The Open-Access Wars: Bullies Square Off on Library Listserv

Klaus Graf

Klaus Graf, the world’s meanest open-access advocate (in my opinion).
Photo attribution: Nixe46

Lately I have been hearing the term “open access wars” to describe the strident debate that occurs between and among those with differing views on scholarly open-access publishing and open-access policies. An email battle that occurred on an academic library listserv during the last week of May, 2014 exemplified these wars.

The stormy debate occurred on a listserv called SCHOLCOMM (Scholarly Communication) operated by the American Library Association. The list has over 1,200 subscribers and is chiefly used for benign announcements, inquiries, and the like.

In this case the battle was waged between Klaus Graf, a Quasimodo-like archivist and open-access bully at RWTH Aachen University in Germany and Stevan Harnad, a cognitive scientist somehow associated with the Université du Québec à Montréal and the University of Southampton, though he’s chiefly known as the sole champion of green open access.

I have been an observer (and victim) of Klaus Graf’s corrosive discourse for some time. He is an ardent open-access advocate and he is not afraid to indiscriminately post mean and hurtful comments at popular social media venues, including blogs, websites, and email lists.

For example, someone wrote an article attacking me, and Graf routinely posts links to this article as a “comment” on blogs whenever they mention me or my work. Graf poisons rational discourse and steers helpful and contemplative online conversations into fiery debate and discord.

Graf’s discourse is laced with military metaphors. I am sure that RWTH Aachen University is very proud of its homegrown trouble causer.

Stevan Harnad

Harnad in 2005
Photo by Christina Pikas / CC BY 2.0

Harnad is known as an open-access bully, the solipsistic promoter of green open-access, and he will — without hesitation — verbally attack and corner anyone who dares to disagree with his narrow views on how to best achieve universal open-access. These views center on his particular version of green open-access (author self-archiving in OA repositories), and it is on this topic that Graf and Harnad fought during the last week in May.

Harnad sent a bland email announcing the release of the “request copy” button (a means of obtaining embargoed scholarly content) on a new release of the DSpace software).

Graf replied with a swift kick to the shin:

As I have said many times before: The request-copy button has nothing to do with Open Access. It is the wrong approach.

The button make scholars to solicitants or almsmen.

The button often doesn’t work´, i.e. authors are’nt sending the article.

If the button is an instrument for OA, ILL is also.

The button is supporting dark deposits which are a dark way for OA.

Klaus Graf

Harnad doesn’t like it when people disagree with him and took the bait:

Repetition does not make your argument more valid!

The Button automates requesting and providing reprints during a publisher embargo, making it possible for would-be users to request and authors to provide a copy of an embargoed deposit almost instantaneously, via one click each.

(No “solicitants” or “alms”: that is pure rhetoric)

It’s up to the author whether they elect to fulfill a reprint request.

The debate degenerated from there, with at least a dozen more increasingly-intense messages, and with Graf attacking Harnad personally.

The heated exchange prompted the venerable Sandy Thatcher, a retired university press administrator now living in Texas, to comment:

Klaus [Graf] would apparently like us all to live only in a world where everything is free immediately to everyone and authors have no say in any uses of their work, and only such a world qualifies in his mind as OA. That’s all well and good, but we don’t have such a world now and it appears unlikely that we will ever live in such a world. Klaus reminds me of the tea party politicians we have here in Texas who insist that the world has to be the way they want it to be and no compromise with their “principles” is acceptable.  I suggest that this is no way to make progress toward a more open world.  Just as the tea party folks preferred to have the government shut down if it didn’t operate the way they wanted it to, Klaus and those who think like him would seem to want to operate only in a fully OA world or not at all. Compromise is foreign to their vocabulary.

I agree with Mr. Thatcher’s assessment. There are many who think they can achieve universal open access simply by screaming at those who don’t share their views.

In closing, I leave this chart that shows Reed Elsevier’s share price for the past year. Could there be an association between the Harnad/Graf battle and the simultaneous sharp rise in the stock’s price?

