My thanks to Tripod for making this page available. (The ads are Tripod's, not mine!). A major purpose of this page is to help interested people to find (or, re-find) relevant information about Internet Research Ethics, with a focus on Electronic Support Groups (ESGs), List Mining, and Open Access. Please note that, as of 27 October 2007, I'll no longer be modifying or updating these notes.

For my blog about some aspects of Open Access, established 20 November 2006, please visit: Be openly accessible or be obscure. (The Widget box about my blog was added on June 4, 2008. The remainder of the text hasn't been modified).


Jim Till, Ph.D.
Joint Centre for Bioethics, University of Toronto
c/o Ontario Cancer Institute
University Health Network
610 University Avenue, Room 9-416
Toronto, Ontario M5G 2M9

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Established: 1997
Last modified: 27 October, 2007

Index: [C-D][E-K][L-Q][R-Z]
[Go to end of Index]

Academic freedom
Advocacy for OA1
Advocacy for OA2
Advocacy for OA3
Advocacy for OA4
Advocacy for OA5
Advocacy for OA6
Advocacy for OA7
ALL-Kids List
AmSci Forum
Attention economics
Author giveaways
Author Agreement
Berlin Declaration
Bethesda Statement
Both roads
Budapest OAI
Return to [A-B]

Cannot wait
CIHR draft policy
Conventional model
Copyright agreements
Creative Commons
Critical appraisal
Data sampling
Return to [A-B]

Equitable access
ESGs & Industry
Ethics of sharing
Fairness argument
Free access
"Free rider" question
FRPAA Bill S.2695
Further reading
Golden road
Google indexing
Google Scholar
Green road
Health argument
High Roads
IISc Archive
Impact argument
Impact on cancer
Industry myth
Information gap
Informed consent
Innovation argument
Internet Archive
Introduction to OA
JULIET service
Knowledge growth
Knowledge dist'n
Knowledge transfer
Return to [A-B]

Library crisis
Link rot
Low Road
Mandated OA
Moral ground
Myths about OA
NIH policy
OA archives1
OA archives2
OA archives3
OA archives4
OAI archiving
OAI-based search
OA journals1
OA journals2
OA journals3
OA movement
OA News
OA repositories
Open source ethics
Overlay journals
Perspectives on OA
Pew reports
Pragmatic argument
Project RoMEO
Public domain
Public goods
Publication licence
PubMed indexing
Return to [A-B]

Reader attention
RCUK policy
Repository policy
Roads to OA
Serials crisis
Serve others
Social sciences
Social sharing
TA/OA model
Taxpayer argument
Transitional hybrid
UK Committee
Universal repository
Webpage indexing
Wellcome Trust

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The current counter number is:

Main Headings:

  • Introduction
  • Electronic support groups (ESGs)[#1][#2][#3][#4]
  • "Micro-level" Internet research ethics
  • Are participants in ESGs "Research Subjects"?[#1][#2][#3][#4]
  • Are participants in ESGs "Published Authors"?[#1][#2][#3]
  • Are participants in ESGs "Members of a Community"?[#1][#2][#3]
  • "Macro-level" Internet research ethics
  • Some perspectives about open access[#1]
  • Advocacy for open access[#1][#2][#3][#4][#5][#6][#7]
  • Open-access journals[#1][#2][#3]
  • Open-access archives[#1][#2][#3][#4]
  • Pages on the surface web[#1][#2][#3][#4]
  • Knowledge transfer and exchange (KTE)[#1][#2]
  • Concluding comments[#1][#2][#3]
  • Further reading

    Introduction [last modified 4 Sep 2006]:

    Two topics in Internet research ethics are addressed. The first, regarded as an issue in "micro-level" Internet research ethics, has an emphasis on the publication of research that's been based on "list mining". List mining is the use, for research purposes, of messages sent to Internet-based mailing lists, such as electronic support groups (ESGs).

    The ethical questions raised by list mining are especially important ones for health-related ESGs. For example, should those people who were the original sources of messages sent to ESGs properly be regarded as "research subjects", and/or as "published authors", and/or as "members of a (vulnerable) community"? One purpose of these notes is to review some different perspectives on these particular questions. See also the Wikipedia entry on "list mining".

    The second main purpose of these notes is to increase awareness about a "macro-level" issue in Internet research ethics, now usually referred to as the "open access" issue. This second issue is about the restrictions on the dissemination of research reports that are imposed if they are published only in journals that require the "consumer" of research to pay for access. In contrast, research reports that are freely and openly accessible online may have much greater impact, especially on those who are not themselves researchers or scholars in developed countries.

    Examples of such "consumers" include many researchers or scholars in developing countries (and some in developed countries), practitioners, policy makers, students and educators, entrepreneurs and advocates of innovation, members of the media and interested members of the public. All that is needed to obtain openly-accessible (OA) research reports is access to the Internet, together with knowledge about where to look for relevant research reports.

    One good place to begin to look is the Directory of Open Access Journals, DOAJ. However, because many OA articles may be located in OA repositories or archives, rather than in OA journals, search engines that point to such articles are also very useful. Examples are Citebase and OAIster.

    Open access is of particular value for all those, including members of ESGs, who have an interest in the latest results of health-related research. Openly-accessible electronic research reports (eprints) are of greater interest if their quality has already been evaluated as a result of editorial review and peer review.

    Some ways to deal with each of these two topics in Internet research ethics are proposed. And, some conceptual interconnections between them are noted. For an example of an intriguing analysis that is focused on the first topic, but also has relevance for the second, see: Berry DM, Internet research: privacy, ethics and alienation: an open source approach. Internet Research 2004; 14(4): 323-332, [PDF].

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    Electronic Support Groups #1 [last modified 23 Apr 2006]:

    Internet-based, health related mailing lists provide long-distance support, information and resources for advocacy.

    The support provided by such mailing lists can be regarded as either an alternative to face-to-face support groups (especially for those for whom access to a face-to-face support group poses difficulties), or, as a supplement (or complement) to a face-to-face support group.

    The Pew Internet & American Life Project has been monitoring participation in health-related online groups and communities in the USA. for example, results were obtained between May/June 2001 and December 2002, about the rising percentage of Internet users who had visited a Web site that provides information or support for people interested in a specific medical condition or personal situation. This percentage had reached 54% of Internet users by December 2002.

    However, only a minority of those who sought health information online had ever participated in ESGs. Relevant data are provided in a report entitled "How Internet users decide what information to trust when they or their loved ones are sick", Pew Research Center, May 22, 2002.

    Some excerpts from this report [Part Seven: Email, support groups, and personalization]:

    "Just one in ten health seekers has ever participated in an online support group or email list for people concerned about a particular health or medical issue" ... Frequent health seekers are more likely to have joined an online support group - 13% of those who look for health information several times a month or more have done so, compared with 6% of those who look every few months or less."

    "In an online focus group discussion about why they do not participate in support groups, health seekers cited privacy concerns and the need for a 'loving voice' instead of an on-screen note ... But other participants say the benefits outweigh the risk, and one argued, 'But it's not like they know you, or will ever see you, so why not?'."

    "Though the numbers are small, those who are most in need are more likely to take advantage of online support groups ... 14% of those in fair or poor health have ever participated in an online support group, compared with 5% of those in excellent health."

    " ... few health seekers have sought out such support online - but those who do use it are forever grateful".

    My personal experience with ESGs has been mainly with the Breast-Cancer Mailing List (BCML), an "open" list, for which the main restriction is a requirement that only subscribers to the list can post messages to it. The BCML list owner is Jon Church, located at Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John's NF. There are open archives of the BCML (maintained and supported by Pete Bevin).

    The Breast-Cancer Mailing List: The home page for the BCML (includes information about how to reach the BCML archives).

    List Owner's Message: Contains an explicit Caution regarding BCRA test results, but otherwise provides minimal guidelines, and none that are explicitly about possible uses of the BCML for research purposes (other than a statement that it is "open to researchers").

    The Ultimate Support Group: A message of mine, about benefits offered by the BCML (posted in Sep 2003).

    Response to a journalist: Another message of mine, in response to some questions asked off-list (posted to the BCML in Dec 2003).

    Accuracy and self correction of information received from an internet breast cancer list: content analysis: An article in BMJ 2006(22 Apr); 332(7547): 939-942. It's an analysis of messages sent to the BCML between 1 Jan and 23 Apr 2005. Conclusion: "Most posted information on breast cancer was accurate. Most false or misleading statements were rapidly corrected by participants in subsequent postings".

    Welcome to The BCMets mailing list, intended for those dealing with metastatic breast cancer, has openly accessible archives, and subscription only requires confirmation. So, this is, like the BCML, an open list, and the list owner (Pete Bevin) has avoided any guidelines that might inhibit participation in this list.

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    Electronic Support Groups #2 [links last verified 26 Feb 2004]:

    The guidelines for participants in mailing lists vary greatly from one list to another. Some examples of less-open lists are provided below:

    Mailing Lists: The categories of mailing lists supported by the Association of Cancer Online Resources (ACOR).

    Archives of Club-Mets-BC, a Metastatic Breast Cancer Online Support Group, an ACOR list. Only subscribers to this list can view the archives, and potential subscribers must complete a questionnaire that's reviewed by the list owner (Alexandra Andrews). So, this is not an open list (and, researchers who identify themselves as such are not accepted on this list).

    ALL-KIDS email list: Another of the ACOR lists, with a focus on Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. An excerpt from the section on "List tools and guidelines": [not acceptable are] "...flagrant violations of appropriate behavior such as selling items or services on the list, mining the archives for the purpose of collecting information about members, or posting any unlawful, fraudulent, threatening, abusive, libelous, or otherwise objectionable or harmful information of any kind ...".

    Guidelines for the ALL-kids list: The initial guideline is about "Joining the list as a researcher".

    ACOR List Rules: General rules and guidelines for mailing lists supported by the Association of Cancer Online Resources (ACOR).

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    Electronic Support Groups #3 [last modified 4 Jul 2005]:

    What are the various areas of health-related uses of the Internet, and how should they be evaluated?

    The Impact of the Internet on Cancer Outcomes: Review by Gunther Eysenbach, in CA Cancer J Clin 2003; 53: 356-371.
    An excerpt: "The author distinguishes four areas of Internet use: communication (electronic mail), community (virtual support groups), content (health information on the World Wide Web), and e-commerce."

    How New Subscribers Use Cancer-Related Online Mailing Lists. An article by Barbara K. Rimer and colleagues, J Med Internet Res 2005; 7(3): e32. The first sentence from the Abstract of this article: "Online cancer-related support is an under-studied resource that may serve an important function in the information seeking, care, and support of cancer patients and their families."

    Evaluation of an internet support group for women with primary breast cancer: Abstract of an article by AJ Winzelberg and colleagues, in Cancer 2003 (Mar 1); 97(5): 1164-73. This study reports the results of a randomized controlled trial designed to evaluate an ESG that was established for research purposes. The results indicated positive effect of the ESG intervention, with an effect size that was in the moderate range.

    Evaluation of support groups for women with breast cancer: importance of the navigator role: An invited, peer-reviewed and edited commentary of mine, in Health and Quality of Life Outcomes. 2003(May 1); 1(1): 16.

    Cancer-related electronic support groups as navigation-aids: Overcoming geographic barriers: Another invited, peer-reviewed and edited commentary of mine, published in Journal of Cancer Integrative Medicine 2004(Winter); 2(1): 21-24. A Google search done on 13 May 2004, using the key words "electronic support groups" cancer, ranked this page at #8. (It was ranked #6 when the same search was done on 4 July 2005, while the beta version of Google Scholar ranked it at #24. For more about Google Scholar, see below).

    There's another version of this same commentary, in PDF, in the Cogprints electronic archive. In the same Google search, this version was ranked at #2 on 13 May 2004 (it was ranked #1 on 4 July 2005, but was ranked #23 when "electronic support groups" cancer was searched using Google Scholar).

