The Harvards, the Have-Nots, and Open Access

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sun, 16 Nov 2003 15:33:49 +0000

On Sun, 16 Nov 2003, Troy McClure wrote:

> What is the attitude of the Harvards, Yales, and other prestigious US
> universities towards open access? I browsed through the signatures of
> institutions on boai and found only the MIT on the list...

That's not quite accurate: For example, there are 15 signatures from

But this general question about the Harvards vs. the Have-Nots in
relation to Open Access has come up on many prior threads -- --
and is worth understanding in some detail:

There are two motivations for open access, from the standpoint of
researchers (and their institutions):

    (ACCESS) The access of would-be users at one's own institution to
    the research output of other institutions

    (IMPACT) The visibility to and impact of one's own institutional
    research output on would-be users at other institutions

Insofar as ACCESS is concerned, the Harvards are certainly sitting
prettier than the Have-Nots (i.e., the institutions with smaller serials
budgets). So if one presents the open-access problem as an *access*
problem, the typical Harvard researcher will respond that he is not
aware of having any access problem! But let us not forget that *most*
researchers are not conscious of an access problem: They have lived
with it for decades, on paper, and are only conscious, if anything, of
an *improvement* in access in the online age (because of online access,
and institutional site-licenses).

It is institutional serials librarians who are conscious of the access
problem, and it is they, historically, who first raised the hew and
cry about it that has now drawn the problem to the attention of all of
us. And the librarians of course know that although the Harvards are
somewhat better off than the Have-Nots in their institutional access,
*no* institution (or institutional consortium) has remotely enough money
to afford toll access to all or even most of the planet's 24,000 serials:
only to a small and shrinking minority of them.

But let us set ACCESS aside for a moment and turn to IMPACT, which is
the other side of the same coin, yet far more important: for if
*other* institutions cannot afford access to the journals in which my
research output appears (even though my own institution *can* afford
it), it means that I am losing all of that potential research impact.
Here you will find that Harvard researchers too are ready to sit up
and listen, when you present them with the empirical facts about the
direct causal connection between access and impact:

Here too, Harvard researchers at first blush feel well-enough served
by the prestigious high-impact journals in which they publish. But no
researcher is UNinterested in enhancing, indeed maximizing, the impact
of their research. That is, after all, the reason they are researchers in
the first place, and why they are all giving away their research articles
rather than selling them for royalty revenue!

There are very few Harvards, and very many Have-Nots. So if the Have-Nots
have an access-denial problem with Harvard research output, the Harvards
have an impact-denial problem with Have-Not research output. (Only
the snottiest of researchers at the Harvards will say they are only
interested in impact on the Harvards! And those are few enough to be
safely discounted in these considerations -- though it is true that they
represent yet another bit of drag on progress toward open access!)

> Wouldn't those universities actually lose from open access to knowledge?

Lose what?

Access to the research output of other institutions? No, they would
only gain.

Impact on the research output of other institutions? Again, no, they
would only gain.

Royalty revenue from the sale of their articles? They never sought or
got any royalty revenue! Their revenue comes from research impact, not
from royalties.

> The most prestigious (US) universities have the biggest budgets and
> therefore better access to knowledge. Better access to knowledge is
> attractive to excellent scientists. With open access to knowledge, wouldn't
> they "lose" as compared to now in the sense that other universities can
> offer the same access to information?

You have a rather dim view of the Harvards if you think that their
excellence is merely a reflection of the problems of the Have-Nots in
accessing the serials literature!

The truth is that all research and researchers, at all institutions,
gain -- in both impact and access -- from open access. Universal open
access would not necessarily change the current rank-order of
research excellence among institutions (though it would allow for some
corrections!), but it would increase the overall rate and scope of
productivity and progress in research everywhere. (And the institutions
that are first of the plate to claim the head-start in providing access
to their own research output also have the head-start in maximizing their
own research impact, and that *could* generate a significant re-ordering
to their advantage, in the short-term for sure, and possibly consolidating
into the long-term as well!)

> Are the prestigious US universities - which are certainly at the
> forefront of scientific research - really supporting open access?

The truth is that so far *no* institution has yet *implemented*
open-access provision to its research output in its actual policy and
practises. There have been only formal petitions, boycott-threats,
statements, manifestos, declarations, and initiatives (plus a
ill-thought-out, hence doomed, congressional Bill!).

*Individual* researchers have provided open access to their own
output by either publishing their papers in open-access journals or by
self-archiving their toll-access papers in open-access archives. But no
*institution* yet has an official institutional open-access-provision

With the growing consciousness of the access/impact problem, however,
and of the two roads to take to solve it -- (1) the "golden" road of
publishing one's research in an open-access journal, if a suitable one
exists (c. 600 so far) and (2) the "green" road of publishing in a suitable
toll-access journal (23,400 in all) AND self-archiving the paper in
one's institutional open-access archive -- there is reason for optimism.

Berlin has made the formal Declaration:

Perhaps Norway (perhaps another country, or institution) will be the
first to actually implement it:

> Also, those universities are run like businesses (high tuition fees, but
> investments in property, big football stadiums etc.); would the managers of
> those universities be willing to give away their results for no financial
> remuneration?

They all -- Harvards and Have-Nots, without exception -- already do give
away all their refereed research results for no financial remuneration,
and have always done so. Research impact -- which translates into
research funding, overheads, staff, students, prestige, prizes -- is
and always was the coin of the research realm. Don't mix up this special
domain with patents, spin-off companies, courseware, epublishing,
software, and other university pipe-dreams for cashing in on their
"intellectual property." This is something else; and over and above
giving it away, which universities do already, open-access-provision
will be implemented by universities purely out of self-interest -- once
they realize that it *is* in their own interests (indeed, that it is
optimal and inevitable), and how to go about it.

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):
    Post 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 Sun Nov 16 2003 - 15:33:49 GMT

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