Student/Practitioner/Patient/Public (SPPP) Access Comes With the OA Territory

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Mon, 12 Jun 2006 16:37:53 +0100

Below is a reply to an anonymized query on an often-confused issue
concerning Open Access (OA), the rationale for providing OA, and the
rationale for mandating the provision of OA (by mandating self-archiving,
as the RCUK in the UK, the FRPAA in the US and the European Commission
(EC) are each proposing to do):

(1) OA is about Open Access to research: about 2.5 million articles per year,
published in about 24,000 peer-reviewed research journals and congress
proceedings in all disciplines, from maths, physics and engineering to biology
and medical sciences, to the social sciences and the humanities.

(2) The only ones who can provide access to these 2.5 million annual
researchers articles are their authors, the researchers: either by
publishing them in an OA journal, or by publishing them in a conventional
journal and also self-archiving them in their institutional repository
(or a central one).

(3) Author surveys have shown that although only about 15% of authors
self-archive spontaneously, 95% will comply if mandated to self-archive
by their research funders and/or their institutions. The half-dozen
self-archiving mandates that have already been adopted (including those
of the Wellcome Trust, CERN, and several universities) have since confirmed
this high compliance rate.

(4) The FRPAA, RCUK and EU mandate proposals are facing stout opposition from
the publisher lobby, even though 94% of journals have already given their green
light for immediate author self-archiving.

(5) The two main bases for the publishers' objections are that OA is
unnecessary and that mandating self-archiving would put their subscription
revenues at risk.

(6) There is to date no evidence at all that self-archiving reduces
publisher subscription revenues, but even if it were ever to do so,
the question is whether the benefits (to research, researchers, and the
public that funds them) outweigh the risks (to publishers).

(7) The chief evidence that the benefits (to research, researchers, and
the public that funds them) outweigh the risks (to publishers) is that
OA substantially accelerates and increases research usage and impact,
hence research progress and productivity (as measured by download and
citation counts): This is the primary motivation for mandating the
provision of OA, through self-archiving: to maximize research usage and
impact, hence research productivity and progress ("CURES").

(8) A side-benefit is that OA increases access and usage for
practitioners, patients and the general public too -- in those fields in
which there is practitioner, patient, and public (PPP) interest in the
research articles. (It has to be noted, though, that there is as yet no
systematic quantitative measure of this PPP interest and that PPP interest
is almost certainly limited to only a small fraction of the annual 2.5
million articles published across all research fields.)

(9) Hence the primary rationale for mandating OA self-archiving has to
be the objectively measurable and demonstrated benefits it provides for
research, researchers, and the public that funds them -- in terms of
usage and citations as measures of progress toward CURES -- rather than
merely PPP interest.

(10) OA of course also provides access for PPP use, but the important
strategic point to understand is that PPP-needs (being limited to only
a fraction of the OA fields and being difficult as yet to measure and
document) cannot be adduced as the primary reason for putting publisher
subscription revenues at even hypothetical risk -- otherwise there is
a strong actual risk that the proposals to mandate self-archiving will
be successfully defeated by the publisher lobby. The rationale for OA is
primarily to provide access to research by researchers for researchers --
all for the benefit of the public that funded the research. PPP access
is merely a side-benefit of OA. It would come nowhere near justifying
an OA mandate just on its own.