    These results are from a small experiment that I've been doing, to compare the Google (and Google Scholar) page ranks of versions of this same commentary. As noted in a message posted to the American Scientist Open Access Forum on 26 April 2004, Re: How to compare research impact of toll- vs. open-access research, the Cogprints version achieved a very high initial Google page rank within days after it had been self-archived at the Cogprints site. As noted in an item in the Open Access News blog (dated 21 May 2004), entitled "An anecdote about Google and Cogprints", a tentative explanation for this prompt high page rank is that the Cogprints domain is among those to which the Google PageRank algorithm gave a high weight at that time. (See also a comment below, by Rita Vine, about domains that Google weights more heavily).

    List Stats: An example of a message of mine (this one is dated 1 Jan, 2005) about membership of the BCML. This message also includes examples of statistics which provide a comparison of the ranking of the BCML website, and its archives, relative to other breast-cancer support-oriented websites. Only a few of these sites include an ESG that is comparable to the BCML. One such site (that includes an ESG) is that of Breast Cancer Action Nova Scotia (BCANS).

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    Electronic Support Groups #4 [last modified 16 May 2004]:

    The Open Directory Project (ODP) is the source of a database that's used to obtain lists of popular websites. An excerpt: "The Open Directory was founded in the spirit of the Open Source movement, and is the only major directory that is 100% free. There is not, nor will there ever be, a cost to submit a site to the directory, and/or to use the directory's data. The Open Directory data is made available for free to anyone who agrees to comply with our free use license".

    For example, browsing the ODP site for the categories Health > Support Groups > Conditions and Diseases > Cancer > Breast takes one to a list of sites. When this list of sites is compared with another list that's obtained when the same categories are used to browse in the Alexa site, the only difference is that the default version of the latter list is sorted in order of popularity, while the former is not.

    The same categories can be used to obtain an additional list, sorted using the ranking method of the Google search engine. This sorted list also appears to be based largely on the ODP database, as "modified by Google". So, these different methods of evaluating the popularity of websites are not independent of each other, in that each may draw upon the same ODP database.

    Many ESGs, like most patients' organisations, may be supported mainly by the contributions of volunteers, and may have few, if any, independent sources of funds. Efforts to obtain support (e.g from industry) can pose some problems. See, for example:

    Relationships between the pharmaceutical industry and patients' organisations. This article includes some guidelines on working with the pharmaceutical industry. At the end of the article are some relevant references, and some comments from readers. See, for example, references to:

    Industry funding of patients' support groups. "Declaration of competing interests is rare in Italian breast cancer associations".

    Industry funding of patients' support groups. "Objectives of patients, clinicians, and industry are similar".

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    "Micro-level" Internet research ethics [last modified 4 Sep 2006]:

    In these notes, a distinction has been made between "micro-level" Internet research ethics, and "macro-level" Internet research ethics. In this section on "micro-level" Internet research ethics, the main focus will be on the publication of research that's been based on "list mining" (the use, for research purposes, of messages sent to Internet-based mailing lists, such as ESGs).

    In another section, on "macro-level" Internet research ethics, the main focus will be on ways to provide, to such individuals (and, to anyone else interested in the results of research), open access to research publications in general, and to peer-reviewed reports of Internet-based research in particular.

    Fundamental questions, at the "micro" level of Internet research ethics, are: How should participants in ESGs be perceived? As "research subjects"? As "published authors"? As "members of a (virtual) community? Some perspectives on these questions are outlined in the next sections.

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    Are participants in ESGs "Research Subjects"? #1 [last modified 27 Oct 2007]:

    From the perspective of researchers with a background in the biomedical sciences, an initial reponse to this question might be "yes, participants in ESGs are research subjects", if the ESG was set up originally for research purposes, and is not an "open" list. Otherwise, such researchers might respond with a "maybe not" answer.

    However, such biomedical researchers would probably agree that the approval of an arms-length research ethics board (REB) or institutional review board (IRB) should be sought before proceeding with the proposed research. An example of an article that's based on this general perspective is:

    Ethical issues in qualitative research on Internet communities, Eysenbach G, Till JE, BMJ 2001(10 Nov); 323(7321): 1103-1105.

    In this article, 3 main points are made: 1) ESGs can be rich sources of qualitative data for health researchers, especially about the needs, values and preferences of consumers of health care; 2) Such research raises questions, especially pertaining to privacy, informed consent, and whether the research is intrusive and has potential for harm; 3) Is the venue (ESG) perceived as "private" or "public" space?

    From this perspective, traditional issues in research ethics, such as informed consent, privacy and confidentiality, potential benefits vs. potential harms, and fairness in the distribution of such benefits and harms, are crucial ones.

    For example, Jason E. Owen and colleagues have published an article (J Behav Med 2004(Oct); 27(5): 491-505), entitled Use of the Internet for Information and Support: Disclosure Among Persons with Breast and Prostate Cancer. In the Method section, they wrote: "Eysenbach and Till (2001) have outlined ethical issues associated with passive analysis of Internet communities, suggesting that informed consent can be waived when messages are deidentified, mailing list participants are not inconvenienced or harmed, and the study has been IRB approved. These ethical considerations were met for this study". They didn't include, in their article, any verbatim quotations from messages posted by mailing list participants. (If verbatim quotes are given, the original authors can be identified easily using search engines, thus informed consent is always required).

    A simple rule of thumb, that Internet content may be used for research purposes if the website is considered to be in the public domain, may be difficult to apply. As pointed out by Eysenbach and Till, "On the internet the dichotomy of private and public sometimes may not be appropriate, and communities may lie in between".

    In an article entitled "The hero's story and autism: Grounded theory study of websites for parents of children with autism", Autism 2005; 9(3): 299-316, Amos Fleischmann proposed the following guidelines for the use, for research, of websites of this kind: (1) The websites present no limitations on use or access (e.g. they don't require registration); (2) The websites are designed for viewing by the public at large and also offer links and 'services' to the public; (3) It is apparent that the goal of website authors is to publish their experiences in order to assist others in coping [although a decision was made by this researcher "to assign pseudonyms (A's mother, J's father) to the authors of texts analyzed in lieu of the names appearing on the Internet, and to change names of places appearing on the websites that might reveal the authors' identities]"; (4) A disclaimer by the researcher is included in the research report: "Lastly, although the work strives to maintain conventional scientific standards of inquiry, it presents the parents' narratives as the author perceived them and sought to present them".

    The use of pseudonyms is itself somewhat controversial, and not all of the issues involved can be regarded as ones based on Internet research etiquette ("netiquette"), rather than Internet research ethics. See the sections below, entitled "Are participants in ESGs 'Published Authors'?".

    Participants in "open" ESGs need to be fully informed and aware that such ESGs are actually not private, especially if open archives of messages also exist (and, how can one be confident that they don't exist somewhere?).

    A study based on messages sent to the Scandinavian Breast Cancer Mailing List is: Online interaction. Effects of storytelling in an internet breast cancer support group, MT Hoybye and co-authors, Psychooncology. 2004(15 Jul); 14(3): 211-220.

    An excerpt: "We reintroduced the study to each new member who entered the group. We realized that this might pose an ethical dilemma, as new members might feel unable to refuse participation in a research project to which all existing members had agreed to participate".

    Another approach is to keep the Internet community under analysis anonymous. This was the choice made by R Mulveen and J Hepworth, Journal of Health Psychology 2006(Mar); 11(2): 283-296. Participants were asked to give their consent for extracts to be quoted, and additional steps were taken protect the anonymity of consenting participants. An excerpt:

    "Informed consent was sought from all participants directly quoted in this study. In order to ensure that the anonymity of those quoted could be preserved the ability of two popular Internet search engines to retrieve entire messages from the website based on a quotation was checked".

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    Are participants in ESGs "Research Subjects"? #2 [last modified 16 Nov 2006]:

    The more vulnerable the participants, the more attention needs to be paid, by list owners, list members, and by researchers from various disciplines, to the potential risks, as well as the potential benefits, of both "open" and "closed" ESGs.

    Ownership: Rights and responsibilities: In an eletter dated 12 Nov. 2001, Robert C. Hsiung points out that: "One solution is for investigators to establish their own communities. As owners, they would then have the right to make research a goal. They would also, of course, have the responsibility of conducting that research ethically."

    A major ethical responsibility of owners of such "closed" lists would be to deal appropriately with issues of privacy and confidentiality. Perhaps researchers in the behavioral sciences, such as those with a background in psychiatry or clinical psychology, might be more acutely aware of the limits of confidentiality than are some other researchers. Occasionally, a need to break confidentiality may arise, and can be in conflict with the need to respect the privacy of participants in ESGs. See, for example:

    Ethical issues surrounding human participants research using the Internet: Abstract of an article by Heidi E. Keller and Sandra Lee in Ethics & Behavior 2003; 13(3): 211-9.

    Two excerpts:

    "Researchers don't often have a need to consider discussing the limits of confidentiality. One of the primary reasons for breaking confidentiality is when it is suspected that a client (or research participant) wants to inflict harm to self or others. Participants in Internet research may live all over the world. The need to know a participant's name and location can compete with the rights to privacy if the research touches on sensitive issues."

    "As committees meet over the ensuing years to deliberate ethical issues surrounding the use of the Internet for human participants research, deliberations should include representatives from a variety of countries, cultures, and professional fields."

    Ethical dilemmas in research on Internet communities: Abstract of an article by Sarah Flicker, Dave Haans and Harvey Skinner, in Qual Health Res 2004(Jan); 14(1):124-34. Table 4, page 132 of this article outlines "Ethical Guidelines for Researching Internet Communities". The guidelines are based on experience with a youth-oriented online research site.

    Guideline #8 is: "Grant users that do not consent to be part of research comparable service".

    An example of an online site designed for young people with special needs, such as disabilities and illnesses, is It has a Privacy Policy, which spells out in detail how the site safeguards personal information.

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    Are participants in ESGs "Research Subjects"? #3 [links last verified 17 May 2004]:

    Different perceptions of "private vs. public" may be one of the most challenging issues for Internet research ethics. Whose perceptions should be preeminent? Those of the participants? Those of the list owner? Those of the members of an IRB/REB? Or, those of various "guardians of the public interest", including members of the media, such as journalists? These various perceptions may differ quite substantially.

    And, how to define "privacy" within the context of Internet research? From the perspective of a behavioral researcher, an individual's expectations about privacy can be inferred from that individual's behavior:

    Internet research: an opportunity to revisit classic ethical problems in behavioral research: Abstract of an article by David J. Pittenger, in Ethics & Behavior 2003; 13(1): 45-60.

    Two excerpts:

    "Definition of Privacy: The distinction between what is public and what is private is a penumbra as the expectation of privacy is a subjective phenomenon for the individual. Nevertheless, we may use one's behavior to surmise his or her expectation for privacy."

    "Seek and respect the rules of the virtual community: As noted previously, individuals may organize a virtual community and wish to limit who may have access to the exchanges among the participants and how participants may use those exchanges. Because such moderation creates the presumption of privacy, it appears necessary for the researcher to seek permission to examine exchanges among the members of the community. Such a request is a common courtesy for any researcher who wishes to observe activities of a group. Even without a specific moderator, the virtual community may have established guidelines regarding the privacy of communications and general expectations of etiquette among its participants."

    Clearly, more research is needed on the expectations of participants in different "virtual communities". The need for high-quality research of this kind is illustrated by a small survey of participants in two mailing lists (one open and one closed):

    Permission, privacy are key concerns in internet research: Carolyn Petersen, BMJ, 24 Dec 2003.

    Two excerpts:

    "Although the sample size of this survey was relatively small, two themes emerged. First, respondents from both survey populations believe that journalists should seek permission from list members and/or webmasters prior to use of archived information. Because they view journalistic endeavors as research, they are likely to hold the same expectation of researchers."

    "Second, although patient advocates are aware that archived postings can't be guaranteed to remain inaccessible to nonmembers of the list or group, they do regard lists as a kind of protected space where members may speak frankly without concern that their words will be shared outside the group. Most recognized that individuals acting in a research capacity can join a list but viewed members desire for privacy as taking precedence over researchers goals."

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    Are participants in ESGs "Research Subjects"? #4 [last modified 24 Feb 2005]:

    From a research-ethics perspective, a starting point for dealing with questions of the identity and role of participants in ESGs is some credible set of widely-accepted research-ethics principles.

