Food for all: letter to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) urging open access

Indian open access advocate Subbiah Arunachalam (Arun) has sent a letter to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) urging that CGIAR require open access to CGIAR-funded research.

Following is the full text of the letter:

“Dear Dr Carlos Perez del Castillo/ Dr Kathy Sierra:

About a year ago, on 20 May 2009 to be precise, Dr William D Dar, Director General of ICRISAT sent a Memorandum on Launching of Open Access Model: Digital Access to ICRISAT Scientific Publications to all researchers and students in all locations of ICRISAT []. In the memorandum Dr Dar had said “Every ICRISAT scientist/author in all locations, laboratories and offices will send a PDF copy of the author’s final version of a paper immediately upon receipt of communication from the publisher about its acceptance. This is not the final published version that certain journals provide post-print, but normally the version that is submitted following all reviews and just prior to the page proof.”

ICRISAT is the only international agricultural research centre with an OA mandate, and is second among the research and education institutes operating from India, the first being the National Institute of Technology-Rourkela ( ICRISAT publishes a research journal ( which is also an open access journal.

Since then is growing fast and the portal now has virtually all the research papers published in recent times, and all the books and learning material produced by ICRISAT researchers.

We believe that it would be great if other CGIAR laboratories could also mandate open access to their research publications. Indeed, it would be a good idea to have a system wide Open Access mandate for CGIAR and to have interoperable OA repositories in each CGIAR laboratory. Such a development would provide a high level of visibility for the work of CGIAR and greatly advance agricultural research. Besides, journals published by CGIAR labs could also be made OA. There are more than 1,500 OA repositories (listed in ROAR and OpenDOAR) and about 5,000 journals in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). Currently over 2050 journals are searchable at article level. Over 390,000 articles are included in the DOAJ service.

The world will soon be celebrating the International Open Access Week [18-24 October 2010] and you may wish to announce the CGIAR OA mandate before then.

As you may be aware, all seven Research Councils of the UK and the National Institutes of Health, USA, have such a mandate in place for research they fund and support. To see the full list of ~220 mandates worldwide, see ROARMAP.

We look forward to seeing an early implementation of open access in all CGIAR labs.

– Subbiah Arunachalam [Distinguished Fellow, Centre for Internet and Society,Bangalore, India]
– Remi Barre [Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers (CNAM), Paris, France]
– Leslie Chan [University of Toronto at Scarborough, Canada]
– Anriette Esterhuysen [Association for Progressive Communications, Johannesburg, South Africa]
– Jean-Claude Guédon [University of Montreal, Canada]
– Stevan Harnad [Universite du Quebec a Montreal and University of Southampton]
– Neil Jacobs [JISC, UK]
– Heather Joseph [Executive Director, SPARC, USA]
– Barbara Kirsop [Electronic Publishing Trust for Development, UK]
– Heather Morrison [Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada]
– Richard Poynder [Technology journalist, UK]
– T V Ramakrishnan, FRS [Banaras Hindu University and Indian Institute of Science; Former President of the Indian Academy of Sciences]
– Peter Suber [Berkman Fellow, Harvard University; Research Professor of Philosophy, Earlham College; Senior Researcher, SPARC; Open Access Project Director, Public Knowledge]
– Alma Swan [Director, Key Perspectives, UK]
– John Wilbanks [Vice President for Science, Creative commons]
– John Willinsky [Stanford University and University of British Columbia]”

Comment: bravo to Arun, our tireless defender of open access around the world! Let us hope that CGIAR heeds this message. What could possibly be more fair than ensuring that those who cannot always be sure to be able to afford quality food supplies, at the very least have guaranteed free access to the very research that is meant to help them?

More on Potential Conflict of Interest with Open Data (OD) Mandates

SH: Benjamin Geer suggests [requiring OD] immediately upon publication (presumably the publication of a refereed journal article based on the data in question). But the first of the [data-] collector’s articles based on that collection or the last? How many are allowed with exclusivity? and how long?… What if [the data-collector has] gathered a lot of time-consuming data, amenable to a lot of time-consuming analysis?