Here is my detailed reply to a well-meaning (anonymous) query concerning
PPP interests:
On Sun, 11 Jun 2006, [identity deleted] wrote:
> When I read your 8-point agenda I believe that the clinical faculty
> would feel that they were not being embraced in it.
I think you are not quite understanding the OA problem, hence its
solution: The *objective* is to provide free online access (OA) for *all*
would-be users (whether they be researchers or practitioners,
patients and public [PPP]).
The *problem*, however, is that the *providers* of the research, namely,
the researchers who wrote the research articles, are not yet providing
OA to their articles spontaneously.
The *solution* is to mandate that they *must* provide OA, for the benefit
of the public that funds their research -- by self-archiving their own
final, refereed, accepted drafts of their own articles free online in
institutional or central repositories.
In order to get that solution (mandate) adopted, it is necessary to
persuade those who are in a position to mandate self-archiving -- namely
the researchers' own funders and institutions -- to mandate it. In order
to persuade them to mandate it, it is necessary to persuade them that
there is a need to mandate OA -- especially because the publishers
are trying to prevent self-archiving mandates, or, failing that, to
embargo them, because they fear they could reduce their subscription
revenues (even though there is no evidence of this, even after 15
years of self-archiving, some of it at or near 100% for years now in
some subfields).
Now comes the critical point: To persuade researchers and their
funders and employers that there is indeed a strong need to mandate
self-archiving despite the publishers' objections that there is no need
for OA and that it might put their subscription revenues at risk, you
have to make it clear exactly what the need for OA is, and how and why
it is to researchers' advantage to self-archive their research:
The chief need for OA is on the part of those who are in the position to
use and apply the research, for the benefit of the public that funded
it, namely, the researchers by and for whom the research articles were
written. And the objective measure of their need is download and citation
counts: It has been demonstrated that self-archiving accelerates and
increases downloads and citations substantially (meaning that without
it, many potential users are denied access). Citation counts mean salary
and funding for researchers, and overheads for their institutions, and
both citations and downloads mean a return on the funder's investment
of tax-payer money in funding the research, in terms of research
productivity, applications and progress ("CURES"), in all fields.
So the way to solve the problem of how to persuade researchers to provide
OA is to persuade funders and institutions to mandate self-archiving. And
the way to persuade them to mandate self-archiving is to persuade them
that OA is to the advantage of research and researchers (and their
institutions and funders and especially the tax-payers that fund the
funders) because it both accelerates and increases research citations
and downloads (i.e., research impact and progress: "CURES").
Downloads are not as yet being systematically measured and compiled
(although they will be eventually), but citations are already being
systematically measured and compiled -- and, moreover, they are
correlated with downloads.
So the simple, straightforward argument for mandating self-archiving,
the one that is immune to publishers' objections that OA is unneeded or
that it might ruin their business, is that self-archiving is optimal for
research progress itself ("CURES"), because it substantially increases
research citations, which indicates that the research is being taken up,
used, applied and built upon.
If we could add download counts to the argument, and downloads in
particular by practitioners, patients and public (PPP), we would, but
there are no such download counts yet, so we cannot add them directly and
empirically to the usage/impact argument. It is not necessary, however,
because free access for researchers also means free access for everyone
else too, including PPP. So there is no need to adduce specific evidence
that there is substantial PPP demand and need for access (especially
because in most specialized fields there is unlikely to be!).
We cannot, however, say that the primary reason we need OA is because
of PPP needs, because (1) we have no data on PPP use yet and (2) PPP
use applies to only a small fraction of the research literature -- 2.5
million articles a year, across all fields, in 24,000 journals. Hence
this is *not* a valid argument for OA self-archiving in general, and,
if put up front as the main reason for seeking OA mandates, would lead to
debate, delay and defeat after years of haggling, with publisher offers
of "special deals," with the publishers making only a select subset of
their articles OA -- those that might have some PPP interest -- rather
than all articles, which would put all of the research journal
needlessly at (hypothetical) risk, for no compelling reason.
That would be the PPP tail wagging the entire OA research dog: PPP
needs are only a tiny (though important) subset of OA needs.  And,
more important, direct PPP access is definitely not the main way the
public benefits from OA! Focussing primarily on PPP access is the *wrong
strategy* for persuading researchers, their institutions and their funders
of the need to mandate OA, even though PPP access does undeniably have
superficial appeal with voters and politicians; in the end, on its own,
or in the lead as the primary rationale for Open Access, PPP access
would lead to debate, delay and defeat for a self-archiving mandate.
But using PPP access needs as the primary rationale for OA needs is
not necessary. The solution is to put the irrefutable direct needs
of researchers for research access (for the sake of the *research*
and application benefits -- "CURES" -- it will provide for patients,
practitioners, cures, the public) first, and note that OA will *also*
provide PPP access as a side-benefit wherever wanted or needed.
It is ever so important not to weaken the case for OA -- the case that
must be put to the researchers and their institutions and funders,
across all fields -- by giving primacy to access by patients and
practitioners. They will get access anyway. But they are not the research
providers: Researchers are; and most of them don't do clinically relevant
research; and even those who do are rewarded for their research impact,
and not yet for their practical impact. (They will be rewarded for the
latter *after* OA prevails, but not before, so that cannot be used to
induce them or their institutions and funders to self-archive: research
impact can, and it gives everyone else access too.)
I hope you understand these issues of logic and practicality better now:
Only a small fraction of research is PPP-relevant, so the need for PPP
access *cannot* be made the principle argument for OA or OA will lose.
Now some comments:
> I don't think that folks understand this distinction well. You and I do but
> researchers=lab to the more social sciences. We have a large health science
> program here and our faculty have "divisions" (i.e. research faculty versus
> clinical faculty). It is from these clinical faculty I have extended my
> appreciation of the problems in the field. When I read your 8-point agenda I
> believe that the clinical faculty would feel that they were not being
> embraced in it.
If the clinical faculty *publish* research (i.e., if they are OA
*providers*), they are embraced by it. If they merely *use* research, they
are irrelevant to a mandate that addresses research providers. However,
since OA means OA for everyone, clinicians (indeed, all of PPP) are
embraced by its *outcome*, which is Open Access to all the research
they need.
Please distinguish what concerns research *providers* from what
concerns research *users*. The OA problem is that of getting the
providers to go ahead and provide the OA (and the solution is to mandate
providing it). And the users are the beneficiaries (whether researchers,
practitioners, patients, or the public). (Moreover, the public benefits
incomparably more from the CURES than the READS). Please do not conflate
the problem of getting access (the user problem) with the problem of
getting providers to provide OA (the mandate problem). The solution to the
mandate problem is also the provider solution to the user access problem.
> As we try to go about courting our disciplines I think that the language is
> important when we cross over to the professional/social sciences. There are
> few, if any, practitioners of particle physics. But there are lots of nurses,
> social workers, educators, and so on who could use the research but they are
> challenged to get it....
> the situation is really grim... once students leave the school and move to
> "disconnected" areas of which there are many).
You are mixing up the user problem and the provider problem here: The
point is that providers have to be mandated to provide OA. You are also
mixing up the (minority) practitioner-relevant OA fields with the vast
majority of practitioner-irrelevant OA fields. OA and OA mandates need
to cover them *all*, and the research impact argument is the decisive
and universal one, not the practitioner argument, which is a minority
special case, and could be strategically manipulated by publishers with
special side-deals.
By the way, students could be added to PPP too, making it SPPP, and
the same argument applies to them: OA gives them access along with the
territory, and eventually their usage will be measured and credited too,
through download counts. Moreover, to the extent that students are or
become researchers, their usage also translates into citations and more
research (and "CURES").
> I think that all that needs to be added is something along
> the lines of "research-practitioners benefit [from OA] too" and this
> is particular important to "isolated", "international" and "less-resourced"
> communities.
It's fine to add SPPP needs to research needs in the overall rationale for
OA wherever possible (though I think it is already covered
by "all would-be users"). Eventually, Connotea-style tagging will
help quantify SPPP need and its benefits, the way it is already
quantified by research citations...
Stevan Harnad
Received on Mon Jun 12 2006 - 17:01:16 BST

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