    For example, researchers should "never deceive subjects; never never knowingly put subjects at risk; and maximise public and private good while minimizing harm", see: Berry DM, Internet research: privacy, ethics and alienation: an open source approach. Internet Research 2004; 14(4): 323-332, [PDF].

    This author "..argues that privacy is a misleading and confusing concept to apply to the Internet, and that the concept of nonalienation is more resourceful..." and, "... argues for the principles of 'open source ethics' in researching the online world, which includes a participatory and democratic research method".

    Especially well-known to bioethicists interested in the health sciences are the ethical principles outlined in The Belmont Report.

    See, for example, Ethical and Legal Aspects of Human Subjects Research in Cyberspace: This webpage provides access to a report of a workshop held on June 10-11, 1999 in Washington DC (the report is in PDF format, 64 KB). The report utilizes the three Belmont Principles (summarized as "autonomy, beneficence, and justice"), as a framework for reviewing issues related to benefits and risks, informed consent, privacy and confidentiality, and justice. An excerpt from the section on benefits and risks: "Researchers' claims about the benefits of their research will rest in large part on their ability to collect useful data. But conducting research on the Internet raises questions about data sampling techniques and the validity and reliability of the data collected".

    The Belmont principles also provided the conceptual framework for the Guidelines for Internet Research with Human Subjects provided by the Research Foundation of CUNY (City University of New York), 2004.

    Also of importance are international consensus-based codes of research ethics, such as:

    The Declaration of Helsinki. (From the World Medical Association).

    Also especially relevant from this perspective, are coherent sets of research-ethics guidelines, such as these:

    Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans. (Second edition of the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans).

    On the issue of the scope of research requiring ethics review, it's stated in Appendix I of the first edition of the Tri-Council policy that research requiring ethics review includes: "... research conducted remotely [e.g. via mail, email, fax, phone] ... or from existing records not in the public domain ...".

    So, are messages posted to ESGs, and accessible online via "open" archives, "in the public domain"? A journalist might answer: "Obviously, yes". An active participant in an ESG might respond: "No, unless I've stated explicitly in the message that it's in the public domain". Another perspective on this issue is outlined in the next section (Are participants in ESGs "Published Authors"?).

    If messages sent to a mailing list are not in the public domain unless explicitly placed there, then it shouldn't be presumed that informed consent is not needed for "naturalistic observations", nor for "archival research" (when such research involves messages sent to mailing lists), and that only the confidentiality of participants needs to be protected.

    If messages sent to a mailing list are not in the public domain unless explicitly placed there, then it could instead be argued that list mining (where, for example, the online archives of a mailing list are used for qualitative research), involves deception in research unless participants in the mailing list are fully informed about the ways in which the list is being used for research purposes, and also have an opportunity to withdraw their own data, if they don't consent that it may be used for such purposes.

    The Canadian Tri-Council Guidelines are also of particular relevance and interest, in relation to the issues being considered here, because they were intended to be (and are) applied to all areas of research, involving humans, that are supported by the grants councils of the federal government in Canada, in any of the physical sciences, health sciences, and/or social sciences.

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    Are participants in ESGs "Published Authors"? #1 [last modified 25 Oct 2007]:

    This question has been addressed in a report prepared by Charles Ess and a working committee of the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR). This report, entitled "Ethical decision-making and Internet research: Recommendations from the aoir ethics working committee", was approved by the AoIR membership on 27 November 2002. A PDF version of the report is openly accessible, via:

    An excerpt from page 7 of this report: "Are participants in this environment best understood as 'subjects' (in the senses common in human subjects research in medicine and the social sciences) - or as authors whose texts/artifacts are intended as public?".

    Although guidelines and proposals for Internet research ethics are usually based on those designed for "human subjects research", researchers and scholars in the humanities may have quite different perspectives, and may be aware of instances in which human subjects guidelines do not apply to complex Internet material.

    Some examples are provided in contributions to a panel presentation organized for a conference held in December 2001:

    An example:

    Internet Research Ethics: Representations or People?. (A contribution by Michele White to this conference).

    Another contribution to the same symposium, by Amy Bruckman, is entitled:

    Studying the Amateur Artist: A perspective on Disguising Data Collected in Human Subjects Research on the Internet.

    From this perspective, the Internet may be regarded as a "playground for amateur artists creating semi-published work". Amy Bruckman also provides some "practical guidelines regarding disguising material gathered on the Internet in published accounts, on a continuum from no disguise, light disguise, moderate disguise, to heavy disguise".

    For more details about Amy Bruckman's guidelines, see: Ethical Guidelines for Research Online. An excerpt: "Please do write your own version of these guidelines. These are just the opinion of one practitioner. Many other interpretations are possible".

    Early attempts to develop guidelines include an eprint, Researching Internet Communities: Proposed Ethical Guidelines for the Reporting of Results, by Storm A. King, published in The Information Society (TIS), 1996(June 1); 12(2): 119-128, a subscription-based journal. This particular issue of TIS was a special one on the ethics of research in cyberspace. A letter from the editor of TIS, about this special issue, is openly-accessible, via text of letter from Rob Kling.

    A brief critique of the first report of the AoIR Ethics Working Committee, issued in October 2001, is provided in Research Ethics in a Virtual World: Some Guidelines and Illustrations, by Nicholas W. Jankowski and Martine van Selm, in a presentation at a seminar held on 17-18 December 2001, at Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham, Surrey.

    So, should participants in health-related ESGs be regarded as "amateur authors" of "semi-published work"? This question immediately raises other questions, especially about copyright.

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    Are participants in ESGs "Published Authors"? #2 [last modified 23 Sep 2004]:

    Some very useful information about copyright can be obtained via the website of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), See, in particular, "About Intellectual Property", "Copyright and Related Rights".

    Information about copyright, via a site sponsored and maintained by The UK Patent Office, is available. See: What is copyright?.

    Information about copyright in the USA is available from the U.S. Copyright Office.

    Also of interest are two of Brad Templeton's webpages:

    A brief intro to copyright. An excerpt (from near the bottom of this webpage):

    "To use the net: There's a pretty simple rule when it comes to the net. If you didn't write it, and you want to reproduce it, ask the creator. Most people don't really need to know much more than this."

    10 Big Myths about copyright explained.

    An excerpt (from Myth #3): "Nothing modern is in the public domain anymore unless the owner explicitly puts it in the public domain(*). Explicitly, as in you have a note from the author/owner saying, 'I grant this to the public domain.' Those exact words or words very much like them". [(*): "Copyrights can expire after a long time ..."].

    So, messages to ESGs can be regarded as "copyrighted creative works", that shouldn't be considered as being in the public domain, unless the original source of the message has explicitly put it into the public domain.

    My own view is that such "copyrighted creative works" shouldn't be quoted verbatim without the permission of the original source of the message, and that appropriate attribution should be provided (unless the original source prefers not to be identified).

    If permission cannot be obtained, then an option is to paraphrase an eye-catching message, rather than to quote it verbatim. But, what level of such a "disguise" is acceptable, and why? (See also the article by Amy Bruckman, above).

    A noteworthy exception to the guidelines sketched out above is the situation where a researcher or scholar publishes a report or article, but retains copyright, with the explicit intention of permitting the work to be openly-accessible, while not also in the public domain. The strategy allows the author to retain some "permission barriers", without a "price barrier".

    The Creative Commons site provides examples of licenses that authorize open access, but also retain some rights for the authors (such as a right to proper attribution, so that the original author of a work is given credit) that would be lost if the work were put into the public domain. For more about the "open access movement", see below: "Macro-level" Internet research ethics.

    Why Copyright Web Documents?: A page prepared by Peter Suber, in which he specifies the rights he wishes to retain, as the author and copyright holder, to openly-accessible documents on his webpages.

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    Are participants in ESGs "Published Authors"? #3 [last modified 25 Oct 2007]:

    Another fundamental question, which does merit some attention, is one addressed by Michel Foucault, in a excerpt from: What Is an Author?. For an example of a "reader's guide" to Foucault's "What Is an Author?", see: Contemporary Critical Theory.

    An excerpt from the latter:

    "In the first few paragraphs, Foucault responds to some of our most basic assumptions about authorship. In the first paragraph, for example, Foucault reminds us that although we regard the concept of authorship as 'solid and fundamental,' that concept hasn't always existed. It 'came into being,' Foucault explains, at a particular moment in history, and it may pass out of being at some future moment."

    A question like the one above ("What is an Author?") immediately raises another issue in Internet research ethics: "cyberplagiarism". An example of a case report:

    J Med Internet Res 2000; 2(1): e4. Author: Eysenbach G. Title: Report of a case of cyberplagiarism - and reflections on detecting and preventing academic misconduct using the Internet.

    This case report includes a definition of plagiarism (by the US Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy): "using the ideas or words of another person without giving appropriate credit."

    Another relevant article is by the developers of the website, an "online plagiarism prevention resource":
    J Med Internet Res 2000;2(1):e6. Authors: Barrie JM, Presti DE. Title: Digital plagiarism - The web giveth and the web shall taketh.

    Those participants in ESGs who do regard themselves as "published authors" of "copyrighted creative works" need to be aware of the possibility of "cyberplagiarism".

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    Are participants in ESGs "Members of a Community"? #1 [last modified 17 May 2004]:

    Participants in ESGs often refer to their group as a "community".

    Galegher, Sproull and Keisler commented on ESGs as communities in a study published in the journal Written Communication [1998(Oct); 15(4): 493-530]. An openly-accessible [OA] version of this article, entitled Legitimacy, Authority, and Community in Electronic Support Groups is available.

    An excerpt from page 18 of the OA version: "... a number of studies indicate that individuals participating in a group can easily come to feel like members of the group. Subsequently, that they are susceptible to the influence of group identity, communal feeling, and community standards, and they bring those standards and feelings to bear in their contributions and their reactions to others ...".

    Another excerpt from page 18 of the OA version: "As in real world groups, the right to speak, to answer and to challenge arising from group identity is highly correlated with cohesiveness or feelings of community in the electronic group. And as in real world groups, community develops in electronic support groups as a result of participation and positive responses to that participation ...".

    An excerpt from page 20 of the OA version (the first paragraph of the Conclusion section): "People with chronic illness or problems experience deprivation, need, and pain; they sometimes lack information and emotional support. Although electronic support groups are large, public, and disembodied, they offer such people access to direct, open, supportive conversation. Members meet the rhetorical challenges of legitmacy and authority in their posts and, by doing so in mostly positive ways, they not only exchange information but also create community. Community in turn builds a clearer definition of legitimacy, of what kinds of discourse will be acceptable and what kinds will not, and reinforces the authority of individual writers. Electronic support groups share some characteristics with other kinds of electronic groups, but they are distinctive in using electronic group membership as a legitimating strategy and in using both expertise and personal experience as warrants for advice".

    It should be noted that the studies reported by Galegher and colleagues involved text data collected in late 1995, from three Usenet support groups, and, for comparison, three Usenet hobby groups. For example, one of the Usenet support groups was, and one of the hobby groups was Openly accessible archives of messages posted to Usenet discussion forums are currently available via Google Groups, and anyone who posts messages to any of these forums should take the open accessibility of such archives into account. Galegher and colleagues included verbatim quotations from Usenet messages in their article, but replaced real names with fictitious ones. This is an example of a "disguise" strategy (see also the article by Amy Bruckman, referred to above).

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    Are participants in ESGs "Members of a Community"? #2 [last modified 14 Apr 2004]:

    But, what are some defining characteristics of a "community?

    Weijer and Emanuel have addressed this issue, from a biomedical research ethics perspective, in an article published in 2000:

    Ethics. Protecting communities in biomedical research: Weijer C, Emanuel EJ, Science 2000(Aug 18); 289(5482): 1142-4.

    In Table 1 of this article, characteristics of types of communities in biomedical research are summarized. There's an entry in this table for "virtual" communities (e-mail discussion groups). The characteristics that such virtual communities share with other kinds of communities are claimed by these authors to include: "Common culture and traditions, canon of knowledge, and shared history" (often); "Representative group/individuals" (occasionally or rarely); "Communication network" (always or nearly always); "Self-identification as community" (often).

    Community characteristics that are claimed to be "very rarely or never" possessed by virtual communities include: "Comprehensiveness of culture", "Legitimate political authority", "Geographic localization", and "Common economy/shared resources".

