Open-access campaigner told to back off by US blog

December 31, 2009

A fervent campaigner for open-access journal publishing has been asked to stop posting comments on a new open-access blog by both supporters and opponents of his cause.

Stevan Harnad, professor of cognitive science at the University of Southampton, has said it is his personal mission to "ram open access down everybody's throats".

But his postings on a blog launched by the US Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to discuss ways to improve public access to federally funded research have caused controversy.

The pro-open access Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) has written to Professor Harnad to ask him to stop posting critiques that inhibit new open-access advocates from participating in the forum.

"Some of our community members are hesitating to participate, as they are concerned that the dynamic has become 'post a comment and have it critiqued by Stevan'," writes Heather Joseph, SPARC's executive director.

She goes on to ask if the professor would leave "naive but important" comments unchallenged in order to encourage contributions.

Professor Harnad said he had accepted the request "voluntarily and willingly", adding that his "detailed comments will be sent offline instead".

But he said he feared that some opponents of open access, who have also highlighted what they see as his excessive postings, would view his silence as a victory.

The blog, open until 7 January, is part of a public consultation on open-access policy in America.

In a posting on the blog of the US-based Society for Scholarly Publishing, which is anti-open access, Phil Davis, the blog’s executive editor, laments the fact that the debate on the OSTP site is being dominated "by a single professor residing outside the United States".

The spat comes after Universities UK recommended that all papers submitted to the forthcoming research excellence framework be made open access.

However, despite this high-level support, it seems unlikely that such a move would be supported by Lord Drayson, the Science Minister.

Speaking at a Times Higher Education debate last month, "Blue skies ahead? The prospects for UK science", he said that while he could see the arguments for open access in the REF, including such a directive would be a "real seismic shock" to the system.

"For as many people saying: 'Here is the case for open access', there are others saying: 'This will end the ability for publications to operate'," he said.

"The end result of that would actually be to the detriment of science."

zoe.corbyn@tsleducation.com

OSTP blog: http://bit.ly/6vbsgT

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