Ben Goldacre asks: Can Green Open Access work for Science? My answer, no.

The Green model of Open Access is for authors to publish conventionally (in closed access journals) but to post copies of their articles on the web, freely visible to all. Often it is assumed that this will be in Institutional Repositories. Green Open Access is generally acceptable to most funders and conforming to their requirements that the research outcomes be Openly available. Some institutions (Soton, QUT, Harvard, Princeton …) are now mandating that their faculty publish through open Access and Green is one option.

Here is Ben Goldacre (the scourge of Bad Science) exploring it as a potential way forward ( ).

How PubGet could be better: add free open repositories. In fact, how about a good repo search site?


Brief thought. PubGet looks fun, an iPad app that lets you read academic papers neatly. None of the logins in our home work on it but it’s a nice idea.

Here’s my suggestion to improve it: journals being free to access is only one model, the other is academics posting copies of their papers in local free access repositories where they’re allowed to is another.

So how about adding free open repositories of closed papers to PubGet? eg the list at the bottom of here:

In fact, has anyone written a brief guide to doing mega search for all open paper repositories? That’d be a powerful thing, tho I admit I’ve never looked as I’ve always had some kind of institutional access myself, which while clunky is still less inconvenient than hunting on the off chance for an open PDF. Maybe googling the title is good enough for that job anyway! If you’ve posted a better workflow, do share it. 

It’s an attractive idea. The vision is something like this:

  • All institutions create a repository for this purpose (and this purpose alone – you cannot muddle Open Access with the demands of the REF/RAE)
  • All scientists post copies of their papers in their own institutional repository
  • There is a giant simple search engine that allows you to find any scientific article in no matter what repository it is in

Result: universal free access to the scientific literature.

I support the validity of this vision, except… and the “except”s are so strong that it won’t happen:

  • Scientists will not do this unless they are forced to do it. Any number of studies and mandates have shown that voluntary compliance is a few percent. Until there are mandates with teeth, it doesn’t happen.
  • Many scientists will not obey mandates. I believe the current compliance is usually not more than 70%. The only way to increase this is to employ police who monitor compliance and institutions and funders who take absolute action: “you failed to publish Open Access – you are sacked / no more grants / no more licence to practice… “. To which the reply is “I am a star academic, and you are two-bit apparatchik. Get lost. Your institution needs me more that I need you. I don’t care about the greater good of science as long as I get grants and glory”. A slight, but only slight, caricature.
  • The infrastructure for doing this is broken. I have blogged at length: (/pmr/2011/08/14/institutional-repositories-are-they-valuable-to-scientists/ ) Instituional Repositories are disorganised, point in different directions, are unsure of their raison d’etre, unsearchable by modern methods. Moreover the access rights are unclear and the re-use rights are missing or restrictive.

I hope I get some updates and possible challenges to these views. If so, people will have to give indication that it’s happening – not just wishful thinking. Among the half-fulfilled promises are ideas are:

  • It’s easy to deposit a paper in a repository. It isn’t, unless the institution gives active help. It’s not “one click”. It’s a whole load of reading the publishers deliberately arcane conditions, embargo conditions, etc. How many academics willingly reposit their paper six months after they have published it. It’s a major chore, for no personal benefit. It’s as exciting as writing safety reports.
  • The publishers support green open access and are willing partners. They don’t, except in name. They have fought it as hard as possible. The current system is as unfriendly and antagonistic as possible. If they supported it, they’d have a mechanism to post copies of their material in IRs. No, it’s a concession dragged out with blood and they make it as difficult as possible. I have several “negotiations” with publishers where they have simply failed to treat me as a person worthy of discourse – failure to reply, failure to honour agreements, etc. They go along with it at present because they believe it doesn’t work and won’t work.


So could it work? Yes, with the following conditions:

  • Academia unites with a strategic plan to make it work
  • Resource is put into it
  • Practice between universities is effectively consistent

Academia should create its own “Ofpub” which tells the publishers what academia requires. The individual publishers either accept it or we don’t publish with them. (Hint: publishers are awful at collaborating as well so it ought to be easy). All major universities sign up to this. Isolated instances such as Soton, QUT, Gent, Princeton, Harvard are uncoordinated and are globally symbolic but not effective outside their own institutions. In fact the very paucity of institutions challenging publishers requires an immediate landslide of others if it is going to achieve anything. Failed revolutions make the next steps harder. I congratulate the institutions and support them, but unless they bring the others along they will be isolated curiosities. I wish I could believe otherwise.



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2 Responses to Ben Goldacre asks: Can Green Open Access work for Science? My answer, no.

  1. Tony Hirst says:

    THe OU’s KMi have a search engine of UK open research repositories:
    It also has a SPARQL endpoint:

  2. Mike Taylor says:

    Just one correction: “[depositing a paper in a repository is] a major chore, for no personal benefit. It’s as exciting as writing safety reports.”
    Well, no. Depositing, and thereby making your paper freely available, is an excellent way to increase visibility, and hence citations.
    But that doesn’t change the overall thrust of your point, which is that so-called Green Open Access is (usually) not good enough. Many journals only allow repositing an accepted manuscript rather than the final formatted paper, which is no good at all — who is going to cite that? And complex maze of rights offered and withheld is a nightmare to navigate.
    No. Open Access, to be meaningful, has to mean fully open access to the final published versions of papers.

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