    These authors also claim that such community characteristics as "Health-related common culture" and "Mechanism for priority setting in health care" are very rarely or never possessed by virtual communities. However, my own experience with the BCML would lead me to challenge at least the first of these two particular claims. Members of the BCML do share a strong affiliation, one that's based on their shared personal experiences with breast cancer. And, if the discussion of issues relevant to priorities in health care (such as insurance coverage) can be considered as at least one aspect of a "mechanism for priority setting in health care", then this aspect of a community is also occasionally possessed by the BCML.

    Two other articles authored by Charles Weijer also have some relevance, in relation to the concept of a "community", in the context of biomedical research:

    Protecting communities in pharmacogenetic and pharmacogenomic research, Weijer C, Miller PB, Pharmacogenomics J. 2003(Dec 2).

    An excerpt:

    "We propose a framework [for both protecting and empowering communities in research] that rests upon the recognition that communities are heterogeneous human associations and differing policies are appropriate for differing communities".

    Protecting communities in research: current guidelines and limits of extrapolation: Weijer C, Goldsand G, Emanuel EJ, Nat Genet 1999(Nov); 23(3): 275-80.

    An excerpt:

    "We critically examine guidelines developed to protect aboriginal communities and consider their applicability to other communities. These guidelines are based on a model of researcher-community partnership and span the phases of a research project, from protocol development to publication. The complete list of 23 protections may apply to those few non-aboriginal communities, such as the Amish, that are highly cohesive".

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    Are participants in ESGs "Members of a Community"? #3 [last modified 15 May 2004]:

    But, how best to deal with groups that may need to be examined critically, because they may endanger public health? This issue was raised by Simon Chapman, in a response to the article by Gunther Eysenbach and myself in BMJ, Ethical issues in qualitative research on Internet communities.

    His response, Respect for privacy of groups that endanger public health? raised an important question. What about mailing lists that are dangerous, rather than supportive?

    Examples would be mailing lists judged (e.g. by a REB/IRB) to have the potential to cause more harms than benefits, such as attempts to promote actions that may be illegal (such as inciting race hatred), or actions that may be unpopular, but not currently illegal (such as promoting the sale of cigarettes to adults).

    Owners of, and participants in, such mailing lists may have the right to refuse to cooperate with researchers, but they do not have the right to veto a project. And, critical appraisals of the kind often undertaken by researchers and scholars in the humanities and social sciences (e.g. of public figures or organizations in politics, the arts, business, or other walks of life) should not be blocked just because of the potentially negative nature of the findings. As is pointed out in the Canadian Tri-Council guidelines (Section C2), "The safeguard for those in the public arena is through public debate and discourse and, in extremis, through action in the courts for libel".

    An interesting issue for members of a REB/IRB to discuss might be (for example): Would it be ethically acceptable to subscribe to a race-hatred online group under an assumed identity (that is, one which involves deception), e.g. as a way to gain access to archives that require registration of a kind that may include a questionnaire designed to screen out unwelcome intruders?

    This issue illustrates the ongoing need for attention to a much larger issue: the continuing need to "temper discretion with the public right to know" (see, for example, Chief justice rued abortion ruling, book says, by Kirk Makin, in The Globe and Mail, December 5, 2003).

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    "Macro-level" Internet research ethics [last modified 25 Oct 2007]:

    In this section, on "macro-level" Internet research ethics, the main focus will be on ways to provide, via the Internet, free and open access to the primary, peer-reviewed research literature. There are several ethics-oriented arguments in favor of such access (see below). The "open access (OA) movement" is one that is revolutionizing scientific publishing. It is also an issue of special relevance to the individuals who have been participants in (or, "subjects" of) medical research (such as those who have participated in randomized clinical trials, or RCTs) and want to have open access to the published results of such research. It is also, for similar reasons, of special interest and relevance to anyone who has been subjected to Internet-based research (such as "list mining", see above).

    At present, researchers supported by public funds (such as those based at publicly-supported universities, and/or those whose research has received substantial support from public funds) are expected to publish reports, on the results of their research, in peer-reviewed journals. (Peer review and editorial review provide a basic level of quality control prior to publication).

    At present, the great majority of these journals are "toll-access" journals that are subscription-based. The "consumer" of a peer-reviewed research report must pay to obtain access to the published report, either via a personal subscription, or via a subscription paid on behalf of the "consumer" (e.g. by a library, such as one located at a university).

    An alternative business model for the publication of peer-reviewed research reports is an "open-access" model, such as one in which the costs of publication are paid by the "producer" of the research, or via an "article processing fee" (APF) paid on behalf of the "producer" (e.g. by a funding agency, foundation, or university that has supported other costs involved in the "production" of the research).

    The issue of open access to the results of research that's been supported by public funds, and by the contributions of volunteers (such as participants in ESGs, see above), can be regarded as a "macro-level" issue in Internet research ethics. Arguments in favor of open access include the "taxpayer" argument: Why should taxpayers be expected to pay twice for research reports (once, to provide support to do the research, and a second time, to obtain access to reports on the results of the research)?

    There are three main routes to open access: open-access journals, open-access archives, and pages on personal or institutional websites that are part of the "surface web" (the part of the web that's accessible to popular search engines). These routes to open access are considered in more detail in the next sections.

    There has been an ongoing debate about distinctions between "free access" and "open access". Peter Suber, in a comment sent to the American Scientist (AmSci) Open Access Forum on 31 Dec. 2003, on the subject Re: Free Access vs. Open Access, has suggested that free access involves the removal of price barriers, while open access involves the removal of both price and permission barriers.

    From this perspective, some of the The Nine Flavours of Open Access Scholarly Publishing reviewed by John Willinsky (in J Postgrad Med 2003; 49: 263-267) are neither fully open, nor fully free, in that all price and permission barriers to access may not have been removed. For example, only tables of contents and abstracts may be freely accessible (Willinsky's Flavour #8).

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    Some perspectives about open access #1 [added 30 Jan 2005]:

    Perceptions of open access publishing: interviews with journal authors, Schroter S, Tite L, Smith R. (BMJ Editorial Office), BMJ. 2005(26 Jan). Results of interviews with 28 randomly selected international authors who submitted to the BMJ in 2003.

    "Conclusions: Authors consider perceived journal quality as more important than open access when deciding where to submit papers. New journals with open access may need to do more to reassure authors of the quality of their journals".

    Few of these authors had submitted to an open access journal (other than the BMJ) and they seem to be rather poorly informed about either open access publishing or open access archives. Relevant information is available in A Very Brief Introduction to Open Access, prepared by Peter Suber, and, in much more detail, in his Open Access Overview, and also in the Self-Archiving FAQ, which is based primarily on the perspectives of Stevan Harnad, of the Université du Québec à Montréal and the University of Southampton.

    An editorial: Open access in medical publishing: trends and countertrends, CMAJ 2005 172: 149, provides a perspective from a general medical journal that has a freely-accessible online version:

    "Since July 1999 the full text of CMAJ has been available online without charge or restriction" ... "One day soon, new Internet payment models may enable electronic publications to apply pennies-per-view charges that defray editorial costs without creating a disincentive for readers. Or advertisers may be more willing to advertise on the Web. In the meantime, we intend to stick with open (and free) access without fees for readers or for authors".

    A commentary on the free/open access movement, and its special relevance to developing countries like India, is: The `free access' debate, by R. Ramachandran, in Frontline, Volume 21, Issue 02, January 17-30, 2004 ("India's National Magazine").

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    Advocacy for open access #1 [last modified 10 Nov 2004]:

    A noteworthy overview of the history of scientific publishing has been provided by Jean-Claude Guédon, in a presentation to the May 2001 meeting of The Association of Research Libraries, entitled: In Oldenburg's Long Shadow: Librarians, Research Scientists, Publishers, and the Control of Scientific Publishing. The last paragraph of his presentation provides an eloquent example of what I'll call an "equitable-access", or "fairness", argument for open access:

    "Librarians can (and ought to) help create a navigable, worldwide ocean of knowledge, open to all; and, like Odysseus, they will know how to help negotiate the tricky ebbs and eddies, the vortices and the undertows of chaotic knowledge flows that necessarily accompany the development of a distributed intelligence civilization - a civilization open to all that are good enough (excellence), and not only to those who can afford it (elites)".

    MPs brand scientific publishing "unsatisfactory": A commentary about the report of the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, by Bobby Pickering, Information World Review, 20 July 2004. An excerpt (which mentions the "equitable-access" argument, but also raises a concern, the "free rider" question):

    "The upside would be wider access to scientific information in developing countries, as well as helping to re-establish the UK as a cauldron of scientific and research development, as it had been in past centuries."

    "Committee members were, however, concerned about the "free rider" question, whereby big business gains free access to research for their commercial advantage."

    A response to the "free rider" question has been provided within a set of responses to "myths" about open access, provided by BioMed Central, see: response about the "industry myth".

    There are other ethics-oriented justifications for support of the open access movement, such as the taxpayer argument and the global health argument. See, for example:

    The Genetic Alliance Supports Open Access to Taxpayer-funded Research: An open letter in support of the proposal that the National Institutes of Health (US) provide free public access to research articles resulting from NIH-funded research.

    An excerpt:

    "This consumer-centered measure is a long over-due means by which to enhance public health education, speed the translation of genetic advances into quality, affordable health care, and inform and empower patients in their health care decisions."

    Equitable access to scientific and technical information for health. In the Bulletin of the World Health Organization 2003(Oct); 81(10), by Hooman Momen (Editor, Bulletin of the WHO). Accessible via the website of the Scientific Electronic Library Online (SciELO). The title of this article emphasizes the equitable-access (or fairness) argument, but the taxpayer argument for open access, and the global health argument, are also mentioned in the article.

    Two excerpts:

    "... publishers have to respond to calls for greater access to the scientific literature, otherwise more radical solutions may be favoured, in which their role could be eliminated. Proponents of self-archiving of scientific information, information portals, deconstructed journals and other radical ideas await their chance to win the support of a disenchanted academic community. This community, which supplies journals with authors, reviewers and editors free of charge is increasingly dissatisfied with the cost of journal subscriptions and the balance of power in the publishing world. It recognizes the value of journals in the authority and quality control they provide, but its continued support cannot be taken for granted."

    "Health is perhaps the area of most intense demand for greater access to scientific and technical information, partly because failure to obtain it can be literally fatal. A public which pays for most medical research through taxes and other public funds is becoming increasingly puzzled by the barriers that deny access to the results of that research. The time is ripe for action."

    An eloquent summary, by Barbara Kirsop, of the global health argument for open access, is quoted in a message of mine, posted to the AmSci Open Access Forum on 3 January, 2004.

    The taxpayer argument for open access: A message posted to Open Access News by Peter Suber on September 4, 2003. It provides an in-depth analysis of this justification for open access.

    Efficiency, effectiveness and accountability: A brief "pragmatic" argument for Open Access (OA), prepared by Peter Suber (26 August, 2003): "OA supports efficency because it costs less, effectiveness because it makes research results more widely accessible and useful, and accountability because it directs funds only to essential expenses whose amount is comparatively easy to demonstrate and justify".

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    Advocacy for open access #2 [last modified 27 Oct 2007]:

    An Open Access Overview has been prepared by Peter Suber, designed as an introduction to open access (OA) for those who are new to the concept.

    An article, Be openly accessible or be obscure?, by Joan Leishman and myself, was published in the 11 October 2006 issue of the University of Toronto Bulletin. It's also intended as an introduction to OA for those unfamiliar with the topic. Since November 20, 2006, I've been contributing to a blog that has the same title, Be openly accessible or be obscure.

    The August 2004 issue of the SPARC Open Access Newsletter: Provides much information about two major endorsements of OA, one from the UK and the other from the USA. Unfortunately, as noted in a message of mine, sent to the BCML on 06 Feb. 2005, these endorsements have not yet been supported in full by governmental policies in either the USA or the UK: "Open access has worldwide momentum and makes new gains every day... Two especially large initiatives have had setbacks: the NIH [National Institutes of Health] public-access policy has been watered down, and the Gibson committee recommendations were rejected by the government [of the UK]".

