How many forms of OA are there now?

You use Although the main OA world seems oblivious to the need to define what they are talking about the discussion continues on this blog! Stevan Harnad now writes a comment which, when taken with Peter Suber’s comments leaves me more perplexed than before:

Stevan Harnad Says:
May 3rd, 2008 at 2:41 am e
The Two Forms of OA Are Now Defined: They Now Need Value-Neutral Names

PMR: This title worries me greatly. There are not Two forms of OA. There are now at least three. The BBB declaration contains a definition. That definition is signed by both Suber and Harnad and they have agreed that it should not be amended. Peter Suber makes it clear on these pages that “strongOA” is NOT the same as BBB-OA. It appears that strongOA is a subset of BBB-OA. So even in the Suber-Harnad camp there are logical three types of OA (weak – I will abbreviate it to wOA so as not to offend), strongOA and BBB-OA. Whatever the rights or wrongs of each that seems to be current state.
BBB is well defined in a single sentence of power and clarity:
By ‘open access’ to this literature, we mean its free
> availability on the public internet, permitting any users to
> read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the
> full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them
> as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose,
> without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those
> inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself
I am now completely unclear what wOA and sOA now are. They are defined in terms of “permissions” which is currently undefined and not self-explanatory. (I repeat, nothing in OA is self-explanatory).

To repeat, “Weak/Strong” OA marks a logical distinction: price-barrier-free access is a necessary condition for permission-barrier-free access, and permission-barrier-free access is a sufficient condition for price-barrier-free access. That is the logic of weak vs. strong conditions.

I have already agreed this. I just don’t have any idea what permission-barrier-free means.

The purpose of our joint statement with Peter Suber was to make explicit what is already true de facto, which is that both price-barrier-free access and permission-barrier-free access are indeed forms of Open Access (OA), and that virtually all Green OA today, and much of Gold OA today, is just price-barrier-free OA, not permission-barrier-free OA, although we both agree that permission-barrier-free OA is the ultimate desideratum.
But what Peter Suber and I had not anticipated was that if price-barrier-free OA was actually named by its logical condition as “Weak OA” (i.e., the necessary condition for permission-barrier-free OA) then that would create difficulties for those who are working hard for the adoption of the mandates to provide price-barrier-free OA (Green OA self-archiving mandates) that are only now beginning to grow and flourish.

PMR: I have no further views on this – it is a sociopolitical observation, but does not help use define what we are talking about. I would be happy if the types of OA were called OA1, OA2, OA1.2a, etc

In particular, Professor Bernard Rentier, the Rector of the University of Liege (which has adopted a Green OA self-archiving mandate to provide price-barrier-free OA) is also the founder of EurOpenScholar, which is dedicated to promoting the adoption of Green OA mandates in the universities of Europe and worldwide. Professor Rentier said quite explicitly that if price-boundary-free OA were called “Weak OA,” it would make it much harder to persuade other rectors to adopt Green OA mandates — purely because of the negative connotations of “weak.”
Nor is the solution to try to promote permission-barrier-free (”Strong OA”) mandates instead, for the obstacles and resistance to that are far far greater. We are all agreed that it is not realistic to expect consensus from either authors, university administrators or funders on adoption or compliance with mandates to provide permission-barrier-free OA at this time, and that the growth of price-barrier-free OA should on no account be slowed by or subordinated to efforts to promote permission-barrier-free OA (though all of us are in favour of permission-barrier-free OA too).

PMR: These are sociopolitical observations and beliefs that do not help clarify what we are talking about.

So, as the label “weak” would be a handicap, we need another label. The solution is not to spell it out longhand every time either, as “price-barrier-free OA,” etc. That would be as awkward as it would be absurd.

PMR: If price-barrier-free OA actually describes what you are talking about it seems a useful term. If people adopt it will get acronymised (e.g. PBFOA, or shorter). If it doesn’t get adopted, then it doesn’ matter. Most people are capable of managing multiword terms. It seems perverse to exchange clarity for short english words which are bound to confuse. “soft” OA is completely meaningless.
You use “Green” above. I thought I knew what it meant. Now I don’t. If it means self-archiving-in-institutional-repositiries, call it that. Shortened to SAIR. As, perhaps distinguished from Self-archiving-on-web-pages (SAWP). Green is a political term, not a technical one.

So we are looking for a short-hand or stand-in for “price-barrier-free OA” and “permission-barrier-free OA” that will convey the distinction without any pejorative connotations for either form of OA. The two forms of OA are now defined, explicitly and logically. They are now in need of value-neutral names.
Suggested names are welcome — but not if they have negative connotations for either form of OA. Nor is it an option to re-appropriate the label “OA” for only one of the two forms of OA.