BG:What if they’ve gathered enough data for a lifetime of analysis?  Should they have the right to hoard their data for the rest of their life?   Where do you draw the line?  Does it make any difference, ethically, whether they collected that data using public funds?

It’s not for me (or anyone) to draw the line uniformly, a-priori. The length of time researchers may need to embargo access to the data they have gathered is something that depends on the field and data, and hence OD needs to be negotiated with the funder, possibly on a case by case basis.

This is notably not the case with OA to published research, in which, without exception, research, researchers, their funders and their institutions all benefit most from OA being provided immediately upon acceptance for publication (and the only conflict of interest is with a 3rd-party service-provider: the publisher).

Benjamin Geer proposes, simply, that research data should be made OD immediately upon publication. I am pointing out the genuine complications that this is failing to take into account. I am not at all suggesting that OD, as soon as possible, is not a good and desirable thing. It is simply far from being as straightforward as OA, especially insofar as mandating (i.e., requiring) is concerned, because there is no conflict with the researcher’s interest in the case of OA, whereas there may well be considerable conflict with the researcher’s interest in the case of OD. And it is all about timing.

As a consequence, it is very important to keep OA and OD separate, especially as regards mandates. Because of the conflict of interest, this is not a matter to be settled by a-priori ideology or edict, but by realism, fairness and pragmatics.

(By way of an indication that I am fully cognizant of (and opposed to) authors sitting unnecessarily long on their database, there was in my own field a case in which a team of researchers had been funded to collect data worldwide for a global color perception database. There was considerable controversy and consternation in the field after the data-gathering because of delays in publication and release. Many researchers in the field felt that the delays in both had slowed rather than advanced research progress. Here was a case where an advance negotiation between the funders and the researchers on the permissible length of the access embargo would have been helpful, would probably have speeded the research, and would probably have resulted in greater research progress. But the punchline from such cases is certainly not that for all data the embargo should therefore be of length zero, either between data of collection and date of publication or between data of publication and date of data-release as OD. The punchline is that OD parameters need to be negotiated in advance, on a case by case basis, with an emphasis on publication as well as release as soon as fair and practicable. There is nothing like this with OA.)

In summary, unlike the case of open access to refereed research articles, the case of open access to data, like the case of open access to books, is not an open and shut one. OD mandates are desirable, and justifiable, but their parameters will have to be negotiated field by field, case by case. And the terrain will be much better prepared for the more complicated case of mandating OD once we have successfully reached the simpler (and more urgent) goal of universally mandating OA.

Stevan Harnad American Scientist Open Access Forum

Springer (owner of BMC) did NOT sign the anti-FRPAA letter

This correction to an earlier post bears repeating! According to Wim van der Stelt, Springer, EVP Business Development, Springer, owner of BioMedCentral, did NOT sign the anti-FRPAA letter of the AAP/PSP; Springer is currently not even a member! In fact, as reported in full here, Springer, owner of BMC, has quite an enlightened approach to open access.

It is my delight to profusely apologize to Springer (owner of BMC) for the mix-up.

On Not Conflating Open Data (OD) With Open Access (OA)

Anon: I hope you don?t mind my asking you for guidance ? I follow the IR list and you are obviously expert in this area. I am having a debate with a colleague who argues that forcing researchers to give up their data to archives and repositories breeches their autonomy and control over intellectual property.  He goes so far as to position the entire open access movement in the camp of the neoliberal agenda of commodifying knowledge for capitalist dominated state authority (at the expense of researchers ? often very junior team members ? who actually create the data).“.

It is important to distinguish OA (Open Access to refereed research journal articles) from Open Data (Open Access to research data, OD).

All researchers, without exception, want to maximise access to their refereed research findings as soon as they are accepted for publication by a refereed journal, in order to maximise their uptake, usage and impact. Otherwise they would not be providing access to them, by publishing them. The impact of their research findings is what their careers, as well as research progress, are all about.