    On 28 June 2005, the Research Councils UK (RCUK) published its long-awaited open-access policy for public comment. The comment period ended on August 31, 2005. According to a press release, the revised policy was to be announced in November 2005. After a delay of several months, it was announced in June 2006. See: RCUK position on issue of improved access to research outputs.

    In a press release dated 28 June 2006, Research Councils UK publishes update of position statement on access to research outputs, the RCUK reaffirmed its "commitment to the guiding principles that publicly funded research must be made available and accessible for public examination as rapidly as practical; published research outputs should be effectively peer-reviewed; this must be a cost effective use of public funds; and outputs must be preserved and remain accessible for future generations". See also Astrid Wissenberg, RCUK open access principles.

    Of particular interest from the perspective of the biomedical and health sciences is the position statement of one of the UK Research Councils, the Medical Research Council (MRC): MRC Guidance.

    An excerpt: "1. For applications submitted from 1 October 2006 the MRC requires that electronic copies of any research papers accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal, which are supported in whole or in part by MRC funding, are deposited at the earliest opportunity - and certainly within six months - in UK PubMed Central (UKPMC). It is expected that UKPMC will be available in early 2007".

    Also of interest is the MRC statement on data sharing and preservation policy. An excerpt: "From 1 January 2006, all applicants submitting funding proposals to MRC must include a statement explaining their strategy for data preservation and sharing".

    Previously (on 19 May 2005), a major funding foundation for the support of biomedical research in the UK, the Wellcome Trust, issued a press release about Open Access, Wellcome Trust announces open access plans. An excerpt: "The Wellcome Trust has announced that from 1st October 2005, all papers from new research projects must be deposited in PubMed Central or UK PubMed Central - once it has been formed - within 6 months of publication". An "Authors' Guide and FAQ" to the Wellcome Trust OA policy does not include any information about how violations of the OA policy will be managed.

    On 11 October 2006, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research announced a Consultation on a CIHR Draft Policy on Access to Research Outputs. The deadline to submit comments was November 24, 2006. Excerpt: "Following the public consultation period, comments will be synthesized and a general report will be published on CIHR's web site. Public feedback will be taken into account as CIHR moves forward in developing a final policy statement".

    This policy statement, Policy on Access to Research Outputs, was subsequently published in September, 2007. I chaired an external advisory committee that provided advice to the CIHR about the development of this policy.

    The JULIET service, accessible via the SHERPA website, provides a summary of policies given by various research funders as part of their research grant awards.

    In issue #100 of his SPARC Open Access Newsletter of 2 Aug 2006, Peter Suber has listed Ten lessons from the funding agency open access policies. Lesson #9 is that "With or without sanctions, the mandate should be enforceable". About policies to ensure compliance with a mandate, he notes that (as of Aug 2006), "There are still too few funder policies in effect to see the results of different approaches".

    There are a variety of other initiatives that have been proposed as ways to foster the open access movement. An example is:

    Budapest Open Access Initiative: The purpose of the BOAI is to advocate two complementary strategies (BOAI-1 = open access archives, referred to below as the Green Road to open access, and BOAI-2 = open access journals, referred to below as the Golden Road to open access). These complementary strategies are designed to accelerate progress in the international effort to make research articles in all academic fields openly available on the Internet.

    Other examples:

    Berlin Declaration.

    Bethesda Statement.

    Re: Bethesda statement on open access publishing: A critique, by Stevan Harnad (23 June, 2003), of the Bethesda Statement and its perceived emphasis on publishing in OA journals [the Golden Road], with less attention paid to self-archiving in OA institutional eprint archives [the Green Road].

    The Switch to Open Access Publishing is inevitable: An interview published in the inaugural issue of Open Access Now (14 July, 2003). The person interviewed is Gerry Rubin, Open Access advocate at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). An excerpt: "HHMI now has an official policy of paying the additional costs of charges for Open Access publishing up to an initial limit of US $3,000 per investigator per year". [Back issues of Open Access Now, published by BioMed Central and edited by Jonathan B. Weitzman, contain other relevant interviews].

    SPARC Open Access Newsletter: An excellent resource, maintained by Peter Suber, designed "to share news and analysis of the open-access movement". This resource also provides access to daily updates, via the Open Access News weblog (OA News blog).

    The SPARC Open Access News includes many items relevant to the "library crisis" that has arisen because limitations on the budgets of libraries (and especially, university libraries), together with continually-increasing costs of subscriptions to toll-access journals, have forced many libraries to cancel subscriptions to journals, even when the journals remain popular with their users. This unfortunate situation has led to the "serials crisis" argument in favor of open access.

    Advocacy: The advocacy section of the website of BioMed Central (BMC), a publisher of many open-access journals in the biomedical sciences.

    Frequently Asked Questions: The FAQ section of the website of the Public Library of Science (PLoS), a high-profile publisher (since 2003) of open-access journals in the biomedical sciences.

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    Advocacy for open access #3 [last modified 17 May 2004]:

    How should the open access movement be evaluated?

    Success factors for open access: An article of mine, about how to evaluate the success of the open access movement, in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, an independent open-access journal. See JMIR 2003(Mar); 5(1): e1.

    In efforts to evaluate the impact of the open access movement, there's a need to pay attention to alternative routes to open access. Two "High Roads" to open access include the Golden Road (open-access journals), and the Green Road (open-access archives). See, for example:

    The Green and Golden Roads to Open Access: Article by Harnad, Brody, Vallieres, Carr, Hitchcock, Gingras, Oppenheim, Stamerjohanns & Hilf, available via the Nature website, 17 May 2004.

    As noted above, there's been an ongoing debate about a distinction between "free access" (removal of price barriers) and "open access" (removal of both price and permission barriers).

    Those who favor the Golden Road to open access (via open access journals) seem likely to prefer a minimum of permission barriers, so that text-mining (or data-mining) of a complete collection of the openly-accessible research literature has maximal feasibility.

    Those who favor the Green Road to open access (via open access archives) may be willing to tolerate more permission barriers, in order to increase the likelihood that publishers of toll-access journals will permit authors to self-archive copies of published articles in openly-accessible archives.

    Thus, these two complementary "High Road" strategies for fostering open access may lead to different perspectives about permission barriers, while sharing the same distaste for price barriers. There's also a "Low Road" strategy, self-achiving on the surface web. This can be regarded as an anarchic strategy that permits free access, but lacks a coherent infrastructure for identification of the openly-accessible research literature of the kind that both of the "High Roads" to open access are designed to provide.

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    Advocacy for open access #4 [last modified 4 Sep 2006]:

    There are also persuasive reasons to support open access as a novel and effective way to enhance "knowledge growth" and "knowledge transfer", not only in relation to global health, but in relation to all kinds of new knowledge. The importance of both "knowledge growth" ("knowledge production power") and "knowledge transfer" ("knowledge distribution power") have been highlighted in the following news item: Call for Australia to follow UK OA plan.

    Two excerpts:

    "... open-access structures lower the barriers to entry to science, bring more brains into the innovation process, and increase the potential for breakthroughs ...".

    "Colin Steele ... makes the insightful argument that prosperity in a knowledge economy depends as much, if not more, on knowledge distribution power than it does on knowledge production power".

    A version of the "knowlege transfer" argument has been proposed as a "fundamental principle" by Richard Stallman, in Free Community Science and the Free Development of Science, PLoS Medicine 2005(Feb); 2(2). The principle is: "knowledge contributes to society when it can be shared and developed by communities". [Knowledge transfer and exchange (KTE) is examined further below].

    From this perspective, it's the "impact argument" that's most likely to persuade researchers themselves to support the open access movement, because open access has the potential to greatly increase the impact of their own research. [Note that "impact" can be regarded as having two major dimensions: impact from the perspective of knowledge growth (or "knowledge production power") and impact from the perspective of knowledge transfer (or "knowledge distribution power")]. Some examples of the impact argument:

    Electronic Publishing Trust for Development: The EPT for development site has a focus on the impact of the Open Archive Initiative (OAI) on developing country science.

    The Impact of OAI-based Search on Access to Research Journal Papers: An article by Steve Hitchcock and colleagues. An excerpt: "To encourage increased research usage, authors need accessible online sites in which to deposit their published papers and users need a means of discovering and evaluating those papers. The Open Archives Initiative (OAI) provides the infrastructure for this."

    Re: Measuring cumulating research impact loss across fields and time: A copy of a message posted by Stevan Harnad on November 25, 2003 to the AmSci Open Access Forum.

    Comparing the Impact of Open Access (OA) vs. Non-OA Articles in the Same Journals: An article by Stevan Harnad and Tim Brody in D-Lib Magazine 2004(Jun); 10(6). Initial results of an ongoing project provide evidence to support the view that OA articles have substantially more impact than non-OA ones.

    Do Open Access Articles Have a Greater Research Impact?: Provides access to a PDF version of an article by Kristin Antelman, published in College & Research Libraries 2004; 65(5): 372-382.

    Three excerpts:

    "The data show a significant difference in the mean citation rates of open-access articles and those that are not freely available online in all four disciplines. The relative increase in citations for open-access articles ranged from a low of 45 percent in philosophy to 51 percent in electrical and electronic engineering, 86 percent in political science, and 91 percent in mathematics".

    "Links to articles most often were found on author home pages (50% overall) or in disciplinary repositories (25%), with clear differences across disciplines". [Use of author home pages: philosophy, 72%; electrical and electronic engineering, 50%; political science, 46%; mathematics, 30%].

    "Also noted was whether the article was a preprint or a postprint, which also varies by discipline". [Percentage of articles that were preprints: mathematics, almost 90%; philosophy and political science, between 60 & 70%; electrical and electronic engineering, about 20%].

    An editorial by Gunther Eysenbach, entitled The Open Access Advantage (J Med Internet Res 2006;8(2):e8), provides an update on robust evidence that he has obtained that "open-access articles are more immediately recognized and cited than non-OA articles". He concludes the editorial with "the observation that the 'open access advantage' has at least three components: (1) a citation count advantage (as a metric for knowledge uptake within the scientific community), (2) an end user uptake advantage, and (3) a cross-discipline fertilization advantage."

    It should be noted, in relation to the "end user uptake advantage", that the use of citation rates as a measure of "impact" probably places a larger emphasis on impact on knowledge growth or production than impact on knowledge transfer or distribution. Other indicators (such as downloads from electronic archives?) may be required to assess impact on knowledge transfer.

    It should also be noted that there's an "innovation argument" that the promotion of OA to published research outputs is good public policy, and can be expected to lead to increased economic, as well as scientific, benefits. These anticipated benefits would be a result of both greater knowledge uptake, and enhanced scientific discovery. Examples of this argument:

    Jennifer De Beer (Stellenbosch University, South Africa), "Making the innovation case in Open Access scholarly communication", October 2005. [PowerPoint presentation]. An excerpt: "Case for OA needs to be made from a science/innovation policy space".

    John Houghton & Peter Sheehan (Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia), "The economic impact of enhanced access to research findings", July 2006. [PDF, 253 KB]. An excerpt: "We conclude that there may be substantial benefits to be gained from increased access to research findings, and our preliminary estimates suggest that this may be fertile ground for further policy relevant inquiry".

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    Advocacy for open access #5 [last modified 28 Jun 2006]:

    A major current challenge for advocates of OA is "to persuade not only the researchers to provide open access, but their employers and funders to extend their existing publish-or-perish policies to mandate that their researchers provide it" (excerpted from the message posted by Stevan Harnad on 25 Nov. 2003). From this perspective, a brief summary, dated 14 March 2004, of the results of a survey, JISC/OSI report on author attitudes toward OA, is of great interest.

    Two excerpts: "The primary reason for choosing an open access outlet in which to publish is a belief in the principle of free access to research information. Over 90% of open access authors said this is important", and, "Almost all the authors ... said that if publishing their work in an open access outlet were a condition of a grant-awarding body they would comply; fewer than ten percent said this condition would make them look elsewhere for funding ...".

    The earliest example of a grant-awarding body that mandates open access to the results of research that it has funded appears to be the Danish Research Centre for Organic Farming (DARCOF), via its Organic Eprints archive.

