[An email exchange with Richard Stallman, father of free software, copyleft, GNU, and the GPL, reprinted here in redacted form with Stallman’s permission. Stallman tutors me in the important details of open access and I tutor him in the peculiarities of humanities publishing.]
RS: [Your] posting [“Open Access Publishing and Scholarly Values”] doesn’t specify which definition of “open access” you’re arguing for — but that is a fundamental question.
When the Budapest Declaration defined open access, the crucial condition was that users be free to redistribute copies of the articles. That is an ethical imperative in its own right, and a requisite for proper and safe archiving of the work.
People paid more attention to the other condition specified in the Budapest Declaration: that the publication site allow access by anyone. This is a good thing, but need not be explicitly required, because the other condition (freedom to redistribute) will have this as a consequence. Many universities and labs to set up mirror sites, and everyone will thus have access.
More recently, some have started using a modified definition of “open access” which omits the freedom to redistribute. As a result, “open access” is no longer a clear rallying point. I think we should now campaign for “redistributable publication.”
What are your thoughts on this?
DC: I probably should have been clearer in my post that I’m for the maximal access—and distribution—of which you speak. Alas, the situation is actually worse than you imagine, especially in the humanities, where I work, and which is about a decade behind the sciences in open access. Beyond the muddying of the waters through terms like “Green OA” and “Gold OA” is the fact that academic publishing is horribly wrapped up (again, more so in the humanities) with structural problems related to reputation, promotion, and tenure. So my colleagues worry more about truly open publications “counting” vs. publications that are simply open to reading on a commercial publisher’s website. That is why I think the big question is not the licensing or the technology of decentralized publishing, posting and free distribution of papers, etc., but the social realm in which academic publishing sits. I’m working now on pragmatic ways to change that very conservative realm.
Put another way: when software developers write good (open) code, other developers recognize that quality, independent of where the code resides; in humanities publishing, packaging (including the imprimatur of a press, the sense that a work has jumped some (often mythical) peer-review hurdle) counts for too much right now.
RS: [“Green OA” and “Gold OA”] are new to me — can you tell me what they mean?
So my colleagues worry more about truly open publications “counting” vs. publications that are simply open to reading on a commercial publisher’s website.
I don’t understand that sentence.
That is why I think the big question is not the licensing or the technology of decentralized publishing, posting and free distribution of papers, etc., but the social realm in which academic publishing sits.
Ethically speaking, what matters is the license used. That’s what determines whether the publishing is ethical or not. Are you saying that the social realm contains the obstacle to the adoption of ethical publication methods?
Put another way: when software developers write good (open) code, other developers recognize that quality, independent of where the code resides.
Programmers can tell if code is well-written, assuming they are allowed to read it, but how does that relate? Are you saying that in the humanities people often judge work based on where it is published, and have no other way to determine what is good or bad?
DC: Green O[pen] A[ccess] = when a professor deposits her finished article in a university repository after it is published. Theoretically that article will then be available (if people can find the website for the institution’s repository), even if the journal keeps it gated.
Gold OA =
when an author pays a journal (often around $1-3K) to make their submission open access. when the journal itself (rather than the repository) is open access; may involve the author paying a submission fee. Still probably doesn’t have a redistribution license, but it’s not behind a publisher’s digital gates.
Counting = counting in the academic promotion and tenure process. Much of the problem here is (I believe misplaced) concern about the effect of open access on one’s career.
Are you saying that the social realm contains the obstacle to the adoption of ethical publication methods?
Correct. And much of it has to do with the meekness of academics (especially in the humanities, bastion of liberalism in most other ways) to challenge the system to create a more ethical publication system, one controlled by the community of scholars rather than commercial publishers who profit from our work.
Are you saying that in the humanities people often judge work based on where it is published, and have no other way to determine what is good or bad?
Amazing as it may sound, many academics do indeed judge a work that way, especially in tenure and promotion processes. There are some departments that actually base promotion and tenure on the number of pages published in the top (mostly gated) journals.
RS: [Terms like “Green OA” and “Gold OA” provides] even more reason to reject the term “open access” and demand redistributable publication.
Maybe some leading scholars could be recruited to start a redistributable journal. Their names would make it prestigious.
DC: That’s what PLoS did (http://plos.org) in the sciences. Unclear if the model is replicable in the humanities, but I’m trying.
UPDATE: This was an off-hand conversation with Stallman, and my apologies for the quick (and poor) descriptions of a couple of open access options. But I think the many commenters below who are focusing on the fine differences between kinds of OA are missing the central themes of this conversation.