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Pascal's Wager and Open Access (OA)

Stevan Harnad harnad at ecs.soton.ac.uk
Mon Dec 6 10:12:32 EST 2004

On Mon, 6 Dec 2004, J.F.B.Rowland wrote:

> the fears among American scholars about Government domination of 
> scientific communication are real.

Perhaps, perhaps not. But, either way, these fears have nothing to do
with OA.

> I find the domination of scientific publishing by a small
> number of large publishing companies an even greater danger

Perhaps, perhaps not. But, either way, this danger has nothing to do
with OA.

> Perhaps we can agree that a healthy scientific community requires that
> there be a diversity of outlets for published research (that is, many
> separate, independent publishers) and plenty of copies in existence of any
> one particular article (the LOCKSS approach).

Agreed. But why are these even mentioned, since neither has anything to
do with OA?

> If these conditions are met, I see no danger in mandating deposition 
> in PubMed Central, even though it is publicly owned and operated by NIH.  

The NIH self-archiving mandate has nothing to do with government
domination of scientific communication, domination by a small number of
large publishers, the diversity of publishing outlets or the existence
of plenty of copies. NIH will merely require NIH-funded authors to
supplement the fee-based version of all articles reportint NIH-funded
research with a self-archived version ensuring full-text online access
(OA) for all would-be users worldwide who (or whose institutions) cannot
afford access to the fee-based version.

*Where* NIH requires its fundees to self-archive these OA supplements --
whether in a central OA archive or in their own institutional/departmental
OA archives -- is immaterial in the OAI-compliant age, for the contents of
all OAI-compliant archives are all interoperable and jointly harvestable
and searchable exactly as if they were all in one place.

> On the other hand, mandatory deposition in institutional repositories,
> each one operated by an independent university, but all networked together
> by means of the OAI-PMH, might be more reassuring to Americans.

The advantage of authors self-archiving in their own OAI-compliant
institutional/departmental archives is not that it might be more
reassuring to Americans, but that that is far more likely to propagate the
practice of OA self-archiving beyond just NIH-funded biomedical research
to all research, across all departments at the author's institution,
and across institutions, (as Rowland himself recommends in a recent
article he co-authored!):

    "Re: Central versus institutional self-archiving"

    Swan, A., Needham, P., Probets, S., Muir, A., O'Brien, A., Oppenheim,
    C., Hardy, R. & Rowland, F. (2004) Delivery, Management and Access
    Model for E-prints and Open Access Journals within Further and
    Higher Education.

    "A Simple Way to Optimize the NIH Public Access Policy"

Stevan Harnad

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