Re: Nature's vs. Science's Embargo Policy

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Fri, 10 Jan 2003 03:07:26 +0000

Mike, in a word (or rather, two): Don't worry!

Nature's policy is *enough*. And other publishers will follow suit.

This is certainly no time to slow things down now by looking a gift-horse
in the mouth and and carping about trivial details, forgetting what a huge
advance this prominent policy-change actually represents!

Mike Eisen wrote:

> In what possible way do you see this move as progressive?

In that yesterday the only only way a Nature author could attain open
access for his papers in Nature was by self-archiving the preprints and
the corrigenda, and today they can self-archive the refereed postprints

When that is formally offered to (and done by) all the authors of all
2,000,000 annual papers in all 20,000 refereed journals, I will consider
my own evangelical work *done,* and all substantive goals met.

Right now, the problem that most of the remaining 19,999 journals still
don't officially have Nature's liberal policy. Do you imagine this is
the time to quarrel with Nature, snub their dramatic concession to the
researcher community's right to make its work open-access, and insist
instead that they *still* haven't done enough?

> Although Nature is letting authors retain copyright, the only actual rights
> authors retain are the right to post the paper on a personal web site and to
> reproduce the paper in course material and certain other limited printed
> aggregations. The definition of personal web site is very restrictive. From
> their site "It means a personal site, or portion of a site, either owned by
> you or at your institution (provided this institution is not-for-profit),
> devoted to you and your work."

That sounds *just fine* to me!

(I know exactly where that "not-for-profit" clause came from: One of
the blinkered barristers intoned "Um, Ah, but we must not allow them
to publish it with a *rival publisher*!" The meaning of "open access" in
the online medium simply has not penetrated those thick papyroccentric
jurisprudential layers yet...)

> They explicitly preclude placing the papers
> in an archive! ("Authors may also post a copy of their paper on their own
> website once the printed edition has been published, provided that they also
> provide a link from the contribution to Nature's website. 'Their own' refers
> to any site devoted to them, whether owned by them or by a not-for-profit
> employer. However, it does not mean open archival websites, such as those
> that host collections of articles by an institution's researchers, which
> would amount to a breach of our licence.")

First, I have not been able to find this exact passage in the license
nor the FAQ:
Where did you find it?

But, in any case, it does not worry me one bit! "Own website" is a
completely arbitrary notion. And all websites are "open." And they are
as "archival" (i.e., long-lasting) as we and our institutions make
them! These are all yawningly empty word-games, having no logical,
legal, or practical status, and only the legacy of leaden advice from
those lawyers who haven't yet gotten the hang of the difference between
a virtual medium like the Web and the solid paper they are so used to!

Web-archiving is public and open, period! Anyone (and his search-engine)
can access any of it, especially if it is OAI-compliant. So ignore these
futile and empty distinctions. (If it is of any comfort to you, we can
"rename" each author's own sector in their institutional Eprint Archives as
"Joe Blogg's Personal Website"!)

Here are some similarly incoherent distinctions that have been made (and
withdrawn) in the past:

> Although these are technically new legal rights for authors, these are all
> rights that authors already had in practice, since Nature would never go
> after an author for posting a copy of their paper on their own website.

I entirely agree about this, of course! But this explicit policy
will definitely encourage the more hesitant authors to self-archive
-- and, more important, will encourage the more hesitant university
administrators and grant-funders to mandate self-archiving -- and,
most important, encourage other journals to follow suit!

> I see this as a cynical and somewhat sinister move towards journals moving
> from the world of copyright, in which authors and the public retain many
> rights, to the world of licensing, where such rights are non-existant.

And I see it is a natural slippery slope, down which the cat, now out of the
bag and in the open at last, will inexorably slide toward the optimal
and inevitable outcome for research and researchers.

> In my opinion, Nature is trying to pat themselves on the back for a move in
> the wrong direction, and its a testament to the success of their propaganda
> campaign that some as astute and generally skeptical as you would fall for
> their line.

On the contrary, I think that even if you had been right that there
was some sort of hope at Macmillan/Nature that this concession would
somehow serve to stem the tide of self-archiving and open-access --
then that would have been a very misplaced hope, and would have the
opposite effect! (But I don't think that was why it was done: I think
this was sincerely intended as a progressive move, even if a little
sltilted semiotically by the blinkered team of lawyers who looked it
over and massaged some of the language!

Don't worry! Nature's new policy of allowing postprint self-archiving
(complementing their already progressive abandonment of the "Ingelfinger
Rule" recently) is a *good thing*, and will bring on even better things!

Cheers, Stevan
Received on Fri Jan 10 2003 - 03:07:26 GMT

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