GNU Eprints.org

Coglab coglab at cogprints.soton.ac.uk
Thu Jul 18 14:46:55 EST 2002


This is a reply to another commentator's expression of concern (excerpt
will be quoted shortly) about the license that Southampton University has
given to Ingenta to develop a commercial service to install, customize
and maintain Eprints Archives for Universities who wish to purchase such
a service.

http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Amsci/2108.html

The commentator's concern is that the Ingenta version of the software
might become better than the free version, and that this would increase
rather than decrease the digital divide for poorer countries.

The gist of the reply has already made in this Forum:

http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Amsci/2111.html

The GNU license for the free version not only requires that the
free version remain freely available, but it also requires that all
alterations in the software be freely available, both to all users and
to all programmers who are doing further modifications of the code.

http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Amsci/2118.html

Moreover, any revenues received from Ingenta by Southampton University
will be used to continue to develop and support the free version.

This has already been stated in this Forum. The point to be addressed
here is the specific one, about developing countries and the digital
divide:

The commentator who is quoted (anonymously) below expresses some entirely
understandable yet entirely groundless worries. I would have preferred
to reply to the entire message in full openly, but as it was not posted,
I reply only to the anonymized excerpt.

I think we have come to a point where it is very important to express
explicit commitment to the support of the free version of Eprints,
by way of reassurance to the developing world.
http://software.eprints.org/

This is not because there is any danger at all that Southampton
University would betray the project, nor because there is any immediate
danger that underfunding of the free Southampton version could make it
inferior to the fee-based Ingenta version (the GNU license already
protects against that). It is merely because of perceptions. It is
important to reassure both the developing world and the many first-world
institutions suffering from the serials budget crisis that the rug will
not be pulled out from under them insofar as the Eprints software is
concerned.

The fact is that so much about open-access is about perception: It is
(wrong-headed) perceptions that are making us demonize publishers,
and believe that the open-access problem, or its solution, somehow lies
with them. It is (wrong-headed) perceptions that make as believe that
copyright (or peer review, or preservation, or plagiarism, or something
else) makes it illegal (or imprudent or unnecessary) to take matters
into our own hands and create open access overnight by self-archiving
our peer-reviewed research in our institutional Eprint Archives.
http://www.arl.org/scomm/subversive/sub01.html

By the same token, it is perception (and in this case misperception)
that sees Ingenta's commercial version of Eprints as an obstacle to open
access and as widening the digital divide.

At the heart of the commentator's worry is a profound and persistent
misunderstanding of the actual causal role that the software is meant
to play in the Open Access movement -- and from the specific vantage
point of the developing countries in particular.

The misunderstanding is this: The Eprints software and the Eprints
Archives themselves cannot give the developing world (or anyone)
access to the research literature. Only researchers and their
institutions can do that. It is wrong to think of either the software or
the (empty) archives as any sort of a boon to the developing world. It
is the FILLING of those archives that will constitute the boon to the
developing world (and to everyone else too). Hence what the commentator
and everyone else should really be worrying about is: "How can we get
those archives filled as soon as possible?"

Offering the commercial Ingenta option for those universities who prefer
to pay to have their Eprint Archives installed and maintained for them,
rather than to use the free version and do it for themselves, is one of
the (many) things that can be done to help get those archives filled as
soon as possible!

For, whether Ingenta-maintained or university-maintained, we are
talking about Open Access Archives, containing each university's own
peer-reviewed research output, freely accessible to everyone. It should
not worry anyone that some universities (who can afford it, and have
only been held back from self-archiving by the fact that they did not
wish to install and maintain their archives themselves, preferring
instead to pay a commercial service to do it) will now have available
to them the very service whose absence has so far held them back
from self-archiving.

And a second, perhaps deeper misperception inherent in the commentator's
worry is this: The real boon to the developing world that the eprints
software is meant to provide will not come from the adoption of the
software and the creation of Eprints Archives in the developing world,
providing open access to the developing world's research output. As
welcome and beneficial as that will be to the visibility and impact of
developing-world research, that is NOT the developing world's primary
problem! Their problem is ACCESS to the research output of the DEVELOPED
world! Hence what the developing world should be wishing for is that
the universities in the developed world should create Eprints Archives
and, far more important, should FILL them with their own research output,
as soon as possible, openly accessible to one and all.

Eprints.org/Southampton is doing everything it can to provide those universities
with the means to do so: It provides the free software, so they can
self-install it and get down to self-archiving as quickly, cheaply and
simply as possible:
http://www.dlib.org/dlib/october00/10inbrief.html#HARNAD
And Southampton also licenses the software to Ingenta, so they can install
and maintain the Eprint Archives, for a fee, for those universities that
prefer that option.

Eprints.org is also working directly on the REAL open-access problem,
which is not the software or the archives, but the FILLING: The only way
the developed world will be induced to provide open access to their
research output is if they can be made to understand that it is in their
own interest, and how.

That is why we have created citebase -- http://citebase.eprints.org --
a (free) search engine that retrieves and ranks research on the basis
of its impact, providing also an impact analysis which begins to show,
concretely and perceptibly(!), the direct causal connection between
access and impact: Maximizing access to their research maximizes the
impact of their research, which in turn maximizes the resulting rewards to
researchers and their institutions (research funding, career advancement,
prizes, prestige).

The essence of the commentator's worry is this:

     "[We are] very apprehensive about this development [the Southampton
     University partnership with Ingenta] since, although the free
     version will remain available to the poor nations, it seems clear
     to us that the Ingenta version will be superior. We much fear that
     the Southampton University version will languish through lack of
     financial support, a two-tier system will evolve and the digital
     divide will be widened once again.

I hope it is clear by now what a (well-intentioned) non-sequitur this
is: The problem is neither the availability of the free version of
the software to the poor nations any nor potential superiority of the
commercial version of the software to the free version: The problem is the
availability of the research literature itself, to ALL nations! Whether
the Eprints Archives are created with the free software or the commercial
version -- or with other software altogether -- does not matter in the
least! The only thing that matters is that the archives should be created
and FILLED, as soon as possible.

Amen.

Stevan Harnad

NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing free
access to the refereed journal literature online is available at the
American Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00 & 01):
    http://amsci-forum.amsci.org/archives/september98-forum.html
                            or
    http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Amsci/index.html

Discussion can be posted to:
    september98-forum at amsci-forum.amsci.org

See also the Budapest Open Access Initiative:
    http://www.soros.org/openaccess

and the Free Online Scholarship Movement:
    http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/timeline.htm




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