(op-ed draft about "Budapest Open Access Initiative")

Stevan Harnad (January 2001)

This message is addressed to scholars and scientists and concerns the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) launched on 14 February by George Soros's Open Society Institute.
To be useful, research must be used. To be used (read, cited, applied, extended) it must be accessible. There are currently 20,000 peer-reviewed journals of scientific and scholarly research worldwide, publishing over 2 million articles per year, every single one of them given away for free by its researcher-authors and their research-institutions, with the sole goal of maximizing their uptake and usage by further researchers, and hence their impact on worldwide research, to the benefit of learning and of humanity.

Yet access to those 2 million annual research articles can only be had for a fee. Hence they are accessible only to the lucky researchers at that minority of the world's research institutions that can pay for them. And even the wealthiest of these institutions can only afford a small and shrinking proportion of those annual 20,000 journals. The result is exactly as if all those 2 million articles had been written for royalties or fees, just the way most of the normal literature is written, rather than having been given away for free by their authors and their institutions for the benefit of research and humanity.

As a consequence, other researchers' access to all this work, and hence its potential impact on and benefit to research progress, is being minimized by access tolls that most research institutions and individuals worldwide cannot afford to pay.

Those access tolls were necessary, and hence justified, in the Gutenberg era of print-on-paper, with its huge real costs, and no alternatives. But they are no longer necessary or justified, and are instead in direct conflict with what is best for research, researchers, and society, in today's PostGutenberg era of on-line-eprints, when virtually all of those Gutenberg costs have vanished, and those remaining costs can be covered in a way that allows open access.

The Budapest Open Access Initiative is dedicated to freeing online access to this all-important but anomalous (because give-away) literature, now that open access has at long last become possible, by

(I) providing universities with the means of freeing online access to their own annual peer-reviewed research output (as published in the 20,000 established journals) through institutional self-archiving,

as well as by

(II) providing support for new alternative journals that offer open online access to their full text contents directly (and for established journals that are committed to making the transition to offering open full-text access online).

It is entirely fitting that it should be George Soros's Open Society Institute that launches this initiative to open access to the world's refereed research literature at last. Open access is now accessible, indeed already overdue, at a mounting cost in lost benefits to research and to society while we delay implementing it. What better way to open society than to open access to the fruits of its science and scholarship, already freely donated by its creators, but until now not freely accessible to all of its potential users? Fitting too is the fact that this initiative should originate from a part of the world that has known all too long and all too well the privations of a closed society and access denial.

Please have a look at the BOAI at and, if you or your organization are implementing, or planning to implement either Strategy I or Strategy II, I hope you will sign the BOAI, either as an individual or an organization. Over 100 organizations and 1500 individuals worldwide have indicated their commitment already.

Below, are links to some of the press coverage of the BOAI so far.

 Declan Butler, Soros Offers Access to Science Papers (Nature)

Ivan Noble, Boost for Research Paper Access (BBC)

Michael Smith, Soros Backs Academic Rebels (UPI)

Alexander Grimwade, Open Societies Need Open Access (The Scientist)

Denis Delbecq, L'abordage des revvues scientifiques (Liberation, Paris)

Stephane Foucart, Guerre ouverte contre le monopole des revues scientifiques (Le Monde, Paris),5987,3244--263082-,00.html

Roberto Casati, Soros Project: Articoli scientifici in rete per tutti. (Il Sole, Italy)

Richard Poynder, George Soros give $3 million to new open access initiative.

Sam Vaknin, Copyright and Scholarship (UPI)

Fabrice Node-Langlois, La revolte des savants pour la libre publication (Figaro)

Caroline Davis, Soros gift for open access to journals (Times Higher Education Supplement Feb 18 2002)

Charles Bailey, BOAI, Current Cites,

Stephen Strauss, "Napster for scientists?" The Globe and Mail March 2 2002 F6.