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News from the open access movement

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Interview with Barbara Aronson about HINARI

El Oso has posted a 16 minute podcast inteview with Barbara Aronson about the HINARI program, and a transcript of the first 10 minutes.  (Thanks to Database Management.)  Excerpt:

DS: ...[W]hat were the greatest obstacles during [2000-2001, when the idea was first implemented]? How did that happen?

BA: There werenít really any obstacles. It was perfect timing. Kofi Annan that same month announced his millennium agenda and one of the things was that we were supposed to do something about was the digital divide and we were supposed to do it in public-private partnerships with industry. This was the first time that the UN ever said we could work with the private sector....

What we did is we got the six biggest publishers together because they publish between 75% an 85% of the body of journals that we wanted the poorest countries to have access to. We knew that if they would say yes, everybody else would follow suit. We sat down in a room with them and we said, look, hereís what the economies of the world look like. It was a bar graph with four bars: 1.) here are the richest countries of the world - your markets are saturated there, 2.) then you have the fast growing countries - they are quickly approaching the situation of the wealthy countries, 3.) then you have a group of countries with a GNP between $1,000 and $3,000 per capita - we said, OK, you have some subscriptions here, mostly paid for by aid agencies, 4.) then we showed them the last column - there are more than 70 countries in this bar, you donít have any sales there, you donít even know the names of these countries, they have the worst health problems in the world, nobody is doing research about their health problems, they need everything, they need to train doctors, nurses, they need to do their own research and solve their own problems. And they are doing the whole thing without access to the latest scientific information or much information at all. And, what do you think about that?

Thatís about how long the presentation took - what I just said now. Elsevier, which is the biggest and wealthiest of the publishing groups said, OK, that group gets free access, and the group next to it gets a discounted rate Ö

And then all the other publishers looked at Elsevier and said, are you really doing this? And Elsevier said yes and then they all said, OK, we are too.


  • It's a good interview and I recommend it.  But I'd skip the introduction, which gives the false impression that the OA movement began with the Bethesda statement, that OA journals are not peer-reviewed, and that OA journals are the only way to deliver OA.
  • My take on HINARI is pretty straightforward.  HINARI improves access and OA improves access better.  Or, HINARI improves access in some places to some extent, but OA improves access everywhere in all the ways that matter.  (1) OA literature, through journals or repositories, is free for everyone with an internet connection, not just for those at designated research institutions in designated developing countries. HINARI doesn't offer free access to physicians, journalists, or policy-makers without institutional affiliations, or even to researchers in India, on the ground that India is too wealthy.  (2) OA literature requires no passwords for access, and no methods for sharing passwords with beneficiaries and hiding them from everyone else.  HINARI's good intentions are often impeded when intended beneficiaries don't know about the program or never get the passwords.  (3) OA journals can easily remove permission barriers as well as price barriers, and often do so, but the TA journals in HINARI almost never do so.  One result is that the HINARI literature is less useful for exploitation than OA literature, and cannot be copied for redistribution to others. 
  • A final point belongs in a different category.  HINARI needn't conflict with efforts to achieve OA.  See, for example, the judicious editorial in the Journal of Cancer Research and Therapeutics calling for the expansion of HINARI while we all work for OA.  But the publishing lobby routinely uses HINARI as a pretext to oppose government OA policies (1, 2, 3).  This non sequitur belongs to the publishing lobby, and should not be attributed to HINARI itself.