The strongOA-weakOA borderline is undefineable

Stevan Harnad (one of the creators of the current terms strongOA and weakOA – Peter Suber is the other) now makes it clear (this blog May 3rd, 2008 at 2:00 pm e) that an objective operational definition of strongOA is impossible, so I shall stop trying:

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.

PMR: I am glad that this is now clear. This means that for one person a document or journal can be strongOA (your term) while for another it is merely weakOA (your term). “strong” and “weak” are thus subjective and cannot therefore be used to determine (say) whether a journal article can legally be used in any particular way or whether a publisher is charging a reasonable fee for a funder-pays article.

Price-Barrier-Free is not a matter of degree: It means accessible free online (immediately, permanently).

PMR: I think I agree, but I will explore this and see if we concur.

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.

PMR: I would find life much easier if the colour labels disappeared. Self-archiving OA is easy to understand, “Green” is confusing. It may not be confusing to you, but it confuses a lot of people.

What you call just a matter of “sociopolitical observations and beliefs” is what I call working to actually generate OA.

PMR: I don’t believe I ever said “just”. I tried to use a descriptive, non-emotive phrase that would distinguish it from the technical descriptions that I favour.

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”.

PMR: I think it’s now very clear where we both stand – we have common objectives within the area of Open Access. We differ on how we talk about them, how we want to achieve them. I like well defined situations and algorithmic rules; you like grand visions and rhetoric (not a pejorative term). I thought that this week we had common ground in “strongOA” and felt that was a major achievement. Since however anyone can redefine it to mean what they like we have world views that seem unlikely to merge without friction.

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3 Responses to The strongOA-weakOA borderline is undefineable

  1. Peter Suber says:

    Peter: This is incorrect and confusing. The borderline between strong and weak OA is easy to define. Weak OA removes *no* permission barriers and strong OA removes *at least some* permission barriers. (Both of them remove price barriers.)
    The fact that strong OA covers a range of different positions which may or may not be easy to distinguish is not relevant to the distinction between strong and weak OA itself.
    Please see again the statement in which Stevan and I introduced terms for describing this distinction. (NB: We all agree on the need for new terms. All I’m doing here is clarifying and reiterating the distinction itself.)

  2. Permission/License OA is a Continuum: The Only Definition Corresponding to Peter Murray-Rust’s Specific Desideratum is a Specific CC License, not OA Itself
    To repeat. The algorithm (which you, PeterM-R, liked) stands, and does define two forms of OA, without rhetoric:
    Price-Barrier-Free OA (free online access, better name to come) is one form of OA, Permission-Barrier-Free OA (better name to come) is another.
    And the logical algorithm continues to be that Price-Barrier-Free OA is a necessary condition for Permission-Barrier-Free OA and Permission-Barrier-Free OA is a sufficient condition for Price-Barrier-Free OA, which technically and logically makes the one “Weak OA” and the other “Strong OA”.
    However, two problems remain: “Weak” has unintended pejorative connotations, so it cannot be used as the generic name for Price-Barrier-Free OA.
    And Permission-Barrier-Free OA is a matter of degree (whereas Price-Barrier-Free OA is all-or-none).
    So in order to avoid vagueness, a further criterion is needed in order to define Permission-Barrier-Free OA precisely: A minimum or lower bound has to be specified (in the hierarchy of possible CC licenses) for Permission-Barrier-Free OA.
    (In addition, and optionally, an optimum CC license can be designated, either in general, or for certain fields or uses.)
    This has nothing whatsoever to do with either “grand visions” or rhetoric. It is all about functionality, logic and practicality.
    If you don’t mind my saying so, Peter, you have a specific need for a specific kind of Permission-Barrier-Free OA. You seem to want to define OA, or Strong OA, or Permission-Barrier-Free OA as what meets that specific need.
    In the wider context of OA, your specific need falls within a spectrum of needs, all of which are supported by the architects and advocates of OA. But your specific needs cannot be made the basis of the definition of OA, and not even of the definition of Permission-Barrier-Free OA. There is no point calling this simple logical, functional and practical fact a preference for grand visions of rhetoric, because it is not.
    In addition, it may well be that your own specific needs have no use for the Green/Gold distinction — which is not about how OA is defined, but about how OA is delivered (via OA self-archiving of articles in non-OA journals or via publishing in OA journals). But the reason you keep finding the color distinction confusing (despite having it repeatedly explained, and despite the fact that it was formulated to resolve confusion) may again be that you are focussed only on your own specific OA needs and not on the OA needs of others, and on the confusion that needs to be resolved in order to meet them.
    OA is being defined and provided in order to fulfill a broad spectrum of needs, primary among them being free online access to articles that would otherwise be inaccessible to users. In addition, there is a broad spectrum of permissions and corresponding licenses that can remove a broad spectrum of permission barriers to a broad spectrum of possible usage and re-usage needs. Apart from a specific CC license, there is no natural kind in all of this that corresponds only to the kinds of usage needs you have in mind.
    This is not a logical, practical or functional defect in the concept, the nature or the definition of OA.

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