Access-Denial, Impact-Denial and the Developing and Developed World

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Mon, 22 Jul 2002 14:47:03 +0100

On Mon, 22 Jul 2002, Barbara Kirsop wrote:

> Our concern
> is solely about the possible development of a two-tier eprint software
> system that would emerge as a result of a commercial development in
> parallel with the free-of-cost software. It seems to us that where this
> scenario exists, the non-commercial system will likely be of a less
> well-developed standard.

I greatly admire the work of Barbara Kirsop and her colleague
and BOAI co-founder, Leslie Chan, as well as their respective
organizations, the Electronic Publishing Trust for Development and Bioline International on behalf of the developing world.

Although I don't think that what Barbara fears could come to pass will
actually come to pass, for the reasons I have already given earlier in
this thread, I entirely understand why she is so concerned.

> Filling the archives is essential, but filled
> archives without the eprint software to provide global access to them
> must be as useless as empty archives.

I can't quite follow this scenario: The free software is
for CREATING the OAI-compliant Eprint Archives, not for
accessing and using them. The archives (all interoperable)
are accessed and used by searching them and retrieving their
open-access contents. For this there are (among other ways of
searching them, such as google) the OAI-compliant Service Providers which have nothing
directly to do with the archive-creating software, whether the free GNU
version or the Ingenta version. They
are indifferent to how the archives were created, as long as they are
OAI-compliant (and filled!).

So on Barbara's premise that the Eprint Archives are filled, it is not
at all clear what further worry one ought to have. (My own worry is
rather about speeding up the rate at which that premise is fulfilled!)

> It is very true that scientists in developing countries are highly
> enthusiastic about the potential for free access to the world's
> scientific literature that institutional archives present. The EPT is
> active in raising awareness about the OAI and associated services
> ( But scientists in the developing countries
> have important research information to contribute to the global
> knowledge base, and raising visibility of this through their own
> institutional archives is also seen to be a very important opportunity.
> Closing the S to N knowledge gap, making visible the 'missing' science,
> are real challenges that archives in developing countries can help to
> resolve.

I agree completely, and said so in my prior reply. Maximizing access to
research output by self-archiving it in Open Access Eprint Archives
maximizes the visibility, usage and impact of research:

    Lawrence, S. (2001a) Online or Invisible? Nature 411 (6837): 521.

    Lawrence, S. (2001b) Free online availability substantially increases a
    paper's impact. Nature Web Debates.

However, I also noted in my prior reply (and others can correct me if I
am wrong about this), that the visibility of their own research to the
developed world is not the primary problem of developing world research
and researchers.

    "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 [primary] problem is ACCESS to the research
    output of the DEVELOPED world!"

Perhaps this is a good occasion to make more explicit a general point
about the causal connection between accessibility and visibility/impact,
and hence about the logic and motivation of the open access movement

(1) Toll-based access-barriers to research output prevent those researchers
whose institutions cannot afford the tolls from accessing and hence
using the research.

(2) This has two effects:

    (2a) access-denial to research output diminishes the quality of the
    research output of its would-be USERS, because their own research
    fails to be informed by and built upon the research they cannot
    access, and

    (2b) access-denial to research output diminishes the impact of the
    research itself, denying its AUTHORS and their institutions the full
    benefits of their findings (in the form of visibility, usage,
    citations, and the resulting rewards such as research funding,
    career advancement, honors, and potential influence on the further
    course of knowledge).

(3) Both 2a and 2b apply to research and researchers worldwide, in both
the developing and developed world. Access-denial results in lost access to
one another's research (2a), and lost impact for one's own research (2b).

(4) There is nothing that researchers can do directly to remedy their
own access denial to the research of others (2a).

(5) But there is something that researchers can do to remedy the access
denial of others to their own research, and hence also to remedy their own
impact-denial (2b): They can make their own research open-access, by
self-archiving it in their institutional Eprint Archives.

(6) By symmetry and the Golden Rule, maximizing access to one's own
research (2b), if it is done by everyone, maximizes one's own access to
everyone else's research (2a).

(7) Open access solves both 2a and 2b, but the logical and causal
(and motivational) order is: 2b first, then 2a.