    The National Institutes of Health (NIH-USA) released (in February 2005) a somewhat controversial Policy on Enhancing Public Access to Archived Publications Resulting from NIH-Funded Research.


    "Beginning May 2, 2005, NIH-funded investigators are requested to submit to the NIH National Library of Medicine's (NLM) PubMed Central (PMC) an electronic version of the author's final manuscript upon acceptance for publication, resulting from research supported, in whole or in part, with direct costs from NIH ... The Policy now requests and strongly encourages that authors specify posting of their final manuscripts for public accessibility as soon as possible (and within 12 months of the publisher's official date of final publication)."

    Statistics on the results of the policy are available via the NIH Manuscript Submission site. Early data indicate a lack of success of the current version of the policy (see: U.S. Senate Supports NIH Public Access Policy, July 2, 2005). It seems likely that the policy will evolve.

    An incentive for the NIH policy to evolve may come from a bipartisan bill introduced by Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT) and 3 cosponsors on December 14, 2005. The "CURES Bill" S.2104, (American Center for Cures Act of 2005) would require public availability in PubMed Central (PMC) within 6 months of publication in a peer-reviewed journal, of copies of articles based on research funded by agencies of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), including NIH. The relevant text is in Section 499H-1 (Public Access Requirement for Research) of S.2104.

    An additional incentive for the NIH policy to evolve is provided by another bipartisan bill introduced into the US Senate on 2 May 2006. This bill is the Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006 (FRPAA), Bill S.2695.

    Peter Suber, in an item in the SPARC Open Access Newsletter (issue #97) entitled Another OA mandate: The Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006, has compared the implications for OA of FRPAA with those of the CURES bill. Both propose mandated OA, but the FRPAA isn't limited to medical research.

    Model Self-Archiving Policies for Research Funders have been proposed (2 January, 2006).

    Empirical research on the knowledge, attitudes and behaviors of researchers in relation to open access has revealed a lack of familiarity with the issues. See, for example:

    Scholarly communication in the digital environment: what do authors want? Findings of an international survey of author opinion: project report, by Ian Rowlands, Dave Nicholas and Paul Huntingdon, 18 March 2004. Report (PDF 262 KB)

    Three excerpts:

    "Levels of awareness of the kinds of issues that are the focus of publishing seminars and library conferences are really surprisingly low among the research community. Knowledge of even the most hotly contested alternative business model, open access, is the preserve of only a minority - 82% of corresponding authors claim to know 'nothing' or just 'a little' about this development".

    "Those publishing in computer science, mathematics and engineering were the most likely to have published their work via an institutional repository".

    "When asked to speculate how much they would be prepared to defray the costs of publishing an article in the best open access journal in their field, almost half (48%) indicated that they would not accept such a business model under any circumstances (Figure 17)".

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    Advocacy for open access #6 [last modified 22 Feb 2005]:

    Perhaps unfortunately, debates about the merits of open access seem, increasingly, to be focused only on comparisons of the conventional toll-access model with the model being advocated by the Public Library of Science, (PLoS).

    See, for example:

    Vantage Point: Science editor-in-chief warns of PLoS growing pains, Stanford Report, Feb. 26, 2004. A statement of support, by Donald Kennedy, the editor-in-chief of Science magazine, for the conventional toll-access model of scientific publishing. The final two sentences of his statement are: "I hope we will see a productive competition between the Science and PLoS publication models. But I know of no normative standard by which theirs or ours can lay special claim to the moral high ground". [Donald Kennedy seems to be unaware of the various ethics-oriented arguments in support of open access, such as the "fairness", "global health" and "taxpayer" arguments - and also, the "serve others" (or "public goods") argument mentioned by Patrick Brown, see below].

    Vantage Point: PLoS co-founder defends free dissemination of peer-reviewed journals online: Patrick Brown, one of the three founders of the PLoS, presents the case for the PLoS model for open-access publishing. His final two sentences might be regarded as an ethics-oriented "serve others" (or, "public goods") version of the "impact" (and, "knowledge growth" and "knowledge transfer") arguments for open access. His final sentences are: "We who benefit from access to great research libraries and generous public support of our research should remember Benjamin Franklin's words: 'As we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generously' ".

    Neither of the above statement mentions both of the two complementary "High Roads" to open access, the Green Road via author self-archiving in open-access repositories, and the Golden Road via publication in open-access journals. The Green Road (that has been advocated vigorously by Stevan Harnad) could be regarded as an intermediate position between the quite conventional one of Donald Kennedy and that of Patrick Brown.

    Costs and business models in scientific research publishing: Provides access to a report published in September 2003 by the Wellcome Trust. Paragraphs 3 & 4 in the Executive Summary of the report contain versions of the "public goods" and "knowledge transfer" arguments for open access (OA).

    In paragraph 22 of the same Executive Summary, it's stated that:

    "Electronic archiving could enable very speedy access to articles and remove the costs associated with delays in access to research outputs. It also has very low marginal costs. For wide ranges of output the cost of article delivery is close to zero. A question then arises about the appropriate source of funds to establish and maintain electronic archives".

    This can be regarded as support for the Green Road to OA. But, there is no comment on the possibility that a funding source (such as the Wellcome Trust) could itself choose to establish and maintain an electronic archive (for example, for the archiving of reports of research supported by that funding source). As noted above, I'm an advocate for OA archives established by funding sources.

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    Advocacy for open access #7 [last modified 30 Sep 2004]:

    The importance of the Green Road for those in developing countries has been emphasized by Subbiah Arunachalam, Leslie Chan and Barbara Kirsop of the Electronic Publishing Trust for Development (EPT), in a message, Re: On the Need to Take Both Roads to Open Access, posted to the AmSci Open Access Forum on 27 February 2004. The message is intended for those in the developing world who cannot wait for the Golden Road to be built. But, they also argue that "Developing country knowledge is essential for us all", and use as an example the wealth of developing country knowledge about malaria that's available via a search of the main Bioline site.

    Advocates of OA often base their arguments on some form of self-interest. A major purpose of these notes is to consider ethical arguments for OA in addition to those based on self-interest. Peter Suber has summarized a few such arguments in a presentation, "Creating an Intellectual Commons through Open Access", 2004. An excerpt: "But a very different kind of advocacy focuses on normative arguments that disregard self-interest, much as appeals to duty disregard self-interest. Authors who relinquish royalties deserve to reach their audience without a profiteering middleman standing in the way, collecting tolls. It's unfair to make taxpayers pay a second fee for access to taxpayer-funded research. Profit-seeking should not interfere with truth-seeking. Knowledge is not a commodity (just as facts are not copyrightable) and ought to be shared. Science ought to be controlled by institutions committed to the growth of knowledge, not by institutions committed to the enrichment of shareholders. Information should be free".

    In messages that I posted to the AmSci Open Access Forum in 2001, on the subject: Re: Reasons for freeing the primary research literature (17 August 2001), I mentioned four arguments why open access should be pursued: (a) The "Information gap" argument (another name for the "Fairness" or "Equitable access" argument); (b) The "Library crisis" (or "Serials crisis") argument; (c) The "Public property" (or "Public goods", or "Serve others") argument; and, (d) The "Academic freedom" argument. This latter argument hasn't been mentioned previously in these notes. The message that I posted on 17 August 2001 includes an example of a scenario in which a form of censorship, imposed by a high-impact (but toll-access) publisher, was classified as a form of infringment on academic freedom.

    Open-access journals, as an alternative to traditional toll-access (subscription-based) journals, are considered in the next sections.

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    Open-access journals #1 [last modified 27 Oct 2007]:

    Inventories of open access journals are available. Ones that have a focus on the health and medical sciences are:

    Open access journals in the health sciences: Via the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), Lund University.

    Free Medical Journals: The HardinMD site, which has an emphasis on those journals that are included in PubMed and have current issues available.

    Free Medical Journals : Promoting free access to medical journals (copyright: AmedeoGroup).

    An alternative to open access to the entire content of a journal is access to particular articles. I'm not aware of any regularly updated inventory of such journals, but a list of publishers known to provide this option is available at the Wikipedia entry for: Hybrid open access journal.

    The idea of a "transitional hybrid" TA/OA journal that provides either toll access (TA) or open access (OA) to individual articles was proposed by Thomas Walker, see: Open access by the article: an idea whose time has come?.

    A message posted on 29 June 2004 to the AmSci Open Access Forum, by the same author, on the same subject, is: Re: New SPARC/ARL/ACRL Brochure on Open Access. It provides links to some other articles by this author about the same topic.

    Additional advocacy for this "transitional" model is provided in an article, On the Transition of Journals to Open Access, by David Prosser, Director, SPARC Europe, ARL Bimonthly Report 227, April 2003.

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    Open-access journals #2 [last modified 6 Jan 2004]:

    Examples of other journal-oriented resources are:

    About HINARI: An initiative to provide open or nearly-open access to the major journals in biomedical and related social sciences, to public institutions in developing countries.

    Bioline International, a "not-for-profit electronic publishing service committed to providing access to quality research journals published in developing countries".

    SciELO: "SciELO Public Health is an electronic library online covering health science articles published by scientific journals. Its primary goal is to provide universal and integrated access to scientific journals in the health science area within Ibero-american countries."

    HighWire Press Lists: information about open access via journals published online with the assistance of HighWire Press.

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    Open-access journals #3 [last modified 4 Apr 2005]:

    A number of journals in the life sciences permit copies of research articles to be deposited (for some, after a time delay of 6 months or more) in an openly-accessible archive supported by the NIH (US), PubMed Central. PMC is a repository for peer-reviewed primary research reports in the life sciences.

    There's an openly-accessible archive for research reports pertinent to the study of cognition, Cogprints, edited by Stevan Harnad.

    There are central archives for articles in other scholarly journals, such as JSTOR - The Scholarly Journal Archive, but these repositories are not openly-accessible.

    However, a distributed system of openly-accessible archives for research reports provides an alternative to centralized archives. Such archives are considered in the next section,

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    Open-access archives #1 [last modified 2 Jul 2006]:

    About archive-oriented resources:

    The OpenDOAR Directory of Open Access Repositories lists the wide variety of Open Access research archives that have grown up around the world. One that is listed is this one:

    arXiv e-Print archive: The pioneering (and popular) set of archives for eprints in physics, mathematics, nonlinear sciences, computer science and quantitative biology.

    The arXiv repositories permit self-archiving of either non-refereed preprints, or peer-reviewed postprints (reprints). Some reasons why a "preprint culture" was successfully established in (initially) high-energy physics, and not in the biomedical sciences, are reviewed in a commentary of mine:

    Predecessors of preprint servers: An article invited by, and published in, Learned Publishing 2001(Jan); 14(1): 7-13 (but also self-archived via the arXiv server).

    An excerpt:

    "Some barriers to the development of a 'preprint culture' in the biomedical sciences are described. Multiple factors that, from the 1960s, fostered the transition from a paper-based preprint culture in high energy physics to an electronic one are also described."

    Resistance to a "preprint culture" in the biomedical sciences persists. See, for example, GAO calls for open access to education research: This is an item in Open Access News (dated 20 Nov 2003). It includes a mention, in a report issued by the US Government Accounting Office (GAO), of concerns expressed by biomedical researchers about open access to reports (such as preprints) that have not yet been peer-reviewed.

    An excerpt:

    "On the issue of open access to government-funded data, report authors had a very negative reaction from biomedical researchers at Emory University when they proposed posting all results on the World Wide Web, Cheston said. Among the major concerns were protecting patentable information, avoiding rejections from prestigious journals as a result of premature data release, and ensuring that findings have been properly vetted by peer review so that neither researchers nor the public are misled."

    Open-access archives #2 [last modified 15 Aug 2004]:

    More about archive-oriented resources: Provides links to several projects, such as GNU Eprints, CiteBase, OpCit, OAI, etc., "dedicated to opening access to the refereed research literature online through author/institution self-archiving."

    Steve Hitchcock's core meta-list of open access eprint archives: Note: Click here for the meta-list (maintained by the Open Citation Project).

    The Virtual Technical Reports Center: Eprints, preprints, & technical reports on the Web (maintained by the University of Maryland Libraries).

