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Free Access vs. Open Access

Stevan Harnad harnad at ecs.soton.ac.uk
Wed Aug 13 09:50:48 EST 2003

Steve Hitchcock (unwittingly) raises a logical point about "indexicals,"
whose meaning and truth depends on when and where they are uttered::

If I say: "All humans are free," then for that (present-tense) proposition
-- i.e., not "some" but "all" and not "were free," not "will be free",
not "might be free" not "could be free," but "are free" -- to be true
rather than false, now, it has to be the case, *now*, that all humans
are free. A single exception, anywhere, now, makes the proposition
false, everywhere, now.

If humans have been in chains till yesterday, then "All humans are free"
only becomes true on the day they are all free, everywhere. A single
exception, anywhere, falsifies it. And in particular, the proposition
"this human is free" is false of this human, today, here, if he is not
free today (but only tomorrow, maybe).

The objective of the free-access movement is to make the following
proposition true: "All articles (in the 20K peer-reviewed
journals) are free."
That proposition is false in general as long as any article is not 
free. And it is false in particular of any article that is not
free (including articles that are not "yet" free).

Now let us examine Steve Hitchcock's observation about Michael
Held's definition of "free access":
On Tue, 12 Aug 2003, Steve Hitchcock wrote:

> There is another view of 'free', not untypical of publishers, a version of 
> which was recently expressed by Michael J Held of Rockefeller University 
> Press http://www.jcb.org/cgi/content/full/jcb.200307018v1
> According to Held, while free access to information is 'powerful and 
> alluring', the open access publishing model is 'unproven' and possibly 
> 'unsustainable'. Here free refers to back content (PubMed Central and 
> Highwire models) and regional access (defined by the World Health 
> Organization as developing nations).
> [H]ow can [free access] be differentiated from Held's version of ["free"]
> With [Peter Suber's] addition of the words 'immediate (upon initial 
> publication)' and 'universal' to that of 'free' in the conditions of 
> open access....
> Some wish to go further, but surely these are the only terms that are 
> necessary in a definition of open access. Alone, free is insufficient.

In view of the indexical nature of the present-tense predicate "is free,"
I think neither the "now" nor the "everywhere" are needed. "Free" is
sufficient, and sufficient to disqualify Michael Held's usage. (The
reminders of the here and now are never a bad idea.)

    Harnad, Stevan (2001) AAAS's Response: Too Little, Too Late  

Stevan Harnad

NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing open
access to the peer-reviewed research literature online is available at
the American Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00 & 01 & 02 & 03):


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

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