But raw data are not research findings until they have been data-mined and analysed. Hence, by the same token (except in rare exceptions), researchers are not merely data-gatherers, collecting data so that others can go on to do the data-mining and analysis: In science especially, their data-collection is driven by their theories, and their attempts to test and validate them. In the humanities too, the intellectual contributions are rarely databases themselves; the scholarly contributions are the author’s analysis and interpretation of their data — and these are often reported in books (long in the writing), which are not part of OA’s primary target content, because books are definitely not all or mostly giveaway content, written solely to maximise their uptake, usage and impact (at least not yet). [See Figure, below.]

In short, with good reason, OD is not immediate, exception-free author give-away content, whereas OA is. It may be reasonable, when data-gathering is funded, that the funders stipulate how long the data may be held for exclusive data-analysis by the fundee, before it must be made openly accessible. But, in general, primary research data — just like books, software, audio, video, and unrefereed research — are not amenable to OA mandates because there may be good reasons why their creators do not wish to make them OA, at least not immediately. Indeed, that is the reason that all OA mandates, whether by funders or universities, are very specifically restricted to refereed research journal publications.

In the new world of OA mandates, which is merely a PostGutenberg successor to the Gutenberg world of “publish-or-perish” mandates, it is critically important to distinguish carefully what is required (and why) from what is merely recommended (and why).

Anon: I agree there is a risk of misuse and appropriation of the open access agenda, but that is true for any technology, or any social change more generally“.

Researchers’ unwillingness to make their laboriously gathered data immediately OA is not just out of fear of misuse and misappropriation. It is much closer to the reason that a sculptor does not do the hard work of mining rock for a sculpture only in order to put the raw rock on craigslist for anyone to buy and sculpt for themselves, let alone putting it on the street corner for anyone to take home and sculpt for themselves. That just isn’t what sculpture is about. And the same is true of research (apart from some rare exceptions, like the Human Genome Project, where the research itself is the data-gathering, and the research findings are the data).

Anon: And I believe researchers generally have more to gain than lose from sharing data but hard evidence on this point ? again for data, not outputs, is almost non-existent so far. If you can direct me to any articles or arguments, I would be grateful“.

There is no hard evidence on this because — except in exceptional cases — it is simply not true. The work of science and scholarship does not end with data-gathering, it begins with it, and motivates it. If funders and universities mandated away the motivation to gather the data, they would not be left with an obedient set of data-gatherers, duly continuing to gather data so that anyone and everyone could then go ahead and data-mine it immediately. They would simply be mandating away much of the incentive to gather the data in the first place.

To put it another way: The embargo on making refereed research articles immediately OA — the access delay that publishers seek in order to protect their revenue — is the tail wagging the dog: Research progress and researchers’ careers do not exist in the service of publishers’ revenues, but vice versa. In stark contrast to this, however, the “embargo” on making primary research data OD is necessary and justified (in most cases) if researchers are to have any incentive for gathering data (and doing research) at all.

The length of the embargo is another matter, and can and should be negotiated by research funders on a field by field or even a case by case basis.

So although it is crucial not to conflate OA and OD (thereby needlessly eliciting author resistance to OA when all they really want to resist is immediate OD), there is indeed a connection between OA and OD, and universal OA will undoubtedly encourage more OD to be provided, sooner, than the current status quo does.

Anon: An important point in addition is that the archives I work with, while aspiring to openness, cannot adopt full and unqualified open access.  Issues of sensitive and confidential data, and consent terms from human research subjects, have to be respected.  We strive to make data as open and free as possible, subject to these limits.  Typically, agreeing to a licence specifying legal and ethical use is all that is required.  So in fact, researchers do retain control, to some extent, over the terms and conditions of reuse when they deposit their data for sharing in data archives“.

Yes, of course even OD will need to have some access restrictions, but that is not the point, and that is not why researchers in general have good reason not be favorably disposed to immediate mandatory OD — whereas they have no reason at all not to be favorably disposed to immediate mandatory OA.

It is also important to bear in mind that the fundamental motivation for OA is research access and progress, not research archiving and preservation (although those are of course important too). Data must of course be archived and preserved as well, but that, again, is not OD. Closed Access data-archiving would serve that purpose — and to the extent that researchers store digital data in any form, closed access digital archiving is what all researchers do already. Proposing to help them with data-preservation is not the same thing as proposing that they make their data immediately OD.