    E-print repository for research output at QUT: An example of a policy on use of an eprint repository for research output from Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Australia. [Mark Ware, a publishing consultant in Bristol UK, who is skeptical about the probable impact of institutional eprint repostories on OA, has noted that the widespread adoption of policies similar to that of QUT would transform the status of such repostories. See: Universities' own electronic repositories yet to impact on Open Access].

    IISc Eprints Archive. The Indian Institute of Science's institutional archive.

    An item, More on Cornell's Internet-First University Press, posted to the OA News blog on 29 February 2004, includes these comments: "Cornell University has started a publishing venture that will provide scholarly publications online free, offering readers the option to pay for a printed copy" .... "The project, called the Internet-First University Press, is one of the first to utilize DSpace, a free software tool designed by programmers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to archive scholarly works ...".

    T-Space at The University of Toronto Libraries: An example of an Institutional Repository for "capturing, preserving, distributing teaching, learning & research objects". T-Space is a community-oriented archive, also based on DSpace software. Each community (associated in some acceptable way with the University of Toronto) is largely responsible for the development and implementation of policies about what kinds of "objects" may be archived in that segment of T-Space.

    The CARL/ABRC OAI Harvester: An example of a (Canada-oriented) institutional repository search service, launched on June 14, 2004. T-Space is one of the institutional repositories which has had its contents indexed by this Harvester.

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    Open-access archives #3 [last modified 2 Jan 2006]:

    What proportion of existing journals permit the self-archiving of published articles, and/or of preprints prior to publication? The SHERPA/RoMEO project is designed to try to answer this question.

    Self-Archiving Policy By Journal This site lists which journals have and have not already given their green light to author self-archiving. It is based on data currently maintained by the SHERPA project.

    Publisher copyright policies & self-archiving: This SHERPA webpage provides access to a searchable database of publisher policies about the self-archiving of preprints and/or postprints. This information is based on the publishers' listings produced by the RoMEO project.

    Soton-RoMEO database: This webpage interprets the data from the SHERPA webpage in a simpler color-coded format [Caution: this webpage and the SHERPA webpage may not always yield identical interpretations of publisher copyright policies & self-archiving].

    An example of a journal publisher that's "as Green as Green can be" was provided by Stevan Harnad in a message sent to the AmSci OA Forum on 12 April 2005. The example is Haworth Press. The author doesn't retain copyright, but does retain the right to self-archive articles for specified non-profit uses.

    It's clear from the results of the RoMEO project that a substantial proportion of research reports could be openly accessible, if they were published in Green journals and then self-archived in a suitable repository. Institutions that provide support for the producers of research, and would prefer that the consumers of the results of that research have maximal access, should consider sponsoring such repositories. A number of Universities have already done so (see Steve Hitchcock's core meta-list of open access eprint archives).

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    Open-access archives #4 [last modified 20 Apr 2005]:

    Open access to research articles can be provided without putting them in the public domain. It's only necessary that there be no copyright or licensing restrictions ("permission barriers") that prevent open access. The Creative Commons site provides examples of licenses that authorize open access, but don't require that works be put into the public domain:

    Creative Commons Attribution Licence: The focus in on attribution; the original author of a work must be given credit.

    For a commentary on Creative Commons licences and their role in the OA movement, see: The Open Wars, in Open and Shut, Richard Poynder's blog, March 28 2005. An excerpt: "The appeal of Creative Commons lies in the way it separates out the various rights associated with copyright and allows creators to specify those rights they want to keep and those they are happy to waive, but within a set of parameters that they themselves defin".

    A section of Peter Suber's notes about "What you can do to promote open access" provides links to some model author/journal agreements.

    Other examples of models for publication agreements:

    ALPSP Guidelines: Via the website of The Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP). See, in particular, the ALPSP model Grant of Licence [PDF, 30 KB].

    College and Research Libraries: Provides access to a short Author Agreement [PDF, 9 KB]. Authors retain copyright, but transfer distribution rights to the publisher.

    Model for a licence to publish [PDF, 110 KB]: Via the website of Lund University, Sweden (an agreement that includes the right to self-archiving and re-use of papers in electronic versions of dissertations).

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    Pages on the surface web #1 [last modified 4 Apr 2005]:

    A seemingly-simple alternative to the "High Roads" of OA journals or OA archives is the "Low Road". This is a route to free access (but not to well-organized "open access", see above for comments about definitions of OA). The "Low Road" involves the posting of an eprint on a page on the "surface web" (a webpage that isn't on the "deep web", and can easily be harvested by popular search engines, such as Google; harvesting can occur within weeks).

    This "Low Road" alternative merits attention, mainly because of evidence obtained from a major survey of 4,000 senior researchers from 97 countries (18 March 2004), see: Ciber releases major survey of author attitudes. Two excerpts:

    "The key sticking point for commercial open access publishing is that there seems to be great resistance, both in principle and in practice, to the question of author payment ('can't pay won't pay' seems to be the message)".

    "Older, more senior authors, seem much more wedded to the traditional subscription print-based model than their younger peers. These authors are more likely to self-publish on the web and to feel more positively towards the open access movement".

    One of the major drawbacks of the "Low Road" is that many surface webpages aren't stable, and may suffer "link rot", in that the original link (URL) to the page is no longer active. However, after some delay (months?), it's possible that a more stable version may be harvested by the Internet Archive, and thus may continue to be freely-accessible via a more stable link.

    Another major drawback of the "Low Road" strategy is that it lacks the advantages provided by the Open Access Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH). A well-balanced discussion of this issue has been provided by Peter Suber, in a section of his SPARC Open Access Newsletter, issue #73, May 3, 2004, The case for OAI in the age of Google. Some excerpts, about open-access, OAI-compliant (OA-OAI) archives:

    "When asked about archiving inertia, some faculty say that putting an eprint on a personal web site is just as good as putting it in an OAI-compliant archive. Google will find an eprint on a personal web site and make it visible to those who might need it for their research. Let's look at this one more closely". ...

    "But this is key: OA-OAI archiving and Google indexing are completely compatible. We can do both, and we should. That's the main reason why I'm not going to choose between them".

    "If the OA-OAI archive where you might want to deposit your eprint is in the deep web, then the Google crawler would not normally find it. To get the benefit of Google indexing on top of OAI indexing, you'd have to deposit the eprint in an archive and put another copy somewhere on the surface web, such as your personal web site".

    The "Low Road" is the obvious route to prefer for those researchers and scholars who don't have OA repositories available to them in their institutions or disciplines. Peter Suber has pointed out that the "missing piece of the puzzle is an OAI-compliant 'universal repository' that will accept eprints from any scholar in any discipline". As noted in a message sent to the SPARC Open Access Forum (SOAF) on 3 Apr 2005, plans are being made to launch just such a repository, via Brewster Kahle's Internet Archive.

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    Pages on the surface web #2 [last modified 13 Apr 2005]:

    The strategy proposed above by Peter Suber (deposit the eprint in an OAI-compliant archive and put another copy somewhere on the surface web) is exactly the one that I've used for an invited, peer-reviewed and edited commentary that was published in Journal of Cancer Integrative Medicine 2004(Winter); 2(1): 21-24, Cancer-related electronic support groups as navigation-aids: Overcoming geographic barriers. As noted above, there's also a version, in PDF, in Cogprints, an OA-OAI electronic archive,

    For a response to Peter Suber's appraisal, by Stevan Harnad (4 May, 2004) see: Re: Scientometric OAI Search Engines. An excerpt:

    "Without the tags, google will still find an article if it's OA, and PageRank will get it to the top of the hit list, but it definitely will not be the same as searching all and only journal articles. There will be other look-alike junk too, and PageRank will not be infallible in shuffling it to the bottom of the hit list".

    For peer-reviewed articles in health-related fields of research, the results of Google searches, based on the PageRank algorithm, can be compared with the results of searches of the PubMed database. Rita Vine, a professional librarian, has posted a short commentary about such a comparison, Just Because It's Indexed Doesn't Mean You'll Find It (SiteLines, May 2004).

    Some brief excerpts: "Since sometime in 2002, Google has indexed a significant portion of the PubMed database" ... "Google weights certain domains, like, and more heavily and as a result the search results aren't completely overwhelmed by .com medical sites" ... "individual PubMed citations are hardly ever linked by other web pages, and as a result they receive a low PageRank in Google. The net effect? The low-ranked PubMed results sink to the bottom of Google's search results list for practically any medical topic".

    Assignment of a higher Google PageRank to some selected domains may also explain an unexpected result I've obtained (a high initial page rank acquired within days after an eprint of mine was posted in the Cogprints archive). This unexpected result is mentioned in a message of mine posted to the American Scientist Open Access Forum (AmSci OA Forum) on 26 April 2004, Re: How to compare research impact of toll- vs. open-access research. This result is from my small experiment on the self-archiving of more than one OA version of the same commentary, published in the (toll-access) Journal of Cancer Integrative Medicine 2004(Winter); 2(1): 21-24. (See also comments in the latter part of a section above, about the evaluation of ESGs).

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    Pages on the surface web #3 [last modified 2 Jan 2005]:

    It seems likely that the weight given by search engines to online academic material will continue to evolve rapidly. See, for example, an item posted by Peter Suber to the OA News blog on 17 May 2004, More on the Google and Yahoo efforts to index OA scholarship, which includes a comment attributed to Herbert Van de Sompel (a researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory who has designed software to help search engines find academic material): "These search engines are now in competition for quality content rather than just quantity in their search result".

    Condemnations of pages openly available on the surface web as "junk", in comparison with articles published in peer-reviewed journals, might have less credibility if strategies of the kind outlined in a previous section (about combining Google indexing with OAI indexing) were to become more popular. Perhaps the beta version of Google Scholar might be regarded as a significant step in this direction? (See also below).

    In this context, a noteworthy perspective has been provided (at the Nature website, April 2004) by Jon Kleinberg, Analysing the scientific literature in its online context.

    The first paragraph of this (openly-accessible) article:

    "The free versus fee debate over access to the scientific literature is a lively one, but it is also important to keep in mind the bigger picture, that the Internet is bringing about a much broader evolution in the way scientists work and communicate. Information and value increasingly lies not just in the published article but in relationships between articles, in the links among authors and papers, and in less formal communication among users and communities through Weblogs (or 'blogs'), listservs, home pages and other sources on the Web".

    This interesting debate, about networking and about linkages between formal publications in journals and more informal communcation, can be expected to continue. Health-related ESGs (as emphasized in these notes) provide examples of various constructive ways in which such informal communication is occurring.

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    Pages on the surface web #4 [last modified 27 Apr 2005]:

    Search engines also continue to evolve. In November of 2004, Google launched a beta version of Google Scholar. Its evolution will be followed with great interest.

    For example, when Google Scholar was used, on 3 Jan, 2005, for a search with the key words "Cancer-related electronic support groups", two results were obtained. Both were links to versions of my article, "Cancer-related electronic support groups as navigation-aids: Overcoming geographic barriers", published in Journal of Cancer Integrative Medicine 2004(Winter); 2(1): 21-24 [I've retained copyright].

    The first link was to the Cogprints version, in PDF in an OA archive. The second was to the Tripod version, in HTML on the surface web. It's noteworthy that Google Scholar also identified, as part of the second result, another copy of the HTML version that I had posted on the surface web, via a website supported by an Internet Service Provider that I use. This is the Interlog version. It's also noteworthy that another copy of the Tripod version has been harvested by the Internet Archive, and dated 18 April 2004. One can only speculate about which version will turn out to be the most stable one. For example, which will be the more stable archive - the Cogprints repository, or the Internet Archive?

    An example of a scientifically-oriented commercial search engine is Elsevier's Scirus. A search, using Scirus, with the key words "Cancer-related electronic support groups" yielded (on 27 Apr 2005) two versions of my commentary in Journal of Cancer Integrative Medicine. Scirus searches the Web, together with a selected set of existing OA archives.

    Concepts about journals also continue to evolve. An example is provided by the concept of "overlay journals". Jean-Claude Guédon, in an article entitled "The 'Green' and 'Gold' Roads to Open Access: The Case for Mixing and Matching", in Serials Review 2004; 30(4): 315-318, suggests that one way they may begin to emerge is via a "consortium-based network of repositories".

