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20th Anniversary of "A Subversive Proposal"

In May, we introduced the concept of Open Access (OA). The purpose of OA is to empower researchers to share their findings with a broader audience, thus supporting the purpose of research: to share and grow knowledge.

June 28, 2014 marked the 20th anniversary since Stevan Harnad posted a message called A Subversive Proposal on a mailing list. The post sparked interest and debate in making scholarly works open to anyone, and is now considered one of the seminal texts on OA. Below is a summary of a Q&A session between Stevan Harnad and Richard Poynder – and Harnad’s take on OA today. You can read the entire discussion on Poynder’s blog.

Harnad said two things prompted his authorship of A Subversive Proposal:

  1. He had the feeling print-on-paper wasn’t the optimal medium for scholarly communication
  2. He felt very strongly about having interactive written dialogue (which became stronger after the internet gained popularity)

He really would have preferred his comment to spark people to action rather than just gathering attention. While many might think of Harnad’s message as pivotal, he believes that real change came 10 years later, from the outcome of the UK Parlimentary Committee in 2004. The committee recommended that UK researchers and universities to require Green OA.

Harnard went on to share pros and cons of Green and Gold OA:

Pros and Cons of Green and Gold OA

Gold AccessGreen Access
ProsImmediateFreely accessible and freely reusableCould solve journal affordability problemCosts no extra moneyNo effect on journal qualityCan be mandated
ConsCosts authors extraRisks journal quality declineCan’t be mandatedAuthors don’t self-archive spontaneouslyPublishers often set 6-12+ month embargoes on contentNot all mandates are effective

If you’d like to read more, especially what Harnard’s edited version of the proposal would look like for a 2014 audience, visit Richard Poynder’s blog.