(8) All of the above are true for both developing and developed
countries: The (indirect) way to maximize one's access to the research
output of others is by maximizing access to one's own research output.

If there is any difference between developing and developed countries
then, it is only in the absolute and relative weight of 2a
(access-denial) and 2b (impact-denial).

I am not an expert, and defer to Barbara and Leslie in this, but my own
guess would be that:

    (i) Researchers in the developing world suffer relatively more
    than researchers in the developed world from both access-denial (2a)
    and impact-denial (2b).

    (ii) For developed-world researchers, particularly at the more
    prosperous universities with bigger access-toll budgets, the problem
    of impact-denial (2b) is relatively more pressing than the problem
    of access-denial (2a).

    (iii) For developing-world researchers, the lower impact of their
    research is only in part because of the impact-denial problem
    (2b); it is partly also because their research output is handicapped
    by the developing world's own greater access-denial problem (2a):
    their research suffers from being less informed by what even the
    poorer institutions in the developed world can afford to access.

It was for this reason that I suggested that the developing world's
primary problem was access-denial rather than visibility/impact denial.

But in any case, the solution, for both the developing and the developed
world, is exactly the same: it is to immediately maximize access to their
own research output by self-archiving it. The rest of the cause-effect
sequence will then take care of itself.

To self-archive their research output and solve their impact-denial
problem (2b), all the developing world need do is create OAI-compliant
archives and fill them, like everyone else. The software is
available, free, and works. The (unaffordable) deluxe Ingenta option is
not a threat to the developing world, it is simply irrelevant for their
own research output. On the other hand, inasmuch as it helps hasten
the self-archiving of some of the more prosperous universities in the
developed world, the Ingenta option will also hasten the solution to
the developing world's access-denial problem (2a).

By way of an added incentive for developing-world self-archiving:

    (iv) Just as the developing world is losing relatively more than
    the developed world because of access-denial to the research of the
    developed world, the developing world probably also has relatively
    more to gain from remedying its own impact-denial as soon as possible,
    by hastening to make its own research output open-access.

> It is difficult for academic authors in the developed world to relate to
> the feeling of isolation and impotence that scientists feel if their
> research remains largely unknown and unacknowledged, as is too often the
> case at present in the developing world. Moreover, the importance of the
> research generated in these regions is of huge relevance to the
> development of international research programmes - particularly in such
> areas as AIDS, malaria, TB, ecology and conservation, where local
> conditions and local knowledge are significant factors. Therefore, the
> OAI movement was increasingly regarded as a light at the end of the
> tunnel and one-for-all software the ideal tool.

I could not agree more. All the more reason that those who are helping
the developing world to maximize the visibility/impact of its research
should focus their efforts on helping them create and fill Eprint
Archives rather than worrying needlessly about the deluxe Ingenta

> We remain concerned that as the commercial system develops, the
> scientists in the poorer countries will have no choice but to use the
> non-commercial software.

In doing so, they will simply be doing what an increasing number of
universities in the developed world (e.g., Cal Tech, University of
California, Edinburgh, Nottingham, Southampton) are already doing
by choice!

> If the development of this will indeed forge
> ahead at the same rate as that developed by Ingenta, this will be
> reassuring.

That is certainly what is intended. Besides, why are we worrying about
hypothetical future rates of forging ahead? All the forging to date has
been done by, on the free version, and it is working, and
ready, and has been for some time! Why not focus on using it to create
and fill Eprint archives, now, rather than worrying about some
hypothetical 2nd derivative in the future?

> But the new commercial arrangement suggests that the current
> software has need of improved user support, so perhaps the BOAI
> initiative could be encouraged to focus on supporting archives in the
> developing world by funding the development of installation or
> self-archiving manuals. Archives in the developing regions would be
> quickly filled, since the global recognition they provide would be
> greatly encouraging to scientific development, both personally and
> nationally.

I agree completely. The BOAI should work to promote self-archiving in the
developing world (2b); but it wouldn't hurt to promote it in the
developed world either, and that just might help to solve the developing
world's other pressing problem (2a).

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 Mon Jul 22 2002 - 14:47:03 BST

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