Current issues

With all of the delicacy of an elephant dissecting fruit flies I have jumped into three issues, all of which require careful reply and may take a little while. Meanwhile I have a talk to give on Open Access next week and I haven’t a clue what to say. So I’ll talk about Open Data which I think I do understand.
All three areas have had substantive discussion/reply and the current states are:
Word OOXML ODT etc.

Peter Sefton: Some comments on OOXML, ODF and Microsoft Word

There is a conversation about file formats and word processors going on between Peter Murray-Rust and Glyn Moody.
Peter made some comments about wanting access to chemistry publications in Word format so he can better extract chemical information embedded in them, which sparked some push-back regarding the Microsoft OOXML format.
Unsurprisingly I have a few opinions on all of this. [MUCH more useful stuff snipped]
Glyn Moody: How Microsoft Uses Open Against Open
To my shame, Peter Murray-Rust put up a reply to my post below in just a few hours, where it had taken me days to answer his original posting. So with this reply to his reply, I’m trying to do better.

PMR: Interim summary. I’m fully conscious of the issues. Some are ethical – should one work with commercial companies and under what circumstances. Others relate to standards – should one never use anything except standards? and the practicalities – is it possible to find technical ways forward? This discussion will continue…
Open Data

11:10 11/05/2008, Cameron Neylon,
The other story of the week has been the, in the end very useful, kerfuffle caused by ChemSpider moving to a CC-BY-SA licence, and the confusion that has been revealed regarding data, licencing, and the public domain. John Wilbanks, whose comments on the ChemSpider licence, sparked the discussion has written two posts [1, 2] which I found illuminating and have made things much clearer for me. His point is that data naturally belongs in the public domain and that the public domain and the freedom of the data itself needs to be protected from erosion, both legal, and conceptual that could be caused by our obsession with licences. What does this mean for making an effective data commons, and the Science Exchange that could arise from it, financially viable? (more…)

PMR: There’s also extremely valuable material from John Wilbanks (follow links from Cameron). Current position: I blundered, but this has probably created some good. The issue is now clear. Licensing data diminishes our right to them. (Continued kudos to Chemspider who I am sure will follow the discussion as the situation is clarified). The Open Knowledge community is clear and united. No half-measures.  Data should be Open.
Open Access – “Strong and Weak”
Very little discussion till yesterday when Peter Suber issued a definitive post yesterday:

23:06 11/05/2008, Peter Suber, Open Access News
Stevan Harnad, Lower Bound Needed for Permission-Barrier-Free Open Access, Open Access Archivangelism, May 4, 2008.

Summary:  “Permission-Barrier-Free OA,” because it is on a continuum, needs at least a minimal lower bound to be specified.
“Price-Barrier-Free OA” is not on a continuum. It just means free access online. However, it too needs to make a few obvious details explicit:
(1) The free access is to the full digital document (not just to parts or metadata).
(2) There is no “degree of free” access: Lower-priced access is not “almost free” access.
(3) The free access is immediate, not delayed or embargoed.
(4) The free access is permanent and continuous.
(5) The access is free for any user webwide, not just certain sites, domains or regions.
(6) The free access is one-click and not gerrymandered (as Google Books or copy-blocked PDF are).
Hence “Almost-OA” [via Closed Access plus the “Email Eprint Request” Button] is definitely not OA — though it will help hasten OA’s growth.
Nor does Price-Barrier-Free OA alone count as Permission-Barrier-Free OA. The only way to give that distinction substance, however, is to specify a minimal lower bound for Permission-Barrier-Free OA.


  • The background here is the distinction that Stevan and I once described with the terms strong and weak OA.  We now agree that we picked infelicitous terms to describe the distinction and are looking for better ones.  But the distinction itself remains important, widely accepted, and non-controversial.  Here Stevan elaborates on one side of the distinction:  what we called “weak OA” or the removal of price barriers without the removal of permission barriers.  I want to elaborate on the distinction itself or on the borderline between the two halves.
  • Here’s how i [PS] described the borderline in a comment on Peter Murray-Rust’s blog last week:

    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.)

  • Here’s how I described the borderline in a comment on Peter Murray-Rust’s blog last week:

    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.)

PMR: This is clear, and implies the the removal of even one permission barrier makes something “strongOA”. (Stevan Harnad has proposed the term “FULL-OA” instead. I shall continue to use “strongOA” until there is an alternative.)
PMR: I fell deeply unhappy about the use of “strongOA” to describe something which has most of its permission barriers still in place and for which someone may have been persuaded to pay thousands of dollars. If I were a funder wishing to support OA I would have little idea what I should be campaigning for.
It leaves me with a dilemma. I can continue to engage in discussion of what Open Access is, and how it should be practised. In doing so I shall upset Stevan Harnad who thinks that debating defintions is a distraction from actually self-archiving my articles. I shall also perhaps reveal cracks in the Open Access community since we are now looking at a spectrum of options where many practitioners are advocating different practices. [I continue to applaud SPARC for its no-frills approach – BBB/CC-BY or nothing and the main Open Access publishers who usee CC-BY licences.]
Or I can shut up and and devote energy to Open Data and Open Knowledge instead. Here, at least, I think there is a clear understanding of what we are doing. I’ll probably summarise my Open Access position before that. I will continue to be “in favour of Open Access” but I’ll stop short of explaining what it actually is and refer people to SPARC/BBB.

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