Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Richard Poynder interviews Harold Varmus

Richard Poynder has posted his interview with Harold Varmus, Nobel laureate, former director of the NIH, and co-founder of PLoS. This is the latest installment of The Basement Interviews, Poynder's blog-based OA book of interviews with leaders of many related openness initiatives. Read the whole interview for more on the origin of E-Biomed, PubMed Central, and PLoS, and Varmus' views on the Bethesda statement, the prospect of TA journal conversions to OA, the moral arguments for OA, and the pace of progress. Excerpt:

RP: Currently PLoS charges $1,500 for each paper it publishes.

HV: Yes. There are other ways to cover our costs too, including advertising on the web site of the journal, and through various kinds of memberships and sponsorships. We also think that open access journals will be able to increase their revenues by the same kind of philanthropic mechanisms that national public radio uses in America....

RP: ...What are your views on [the NIH] policy?

HV: I would argue that the policy he came up is not as strong as it ought to be....[R]ight now NIH is not getting compliance with its public access policy, and I think there will be repercussions from that....Congress is going to say: "What is in this database?" And when people take a look they will see that very little is going into PubMed Central that was not already being contributed before the new policy came into effect....

RP: ...[T]here has been a long-standing and vigorous debate within the OA movement about the respective merits of the so-called Green and Gold roads....What are your views on that debate?

HV: My views are very clear: at this point self-archiving is not Open Access....One of the important components of the definition of Open Access that we have all agreed on is that research information should be placed in a searchable database. Right now the only way to be confident that you can do that effectively is by using a large public digital library like PubMed Central....Some day perhaps we will be able to just self-archive, and it will all work fine; but we're not there today....

RP: I'm curious about your motivation for supporting Open Access so vigorously....

HV: I believe that science is one of those activities that improves the state of the world, and once you realise how important publication is in the series of acts that constitutes the doing of science, and once you understand the incredible transformation of that publication process that the Internet, and software, and the whole digital world, now promises it is hard not to be pretty passionate about trying to make that part of the scientific universe work more effectively.

Comment. With respect, Varmus is wrong to say that self-archiving is not OA. OA is a kind of access, not a kind of venue, and "OA repositories" deliver this kind of access as well as "OA journals", and distributed repositories deliver it as well as central repositories. Repositories certainly count as "searchable databases". If he wants to say that PMC searching is better than OAI searching, or that gold OA is more urgent than green OA, that's quite different. We should be discussing those propositions, but they have no bearing on the definition of OA.