Re: The Green and Gold Roads to Open Access

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sat, 8 Nov 2003 13:18:36 +0000

On Sat, 8 Nov 2003, Subbiah Arunachalam wrote:

> Thanks very much Gopal. Please forward it to Stevan Harnad, Leslie Chan,
> Peter Suber and opther champions of Open Access. This is probably the first
> newspaper editorial on this topic from India. Or did Times of India write
> about it?

Thanks to Arun and Gopal for the copy of the open-access editorial in the Hindu.

The editorial is of course very timely and useful, because it describes open
access and the open-access journals. But it is unfortunately far from
being as useful as it could be, for it is in fact merely a direct echo
of the proportion of press attention that open-access journal-publishing
(the "golden road to open access") has been getting in the Western
Press. That attention too would be well and good if it were proportionate,
with the emphasis being on *open access* itself, rather than only
on the golden road to it! For if open access is identified with
open-access journal-publishing alone, or even primarily, we overlook the
complementary "green road to open access" (open-access self-archiving
of toll-access articles) that is in a position to provide (and
is already providing) far more open access, far sooner, and with no
attendant certainty.

It is satisfying to focus on the triumphs of the golden road; the
editorial names all the causes and the desiderata; it echoes the widespread
sense of momentum and of nearing the goal. But in reality it is a
blueprint for yet another decade of needless waiting for open access!

The editorial mentions the relevant figures: 20,000 journals (probably
more like 24,000 today, according to Bowker's), 1 million articles
every year (probably 2.5 million) and about 550 "gold" journals
(publishing about 60,000 open-access articles yearly).

But the editorial does not put 2+2 together! 550/24,000 and
60,000/2,500,000 are *minuscule* ratios, and their rate and likelihood of
growth are equally minuscule. And there is still uncertainty about the
viability of the golden journal cost-recovery model at this time.

So whereas pointing out the growing awareness among both researchers
and the general public, at last, of the value and desirability and
the possibility of open access, is a good thing, pinning the hopes
of attaining open access on the golden road alone, or even primarily,
represents a great opportunity lost.

At the very end of the editorial, almost as an afterthought, there is
indeed a brief mention of the *other* road, the "green" road.

    "In addition, even when papers are published in conventional journals,
    the pre-print (and sometimes the post-print) versions can often be
    placed in open electronic archives to ensure free access. Physicists
    have been doing this for years and scientists from other disciplines,
    especially biology and medicine, need to follow suit."

But this brief passing mention fails to point out that open-access
self-archiving *is* indeed the other road to open access, and the road
that *can* bring us (and *is* already bringing us) to open access far
faster -- not having to face the obstacle of (1) creating 23,450 new
journals, (2) finding a way to fund them, and (3) then persuading the
authors of the 2,440,000 yearly articles to submit their work to those
journals instead of their established competitors, but facing instead
only the one obstacle of (1) persuading the authors of the 2,440,000
yearly articles to self-archive!

Nor is it clear enough from this ever-so-brief afterthought, and
the relative proportion of space and attention accorded to it in
the editorial, that the green road has also already been shown to
be navigable, that it already transports at least three times as many
articles to open access yearly, and that the "traffic" is growing faster
on the green road than the golden road, mainly because it already has
"official" clearance for at least 55% of the yearly 2,500,000 articles
(and can in reality accommodate 100% of them), whereas the golden road
can accommodate less than 5% of the traffic today.

I would not cavil at this oversight if it were not for the fact that
the disproportionate emphasis in this editorial, and so much else that
is being written about open access today, misses the opportunity to
marshal the mounting enthusiasm for open access to help persuade the
authors of those remaining 2,260,000 articles to make them open-access
today, by taking the one simple step, already within their reach, of
self-archiving them! For the result would not be another decade of golden
dreams but a green reality of 100% open access, overnight.

Do we really want to continue sitting and waiting waiting passively for
the golden road to be enlarged for us, journal by journal, or do we want
to fast-forward to open access via the green road in the meanwhile?

Stevan Harnad

NOTE: 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):
    Posted discussion to:

Dual Open-Access Strategy:
    BOAI-2 ("gold"): Publish your article in a suitable open-access
            journal whenever one exists.
    BOAI-1 ("green"): Otherwise, publish your article in a suitable
            toll-access journal and also self-archive it.
Received on Sat Nov 08 2003 - 13:18:36 GMT

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