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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Stevan Harnad on Harold Varmus on OA

Stevan Harnad, Harold Varmus on the NIH Green Open Access Self-Archiving Mandate, Open Access Archivangelism, April 9, 2008. 

Summary:  Harold Varmus thinks the NIH Green OA self-archiving mandate isn't enough because (1) it doesn't provide enough usage rights, (2) it is subject to embargoes, (3) it only covers research from mandating funders, and (4) it doesn't reform copyright transfer. This is a miscalculation of practical priorities and an underestimation of the technical power of Green OA, which resides in self-mandates by institutions (such as Harvard's), rather than just funder mandates like NIH's. Institutions are the producers of all research output, and their Green OA self-mandates ensure the self-archiving of all their own published article output, in all disciplines, funded or unfunded, in their own Institutional Repositories (IRs). Self-archiving provides for all the immediate access and usage needs of all individual researchers, webwide. Access to most deposited articles can already be set as Open Access immediately. For the rest, IRs' semi-automatic "email eprint request" Button provides almost-immediate access. Access embargoes will die under the growing pressure of universal Green OA's power and benefits. Institutions' own IRs are also the natural locus for mandating direct deposit by both institutional and funder mandates. Copyright retention is not necessary as a precondition for mandating Green OA and puts the adoption of Green OA mandates at risk by demanding too much. Once Green OA mandates generate universal Green OA, copyright retention will follow naturally of its own accord.

Comment.  I agree with Harold Varmus on all the ways in which the NIH policy could be improved.  Pointing them out is not a "miscalculation of practical priorities" unless one wishes to delay the policy until it can be improved.  But Varmus never suggested that.  On the contrary, he celebrated it as a "landmark event".  (See my excerpt from Varmus' editorial.)  I also agree with Stevan Harnad's main point, at least if I can paraphrase it this way:  we urgently need green OA and should not slow it down with demands that are politically more difficult to realize than green OA.  However, these allied positions are compatible