"Gold" and "green" roads provide best paths for open access to journals

LETTER — Posted May 10, 2004

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Regarding "Journal free for all" (Article, April 19): Your article reports on the fact that access to research output is blocked by access tolls and that open-access journals such as Public Library of Science's PLoS Biology could be providing a remedy.

But your reporting overlooks another, faster, surer remedy.

There exist today 24,000 research journals (across all disciplines and languages, worldwide) publishing about 2.4 million articles per year. There are fewer than 1,000 open-access journals like the PLoS and BioMed Central journals, publishing about 100,000 articles per year.

What about access to the 2.3 million articles for which there exists no suitable open-access journal today? Should researchers wait for 23,000 more open-access journals to be created one by one? It's likely to be a long, long wait. Yet there is another road to open access, and that is for the authors of those 2.3 million articles in those 23,000 journals to self-archive them on their own institution's Web site. That will make them all open access overnight.

These two complementary roads have come to be called the "golden" and "green" roads to open access. Publishing in open-access journals is the golden road, but with only 1,000 journals, this road alone is too narrow, slow and uncertain.

The green road is to publish in conventional journals but also to self-archive the article on the author's institutional Web site. The color "green" comes from the fact that nearly 60% of publishers have already shown their support for open access by giving their authors the official green light to self-archive, but without the journal itself needing to take the risk of converting to gold.

The green road already provides at least three times as much open access as the golden road, but it could be providing far more. The longer we wait, the bigger will be our growing daily, weekly, monthly and yearly loss of research impact because of access denial to would-be users worldwide.

This represents a huge needless cumulative loss of research progress and productivity for researchers, their institutions, their funders and ultimately for the taxpayers who fund the funders. It's time for universities and research funders to do something about it.

Stevan Harnad, PhD, Canada research chair, Cognitive Neuroscience Centre, University of Quebec at Montreal

Note: This item originally appeared at http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2004/05/10/edlt0510.htm.

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