A history of complexity science
A history of complexity science (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently, Todd Carpenter posted a penetrating Kitchen article discussing the fact that PLoSSPARC, and the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA) have collaborated to develop a visual guide to the spectrum of OA options entitled “How Open Is It?  The main component of the document is a table showing various types of openness a publisher might provide. Each of these types is then described on a scale of more or less open versus closed access.

Todd’s specific focus was on reuse policies, but he notes that the overall goal of this document is to reduce confusion by clarifying the meaning of OA, because OA comes in many forms. Since confusion due to complexity is my field, I decided to make a few observations, which mostly involve quantifying the complexity, especially in the context of designing a journal publishing system. Understanding why an issue is complex is often helpful.

To begin with, the table includes six columns, each of which is supposed to be a type of potential openness. These range from the familiar use of embargoes and gold OA all the way to the rather esoteric issue of degrees of machine readability. For each column there is one case deemed closed access, plus either three or four options which are said to display progressive degrees of openness. I call this sort of thing an essential variable analysis (EVA) because every publisher has to choose a case from each of these variables when designing their system for a given journal, or a set of journals. In fact, EVA is typical for any design problem.

So we see that there are six variables (the columns) and either four or five cases for each variable. Choosing one case from each column defines a possible design for a journal or system of journals. Assuming the cases are all independent of one another, we find there are a whopping 8,000 different possible combinations, each combination a possible publishing system design. Mathematically, this is basically a six dimensional matrix. In reality, some choices constrain others, but if anything these constraints make the design problem more complex, not less.

Moreover, there are probably a number of significant dimensions that are not included. Some of the cases are probably dimensions in their own right, or at least under-represented. For example, only two embargo periods are included, namely six and 12 months. In contrast, existing journals and journal systems have embargo periods ranging from two months to over 30, all of which are viable degrees of openness. This complex flexibility is not shown.

Likewise, hybrid journals are listed as a single case, even though the degree of openness varies widely, depending on the percentage of open articles. Also, hybrids are ranked as less open than a 12-month embargo period, but it is arguable that having many articles available immediately is more open than having all available only after waiting a year. More deeply, combining gold and green OA in a single column dimension is probably wrong. Hybrids may be the road to gold OA, while embargoes are not.

Perhaps many of the columns and cases are like this — multi-dimensional or poorly represented. But I leave that judgment to the subject matter experts. The point is that OA design is far more complex than this table suggests.

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13 Thoughts on "Quantifying OA Complexity"

Open access is not complex and should not be ‘complexified’. It just means ocular as well as machine access and full re-use possibilities, subject only to proper attribution. Anything other is not open access. And if there is an embargo, the content is simply not open access until after the embargo is expired. And ‘hybrid’ is not a property of open access at all, but a property of journals that have a proportion of articles in them that have the property ‘open access’. Similarly, copyright (also in the proposed spectrum) is not an open access issue. It can be owned by the autor or by the publisher and if the article is proper open access, whoever owns the copyright is completely irrelevant. Also, green OA and Gold OA don’t exist. They are just strategies to achieve OA. There is just open access literature and non-open access literature. Conceptual simplification is needed; not complexification.

You may well be right as far as the pure concept is concerned and you should make this point to SPARC, as I think they are taking comments on the draft until 5pm today. But the complex array of journal design options which I am discussing are all real.

I am not certain that the rest of the world agrees with your definition, Jan, of “Open Access” as only applying to content that is released under an attribution-only license.

This is the rub of my previous post on the Kitchen. If the definition of Open Access is defined as being content that is available for completely unfettered use and reuse, I expect that few would be interested in producing content under the definition that you propose. While “Open Access” that is simply defined, it doesn’t capture all of the nuance that content creators may want to apply to their content. For these reasons, CC-0 or CC-BY seems to be an odd approach for the vast majority of content.