Stevan Harnad
American Scientist Open Access Forum


It’s too quick to see my relentless insistence on the priority of Green OA self-archiving by authors as monomaniacal!

The reasoning is this (and it’s partly practical, partly ethical):

An AAA publications manager would be perfectly entitled and justified to say:

If authors who purport to care so much about OA to their work do not even bother to provide OA by self-archiving it — despite the fact that AAA has given them the green light to do so — and their institutions and funders don’t even bother to mandate it, then why on earth is the finger being pointed at AAA at all (and why should we regard their cares as credible)? Is AAA supposed to be the one to sacrifice its revenues to provide something that its authors don’t even care about enough to sacrifice a few keystrokes to provide for themselves?

As long as we keep focussing on where the key to providing OA isn’t (i.e., the publisher-lamp-post) our research will remain in the dark.

We have to get the priorities straight. It is not enough to be ideologically “for” Green OA self-archiving and Green OA self-archiving mandates. It is not even enough to do the keystrokes to self-archive one’s own work (though that’s a good start, and I wonder how many OA advocates are actually doing it? the global rate hovers at about 5-20%). One has to make sure that one’s own institution adopts a Green OA mandate. Then, and only then, can one go on to the next step, which is to try to persuade one’s publisher to go Gold (though persuading one’s funder to mandate Green would probably help more; Gold OA will come of its own accord, once we have universal Green OA).

But perhaps the most egregious misconstrual of OA priorities is not authors impugning their publisher for not going Gold before they and their institutions (and funders) go Green. That dubious distinction is reserved for institutions (and funders) who commit pre-emptively to funding Gold without first mandating Green!

PS No need for yet another central repository either! Institutional repositories are enough. Fill them. Mandate filling them. And central collections can then be harvested from them to your hearts’ content. Fussing about central collections, like fussing about publishers going Gold, or about finding funds to pay for Gold (or, for that matter, fussing about copyright reform, peer review reform, publishing reform or preservation) are all all an idle waste of time, energy and attention when institutional repositories are still gapingly empty and authors’ fingers are still idle

Canada’s Digital Economy Consultation: help vote up Open Access to Canadian Research

Update May 18: OA to Canadian Research is now at the top of the Canada’s Digital Content section – just 13 votes from the top overall! Please register and vote today – and consider asking your organization to make a formal submission.

Please register for Canada’s Digital Economy Consultation and vote for Open Access to Canadian Research under Canada’s Digital Content. Currently OA is at 8 votes, just 2 behind the lead suggestion in this section of the Ideas Forum.

Article "Open access: implications for scholarly publishing and medical libraries"

Purpose: The paper reviews and analyzes the evolution of the open access (OA) publishing movement and its impact on the traditional scholarly publishing model.
Procedures: A literature survey and analysis of definitions of OA, problems with the current publishing model, historical developments, funding agency responses, stakeholder viewpoints, and implications for scientific libraries and publishing are performed.
Findings: The Internet’s transformation of information access has fueled interest in reshaping what many see as a dysfunctional, high-cost system of scholarly publishing. For years, librarians alone advocated for change, until relatively recently when interest in OA and related initiatives spread to the scientific community, governmental groups, funding agencies, publishers, and the general public.
Conclusions: Most stakeholders acknowledge that change in the publishing landscape is inevitable, but heated debate continues over what form this transformation will take. The most frequently discussed remedies for the troubled current system are the “green” road (self-archiving articles published in non-OA journals) and the “gold” road (publishing in OA journals). Both movements will likely intensify, with a multiplicity of models and initiatives coexisting for some time.
  • This paper reviews the factors and events leading up to the open access (OA) movement in scholarly publishing, including the evolution and current status of the National Institutes of Health public access policy.
  • Differing points of view of major stakeholders, such as publishers, librarians, scientists, funding agencies, and consumers are summarized.
  • Open access has and will continue to impact traditional scholarly publishing, serials pricing, and medical libraries in general.
Implications for practice
  • Open access issues may impact decision making in serials acquisition and management.
  • Librarians should take a lead in communicating important OA-related developments to user groups and administration.
  • Librarians can play major roles in connection with this new movement.

