Re: Harvesting open-access data as commercial add-ons

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Thu, 18 Apr 2002 12:33:24 +0100

On Thu, 18 Apr 2002, Steve Hitchcock wrote:

> Re: From FOS Newsletter, 4/15/02:
> >
> The Mathematics Web portal is clearly Elsevier (if not
> overtly so, e.g. no logo). The preprint link takes you to the Mathematics
> Preprint Server. I've visited this site before and had no idea it was an
> Elsevier service....
> This appears to be an example of Guedon's assertion with regard to 'open
> article archives' such as the Chemistry Preprint Server that: "I believe
> Elsevier is testing ways to reconstruct a firm grip on the evaluation
> process of science in the digital context". How significant is the low-key
> approach to this, I wonder?

My own sense is that there is nothing whatsoever to worry about if
commercial publishers and providers are re-using Open Access
content and services to enhance their own products and services.

Yes, they are trying to reposition themselves in the market, add value,
hold on to what they have, extend it, become more essential to the
evaluation process, etc. etc. That is all fine. They may or may not
be successful. It does not matter in the least. Nor does it matter
that it is "they" (i.e., the commercial publishers, the ones with the
high-priced journals) that are doing it.

What matters is getting the peer-reviewed content up there, with free
full-text access, OAI-compliant and in the (research) public eye. That
may well add value to toll-based products and services as a side-effect,
but that is irrelevant. What is relevant is that (1) it is available for
free for all, at last, and that (2) it will in turn draw more of the
peer-reviewed content up there.

Please let us not forget that freeing all of this content online is our
first (and last!) goal. We are not dedicated to competing with, let
alone ruining, publishers, primary or secondary, commercial or
otherwise. What kind of a goal is that? We are dedicated to providing
open access to the peer reviewed literature.

As to what might be the eventual secondary effects of our efforts, over
and above reaching the goal of open access for the whole of this special
literature (at least 20,000 journals, 2 million articles annually), we
can speculate about what those effects might be, but it simply does not

Moreover, it would be a mistake to focus on these speculations,
because they distract us from our real goal -- and, in an odd way,
focussing on such irrelevant speculations (e.g., in the form of
"commercial-publisher-baiting") instead of our goal is and has been one
of the many things that have actually been holding us back from open
itself, as well as provoking needless opposition to open access from

My own guess is that whereas now, while we are still in the era of
toll-access to most of this literature, the open-access archives and
services will (among other things) provide an added value to commercial
goods and services, they will also be providing (and irreversibly
converting use and users to) open access (our explicit goal). That means
that all users whose institutions cannot afford the toll-access, and
perhaps also those who can, will access this literature for free rather
than for fee, forever.

Then what about services (search, citation-linking, evaluation, etc.)
on top of this open-access literature? Isn't the natural expectation
that the same thing will happen there? The commercial publishers,
primary and secondary, will continue to enhance their own services,
while the free open-archives services continue to enhance their own.
Our explicit goal was to free the peer-reviewed literature, not to free
all services on it. But if the literature is free and there are free
services on it (search, citation-linking, evaluation, etc.), why not
let the cards fall wherever they may?

Both toll-based access to this literature, and fee-based services on it
can and should continue for as long as there is a market for them, and
that should not concern us (except inasmuch as we also happen to be the
users, hence we will be making our own individual decisions as to what
it is that we use).

"Research Access, Impact and Assessment"

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):

Discussion can be posted to:

See also the Budapest Open Access Initiative:

and the Free Online Scholarship Movement:
Received on Thu Apr 18 2002 - 12:33:43 BST

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