PMR: I agree completely with the last sentence. I have spent the last year on this blog getting into rows with people because I thought OA was defined and now I know it isn’t. Not until you define a permission-barrier. Until  we have some definitions we are in a mess.

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5 Responses to How many forms of OA are there now?

  1. Andrew says:

    There’s an idea in free software licensing – the open source definition, in fact, which is all about the kind of issues we’re discussing here – called “restriction against fields of endeavour”. Basically, something isn’t free software if what you’re allowed to use it for depends on why you’re doing it.
    It’s the libre/gratis distinction, and the potential motivations for advocating either Weak or Strong OA are pretty different, I reckon. Weak OA is a political thing – removing price barriers, increasing the number of eyeballs who can see the research. But it’s hard to sell that to most academics in rich Western institutions – we can all see most of the papers anyway! Because we’re privileged, we’ve got the subscriptions. It’s nice to not have to remember to log in from home, but we’re “all right, Jack”.
    However, Strong OA is at least as much about enabling technical goals – doing new things with the existing papers – as it is the political goals of Weak OA. In fact, from this perspective, you could argue that Weak OA isn’t really OA at all; it doesn’t give you the fundamental ‘Free Software’ freedoms. The restriction against fields of endeavour stops you reusing bits of articles in lecture notes and presentations, aggregating papers, programming against data, and so on, if you happen to work for a commercial organization – you can’t do any of that.
    I guess what that breaks down to is that, from that point of view, CC-BY (analogous to the MIT software license) and CC-BY-SA (a strong copyleft, in the style of the GPL) are the only CC licenses consistent with a “Free Software” view of open access. But from the view of the Weak OA proponents, if you can see it, it’s free, because the freedoms that Strong OA gives you aren’t as important (in their view) as the freedoms Weak OA does.
    One of the strongest aspects of the Free Software brand is there’s no ambiguity at all. If you can’t use it for any purpose, it’s not free. What we have here, though, is confusion. It’d almost be better to call neither of them Open Access, though I’ve no idea what you would call them! While we keep trying to shoehorn these two incompatible worldviews through one term, we’re going to keep tripping over each other.

  2. Permission-Barrier-Free OA is a continuum of CC-license levels
    You can’t define Permission-Barrier-Free OA absolutely any more than you can define “hot ” absolutely, because both are a matter of degree.
    Price-Barrier-Free is not a matter of degree: It means accessible free online (immediately, permanently).
    Green OA means whatever OA means (whether price OA or permission OA), but provided by author self-archiving.
    Gold OA means whatever OA means (whether price OA or permission OA), but provided by publishing in an OA journal.
    Virtually all Green OA today is just Price-Barrier-Free OA (a necessary but not sufficient condition for permission OA(s))
    Most Gold OA today is just Price-Barrier-Free OA.
    What you call just a matter of “sociopolitical observations and beliefs” is what I call working to actually generate OA.
    The preoccupation with definitional details (while time’s a’passing and research access and impact continue to be lost, daily, needlessly and cumulatively, while we dither) is what I would call just a matter of “sociopolitical observations and beliefs”.
    Stevan Harnad

  3. pm286 says:

    (1) Fully agree – I have used these in my Open Data article (currently on Nature Precedings).

  4. Andrew says:

    You can’t define Permission-Barrier-Free OA absolutely any more than you can define “hot ” absolutely, because both are a matter of degree.

    I have to disagree, I’m afraid. Why can’t a form of permission-barrier free OA be defined and named? That’s exactly what’s happened in Free Software.
    Hypothetically, let’s say permission-barrier-free OA would mean no restriction on reuse of, reproduction of, and the production of derivative works from PBF-OA material for any purpose at all in any field, other than the requirement for attribution, optional copyleft, and the protections of prevailing law, both civil and criminal (defamation etc).
    That’s in effect the same definition as the Open Source Definition, for what it’s worth.
    It might not be a definition everyone would agree with, but it is an unambiguous definition.

  5. Reply to Andrew:
    I said: “You cannot define Permission-Barrier-Free OA absolutely, any more than you can define “hot ” absolutely, because both are a matter of degree.”
    You replied: “permission-barrier-free OA [could] mean no restriction on reuse of, reproduction of, and the production of derivative works from PBF-OA material for any purpose at all in any field, other than the requirement for attribution, optional copyleft, and the protections of prevailing law, both civil and criminal (defamation etc).”
    That’s like saying “hot” could mean any high temperature except if it exceeds 1000 degrees.
    To repeat, You cannot define Permission-Barrier-Free OA absolutely (i.e., with an upper bound).
    You could define it with a lower bound (minimum), but then you would only invite opposition from those who want to set the bound higher.
    In contrast, it is quite easy to define “Price-Barrier-Free” absolutely: It means: accessible free for all online (immediately, and permanently, via a click, with no gerrymandering to prevent or constrain downloading, storing, or local copying).

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