Karen M et al. J Med Libr Assoc. 2006 July; 94(3): 253–262. Full text

On Science Commons’ Moving West…

I’ve kept this blog quiet lately – for a wide range of reasons – but a few questions that have come in have prompted me to start up a new series of posts.

The main reason for the lack of posts around here is that I’ve been very busy, and for the most part, I’ve used this blog for a lot of lengthy posts on weighty topics. At least, weighty to me. If you want a more informal channel, you can follow me on twitter, as I prefer tweeting links and midstream thoughts to rapid-fire short blog entries. The joy of a blog like this for me is the chance to explore subjects in greater depth. But it also means that during times of extreme hecticness, I won’t publish here as much.

Anyhow. I’ve been busy with a pretty big task, which is getting me, my family, and the Science Commons operation moved from Boston to San Francisco. We’re moving from our longtime headquarters at MIT into the main Creative Commons offices, and it’s a pretty complex set of logistics on both personal and professional levels.

As an aside, I’m now very close to some downright amazing chicken and waffles, and that’s exciting.

Now, I would have thought this would have been interpreted by the world in the clear manner that I see it: us Science Commons folks are, and have always been, part and parcel of the Creative Commons team, so this didn’t strike me as super-important if you’re not one of the people who has to move. If you email us, our addresses end with That’s where our paychecks come from. So having us integrate into the headquarters offices doesn’t seem such a big deal. But I keep getting rumbles that people think we’re somehow “going away” or “disappearing” – that’s why there’s going to be a series of posts on the move and its implications.

So let me be as blunt as possible: Science at Creative Commons, and the work we do at the Science Commons project, isn’t going anywhere. We are only going to be intensifying our work, actually. You can expect some major announcements in the fall about some major new projects, and you’ll learn a lot about the strategic direction we plan to take then. I can’t talk about it all yet, because not all the moving pieces are settled, but suffice to say the plans are both Big and Exciting. We’ve already added a staff member – Lisa Green – who is both a Real Scientist and experienced in Bay Area science business development, to help us realize those plans.

Our commitments and work over the past six years of operations aren’t going anywhere either. We will continue to be active, vocal, and visible proponents of open access and open data. We will continue to work on making biological materials transfer, and technology transfer, a sane and transparent process. And our commitment to the semantic web – both in terms of its underlying standards and in terms of keeping the Neurocommons up and running – is a permanent one.

You can catch up with our achievements in later posts, or follow our quarterly dispatches. We get a lot of stuff done for a group of six people, and that’s not going to change either.

Some things *are* likely to change. For example, I don’t like the Neurocommons name for that project much any more – it’s far more than neuroscience in terms of the RDF we distribute, and the RDFHerd software will wire together any kind of database that’s formatted correctly. But those changes are changes of branding, not of substance in terms of the work.

It is, however, now time to get our work and the powerful engine that is the Creative Commons headquarters together. I’m tired of seeing the fantastic folks that I work with twice a year. We’re missing a ton of opportunities to bring together knowledge in the HQ – especially around RDFa and metadata for things like scholarly norms – by being physically separated. Not to mention that the San Francisco Bay Area is perhaps the greatest place on earth to meet the people who change the world, every day, through technology.

I’m also tired of living on the road. I’m nowhere near Larry Lessig and Joi Ito in terms of my travel, but I’m closing in on ten years of at least 150,000 miles a year in airplanes. It gets old. Most of our key projects at this point are on the west coast, like Sage Bionetworks and the Creative Commons patent licenses, and we’re developing a major new project in energy data that is going to be centered in the Bay Area as well. The move gives me the advantage of being able to support those projects, which are much more vital to the long term growth of open science than conference engagements, without 12 hours of roundtrip plane flights.

I’ll be looking back at the past years of work in Boston over the coming weeks here. I’m in a reflective mood and it’s a story that needs to be told. We’ve learned a lot, and we’ve had some real successes. And we’re not abandoning a single inch of the ground that we’ve gained in those years. So if you hear tell that we’re disappearing or going away, kindly point them here and let them know they will have us around for quite some time into the future…

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