    Jean-Claude Guédon emphasizes the importance of accessibility. "For example, it [accessibility] can involve the ease, including psychological ease, with which a reader both retrieves information and navigates in it".

    A detailed (and, in its full version, very long!) critique by Stevan Harnad of Jean-Claude Guédon's article in Serials Review is available via a message sent to the AmSci OA Forum on 27 Dec 2004, Critique of J-C Guedon's Serials Review article. [A shorter version of the critique is available via Ariadne, 2005(Jan); Issue 42, and a response from Jean-Claude Guédon is available via another message sent to the AmSci OA Forum on 23 Jan 2005].

    In the longer version of his critique, Stevan Harnad comments on "accessibility" (identified by him with "ease-of-access"). An excerpt: Accessibility is a necessary precondition for ease-of-access, and inaccessibility is what OA is concerned to remedy; no amount of increase in the ease-of-access to the accessible will remedy the inaccessibility of the inaccessible".

    However, wide awareness of the ease-of-access provided by Google Scholar, combined with its attention to the contents of both the surface web and OA repositories, may mean that the stability of archives or repositories is the most crucial issue, over the longer term. If one assumes that universities are exceptionally stable institutions (probably more stable than the Internet Archive?), and that libraries will continue to be stable components of universities, then a network of university-based OA repostories continues to be attactive - more attractive than the surface web - as crucial infrastructure for the archiving of scholarly publications.

    It seems likely that diverse approaches to OA, and to ease-of-access (probably with considerable variation from discipline to discipline) will be tested for some time to come. For example, Peter Suber has provided an insightful analysis, Promoting Open Access in the Humanities, of why OA in the humanities isn't moving as quickly as OA in the sciences.

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    Knowledge transfer and exchange (KTE) #1 [last modified 5 May 2005]:

    It was pointed out above that one of the arguments in support of OA is the contribution that OA can make to enhanced knowledge transfer. From studies of "knowledge transfer and exchange" (KTE), several models of knowledge utilization have emerged, such as the "Science-push model" (researchers push results toward users), the "Demand-pull model" (users direct research, e.g. via contracts), the "Dissemination model" (where a dissemination step is added to the research process) and the "Interactive model", where "...the more sustained and intense the the interactions between researchers and users, the more likely there will be utilization... [of knowledge]. See: Landry R et al, "Utilization of social science research knowledge in Canada", preprint, dated November 1998, of an article published in Research Policy 2001; 30: 333-349.

    If a major goal of the OA movement is to foster utilization of knowledge about OA, then some crucial "users" of knowledge about OA are: a) other researchers and scholars who are not yet knowledgeable about open access; b) Funding agencies, which support research and scholarship and would prefer that it be utilized as much as possible; c) Institutions, such as universities and research institutes, which also would prefer that the research and scholarship that they support should have as much impact as possible. See, for example, Stevan Harnad, Re: What Provosts Need to Mandate, 5 May 2005].

    Most models of KTE (or, "knowledge translation", as it's often referred to in the health sciences literature) identify similar elements, and no one model has been generally accepted as superior. [See: The role of knowledge translation for cancer control in Canada, by Eva Grunfeld and colleagues, Chronic Dis Can. 2004(Spring); 25(2):1-6].

    Might evidence from research on KTE be helpful in efforts to foster OA? For example, various approaches to changing clinical practice have ranged from educational approaches, through approaches based on rational arguments and organizational change, to coercive approaches that focus on pressure and control. However, perhaps the most practical advice at the present time is to remind advocates of change that they need to be "aware of their own assumptions about human behaviour and change" [Richard Grol, Beliefs and evidence in changing clinical practice Br Med J 1997; 315(7105): 418-21].

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    Knowledge transfer and exchange (KTE) #2 [last modified 3 May 2005]:

    Richard Grol and Michel Wensing have noted that "In attempting to categorise the determinants for change, two complementary approaches may be used, the first focusing on characteristics of individual professionals and the second on interpersonal factors and system characteristics", What drives change? Barriers to and incentives for achieving evidence-based practice, Med J Aust. 2004 Mar 15;180(6 Suppl):S57-60.

    From a perspective of OA advocacy, the "individual professionals" are all researchers and scholars, and two major relevant "systems" are the institutions and funders that support these researchers and scholars. To foster change, specific obstacles to change are identified, at both the individual and systems levels, and stepwise strategies designed to overcome these obstacles are developed and evaluated. [See Richard Grol, Beliefs and evidence in changing clinical practice.]

    The major obstacle to fostering OA is probably the knowledge, attitudes and behaviors of researchers and scholars. As noted above, data reported in March 2004 indicated that, at that time, "Levels of awareness of the kinds of issues that are the focus of publishing seminars and library conferences are really surprisingly low among the research community". How best to increase such levels of awareness? Some of the experiments that are now under way have been outlined in these notes.

    See below for some suggestions for researchers, their funding agencies and their host institutions.

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    Concluding comments #1 [last modified 16 May 2004]:

    On the topic in "micro-level" Internet research ethics that's addressed in these notes ("list mining"): What might be done to seek a reasonable balance between respect for persons participating in ESGs, and freedom of inquiry?

    Some suggestions:

    For researchers: Whenever possible, establish a distinct ESG, designed for research purposes, with well-defined criteria for inclusion into, or exclusion from, participation in this particular ESG. (And, of course, prior to the enrolment of any participants, seek the approval of the proposed research protocol by a REB/IRB).

    If it's not appropriate, for the purposes of the proposed research, to establish a distinct ESG, then my own view, quoted from an eprint of mine, is that "participants in ESGs should sometimes be regarded as research subjects, sometimes as authors, and sometimes as members of a community. Perhaps most often, they should be regarded as some combination of all three, depending on the context and the preferences of the individual ESG participants. Above all, the Belmont principle of respect for persons should prevail".

    For list-owners: Be aware of the possibility that the list may be used for list mining. At a minimum, guidelines for participants should be provided, and participants should be reminded of these guidelines on a regular basis (e.g. monthly).

    For members of an REB/IRB: Be aware of the possibility that those members most familiar with Internet-based research may have a bias in favor of "freedom of inquiry", in relation to information that's accessible online.

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    Concluding comments #2 [last modified 25 Oct 2007]:

    On the topic in "macro-level" Internet research ethics that's addressed in these notes ("open access"): Several arguments are outlined above in support of open access to the peer-reviewed research literature. The include the Academic freedom, Fairness (or Equitable access, or Information gap), Global health, Impact, Innovation, Knowledge growth, Knowledge transfer, Pragmatic, Public goods (or Public property or Serve others), Serials crisis (or Library crisis), and Taxpayer arguments (see Index). From a principle-based research-ethics perspective, a majority of these arguments are derived from the Beneficence principle (maximize possible benefits and minimize possible harms) described in the Belmont Report. However, the Belmont principles of Justice (or, fairness in distribution) and Respect for Persons (and, especially, respect for taxpayers!) are also represented.

    What more can be done to foster OA? Some suggestions are:

    For researchers: Be aware that evidence is accumulating that openly-accessible research articles are likely to have substantially more impact than those that require toll-access. If you cannot identify an appropriate open-access journal, then negotiate with an appropriate toll-access journal to retain copyright, and/or to retain the right to post a final (or with only minor differences from the final) electronic version in a durable non-profit archive, such as one hosted by the library at one's own host institution, or by another stable institution, foundation, trust, or other (preferably, non-profit, to minimize costs) agency or organization.

    For example, as noted above, I've self-archived versions of an invited, peer-reviewed and edited commentary (on ESGs) at a stable OAI-compliant archive, (the Cogprints version), and also at a stable (advertisement-supported) site on the surface Web (the Tripod version). This latter version is archived in the Internet Archive (dated April 18, 2004): Version in the Internet Archive. For more information about such a combined strategy, involving both OAI-compliant archives and the surface web, see above, Pages on the surface web #1.

    A reference to the original published version should be included in all archived versions. In addition, it's good practice to include, in any archived version, a statement about copyright, which includes any conditions (or permission barriers) relevant to the use of an openly-accessible archived version (see above, Open-access archives #4).

    For funding agencies: Preferably, require that researchers, whose research has been supported by your agency, make their research reports openly accessible, within a defined time interval (such as 6 months) via open-access journals or open-access archives (see the sections above, about each of these strategies of achieving open access). At the very least, have a policy that permits grantees to use funds from grants to pay for any additional costs involved in providing open access to their research reports. A concise summary of suggestions for foundations and research funding agencies has been provided by Peter Suber.

    For host institutions: Develop and implement policies that foster open access to reports of research carried out by members of your institution. In addition, develop and implement policies designed to foster the use of records of these reports as one basis for evaluation of the contributions of these members to "global knowledge transfer".

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    Concluding comments #3 [last modified 25 Feb 2005]:

    At first glance, there might seem to be little to connect the issue in "micro-level" Internet research ethics considered in these notes ("list-mining") with the issue in "macro-level" research ethics that's also considered ("open access"). Why not deal with them as completely separate topics?

    To begin to answer this question, one must first define "Internet research". A definition provided by the Wikipedia (see also is: "Internet research is the practice of using the Internet for research. To the extent that the Internet is widely and readily accessible to hundreds of millions of people, in many parts of the world, and can provide practically instant information on most topics, it has a profound impact on the way in which ideas are formed and knowledge is created".

    The same sources note that "research" is a broad term, "used loosely to include any activity where a topic is identified, and an effort is made to actively gather information for the purpose of furthering understanding (no matter how trivial-seeming the subject)".

    This definition of Internet research places emphasis on "the way in which ideas are formed and knowledge is created", that is, on knowledge growth. However, it's increasingly being recognized that the creation of new knowledge needs to be complemented by effective approaches to knowledge transfer, that is, the dissemination of new and existing knowledge, see above.

    If the purpose of research is to further understanding, not just for a privileged elite, but as widely as possible, then an appropriate ethical framework for this concept of research is one where participation is preferred over exclusion, and democratic approaches are preferred over authoritarian ones.

    David M. Berry has argued for "the principles of 'open source ethics' in researching the online world, which includes a participatory and democratic research method". See: Berry DM, Internet research: privacy, ethics and alienation: an open source approach. Internet Research 2004; 14(4): 323-332, [PDF], already quoted above.

    David Berry outlines the conceptual basis for an "open source ethics", and applies it to the kind of micro-level Internet research ethics that's considered in these notes. My own conclusion is that this same conceptual framework can also be applied to "open access" macro-level research ethics, and thus, can provide an appropriate conceptual linkage between these two levels of Internet research ethics. From this point of view, more than mere semantics links the research ethics of the publication of research done on-line with the research ethics of the online publication of research done.

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    Further reading [last modified 2 Sep 2006]:

    An "open source ethics" could be regarded as a specific example of a more general "ethics of sharing". For some perspectives on the broader implications of an "ethics of sharing", see: Property & Commons: Some Good Reads, via David Bollier's blog, 23 Feb 2005.

    An excerpt: "First, what a welcome development that mainstream economists are starting to pay some attention to Yochai Benkler's explorations about the economics of sharing. The Economist (February 3, 2005) expresses some surprise at the idea that 'social sharing' via electronic networks has become a potent sector of economic production right up there with markets and the state".

    An excerpt from the article in The Economist, February 3, 2005: "The characteristics of information-be it software, text or even biotech research-make it an economically obvious thing to share. It is a 'non-rival' good: ie, your use of it does not interfere with my use".

    The ultimate scarce resource for which research reports are competing is probably reader attention ("eyeballs"). Andrew Odlyzko has paid careful attention to this issue, from an economics perspective. See, for example, Why electronic publishing means people will pay different prices, Odlyzko AM, Nature web forum, Access to the literature: The debate continues, March 25, 2004. An excerpt: "The easy accessibility of open access articles should also be an important advantage in competing for reader attention".

    Herbert Simon was perhaps the first person to articulate the concept of "attention economics". In 1971, he wrote: "What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it".

    What should be borne in mind, when considering the economics of articles published in peer-reviewed research journals, is that they are "author give-aways", with no expectation of revenues. This point has been made forcefully by Stevan Harnad. See, for example, [BOAI] Re: Open Access vs Copyleft?, BOAI Forum, 25 Feb 2005.

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