Elsevier share price ending 2014-05-30

Up and up.


15 Responses to The Open-Access Wars: Bullies Square Off on Library Listserv

  1. Samir Hachani says:

    I personally do not know Klaus Graf but I have met Professor Harnad last year in Quebec. He is a staunch defender of green open access but he is also a very helpful person. He answered quickly a mail I sent him regarding Psycoloquy and seemed very peaceful. True he is adamant about green open access but unless one does insult him , he would not respond aggressively nor be bullish as far as I know. He does stand ground and defend his position which as researchers we all do. But I personally think that using foul language or attacking each other does not serve science at all.

  2. Charles Oppenheim says:

    To describe Stevan Harnad as the “sole” champion of green OA shows a worrying lack of knowledge about the OA advocacy scene.

  3. Brian says:


  4. Whatever your opinions, you can’t describe an opponent as “Quasimodo-like”. That’s not professional discourse – you make yourself look like a nutter.

  5. J.J. says:

    This is not a very helpful post. I don’t care about the childish disputes between obscure german medievalists.

    Bring back the ‘Nigerian diamond mine inheritance email’-type OA ‘journals’ with hilarious websites, they’re much more fun.

  6. Jean-Claude Guédon says:

    As someone who has had his share of debates withStevan Harnad (and yet consider him as a good friend), I would certainly not use the word “bully”. Also, the vigour of the debates among OA advocates should not be confused with rifts within the movement. Think of it more as complementary. Finally, if the OA movement were so capapble of affecting the price of Elsevier shares, even positively (for Elsevier), we would be very close to victory.

    • Poynder reported that Harnad has been portrayed a bully since at least 2007. So please direct your response to Poynder. My use of this term to describe Harnad is nothing new.

      • Samir Hachani says:

        I think the discussion here is not about Harnad. He is known to be , well, harsh but I think this due to his enthusiasm for open access. On the other hand , when one has reached his height , he can be allowed some , let’s say, freedom…..

      • “Poynder reported that Harnad had been portrayed…”, i.e. Beall says Poynder says somebody else says… it’s hard to see anybody taking responsibility here, and it’s a very slight basis for calling somebody a bully in your headline.

        You perform an invaluable service with your list (I consult it regularly, usually to steer students away from publishers listed there), but your reaction to legitimate open access advocates often seems over the top.

      • Samir Hachani says:

        I think Harnad’s personnality is the basis of all this ” portraying “.As I said before , he is blunt and says things too ” directly” and is adamant about green open access but I do not think he means to be disrespectful or demeaning. It is his way of defending his ideas . .As for the word “bully” , here is the link :

  7. Jean-Claude Guédon says:

    You may not have invented the term, but you certainly echo it, and even amplify it, with no caveats, quotations marks, or whatever, which means that, to a certain degree, you are likely to endorse the term.

    Perhaps, for the future, you could consider the following: I declare most publicly that Stevan Harnad is a fine, very intelligent, cultured, refined human being and colleague. His sensitivity to others is quite remarkable. And yes, he defends his ideas most vigorously. You could then quote this to balance the possible ill effects of Richard Poynder’s mentioning (back in 2007!) that some people have used the word “bully” to paint Stevan with a broad brush.

    What is more to the point is that Klaus and Stevan each defend one road to open access and essentially one road only. As they defend different roads, the dialogue between them does not work very well, as I can testify, having seen them in the same room in Budapest in 2012 (for BOAI10). But we were all staunch OA advocates in that room, and there were about 20 other people discussing together. Despite obvious divergences, we still managed to draft BOAI10. So, focusing on Stevan and Klaus is taking a very narrow take on the open access movement and offering a caricatural view of the OA advocates.

  8. […] Jeffrey Beall narra le guerre dell’Open Access(Steve Harnad vien fuori diverso da come lo conoscevo) e mette […]

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