton, Worksop, S80 4LS, UK Tel: +44 1909 724184, Mobile 07773677650

Electronic Publishing Trust for Development,
University of Otago, New Zealand,
Bioline International,
EPT Blog:


[3] Letter sent to Nature by Peter Suber, Professor of Philosophy,
Earlham College, USA

Dear Sir/Madam,

Re: Raghavendra Gadagkar's letter in the May 22 issue, Open-access more
harm than good in developing world.

Nature gave Gadagkar's letter a misleading title. His argument is
not against open access (OA) as such, or even OA journals as such, but
against fee-based OA journals or "the 'pay to publish and read for free'
business model".

However, Gadagkar's argument is misleading in its own right. He is
apparently unaware that most OA journals charge no publication fees [1].
As of late 2007, 67% of the journals listed in the Directory of Open
Access Journals charged no publication fees [2], and 83% of OA journals
from society publishers charged no publication fees [3].

Gadagkar writes that "A 'publish for free, read for free' model may
one day prove to be viable..." as if it were untried, when in fact it
is the majority model around the world. Moreover, it's the exclusive
model in his own country. All OA journals published in India are of
the no-fee variety.

He also fails to mention that OA archiving already follows the model
of no fees for readers and no fees for authors. In the same week that
Nature published Gadagkar's letter, the OA repository at his institution,
the Indian Institute of Science, passed the milestone of 10,000 deposits.

Peter Suber
Research Professor of Philosophy, Earlham College
Visiting Fellow, Yale Law School