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.
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.
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?