I note that it is interesting that proponents of Open Access have expanded their definition of what constitutes OA from their original definition. Notably, the original definition of the Budapest OA declaration states: “The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited.” See: http://www.soros.org/openaccess/read So, the original definition did include control over reuse and integrity of the content produced.

Making ‘open access’ a catch-all renders it a completely meaningless concept.

And giving authors “control over the integrity of their work” is not giving them control over reuse. Integrity and reuse are different concepts that should not be conflated. The requirement for proper acknowledgement is there, inter alia, to prevent reuse that violates the work’s integrity. And also copyright, in open access articles mostly held by the author, ensures integrity.

I am aware that some open access proponents have expanded their definition of open access. I disagree with them. I understand and accept the desire, possibly the need, for pragmatic concessions, even expediency, but not for revisionism. If a publication can’t be true open access for whatever reason, it would be intellectually honest to say that “it isn’t quite open access but at least it may be something of value to the scientific community”. Or words to that effect.

I think SPARC is well aware of my views. I’m sure you’re right that the complex array of journal design options is real. But that doesn’t make those options open access. If a matrix of options were to be constructed it should expose elements such as thinly veiled open access denialism, pseudo-open access, open access fakery, and delusions of open access and subscriptions existing together for the same content. All seemingly part of the “design options”. They are not “viable degrees of open access” — open access is a binary concept: a scientific article is either open or it is not.

First of all, you are talking about articles while SPARC and I are talking about journals. Second, your binary concept is not the one in ordinary use. Yours is a technical special meaning. No wonder there is so much confusion.

My definition is not a “technical special meaning”, but one taken from the Budapest Open Access Initiative where it was first defined (though it had already been in use by BioMed Central for about half a year before that).

The BOAI says that “By ‘open access’ to this [scholarly] literature, we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited.”

Confusion has arisen due to subsequent adulteration of the concept of open access. Admittedly by publishers as well as by some OA-advocates. And open access is a property of articles; not of journals or publishers. This was made clear already in the Bethesda Statement on Open Access in 2003: http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/bethesda.htm#definition

“My” (i.e. the BOAI) definition of open access is adhered to by the largest open access publishers PLOS, BMC, Hindawi, and many other, smaller ones, as well as by publishers such as Springer for the OA articles in their hybrid journals. True open access according to the BOAI definition is recognisable by articles being covered by the CC-BY licence. Far from a “technical special meaning”.

BOAI does not own the English language, where OA has become a term in ordinary language. For example, I have been using the term for a year or more and I never read the BOAI manifesto. You should focus on advocating the BOAI version of OA rather than making semantic claims.

Your comment can be applied to any definition of any concept in any context. If the definition of open access should be a semantic claim (which I contest — it is an assertion), then obviously only in the context of scholarly publications. I understand your confusion about the term open access if you’ve only been using it (and presumably been aware of it?) since a year, after the original definition in the context of scholarly publishing already had been adulterated.

I am not confused, Jan. Concept analysis is my field, basically the method of applied analytical philosophy. And yes, this is true of all concepts in ordinary language, that they mean what people generally mean when they use the term. The term OA does not mean whatever definition BOAI adopted. I doubt it has a definition as most ordinary concepts do not. Language is not that precise.

Precisely *because* language is not precise, a definition helps to disambiguate terms. Where would science be without definitions? And even ‘ordinary concepts’ benefit from clear definitions lest communication, let alone reasoning, using ‘common’ language descend into total gibberish, for lack of commonality.

A case in point is ‘applied analytic(al) philosophy. That could do with an unambiguous definition or at least knowing the definition you adhere to. Without knowing what you mean by it, I cannot usefully place your ‘concept analysis’. Formal concept analysis, as used for reasoning, is dependent on precise ontological ordering (latticing) of concepts in order to remove as much ambiguity as possible, in order to make reasoning possible.

The confusion — which is rife — about open access would be a lot less if a common definition were a reference point. As a friend, highly knowledgeable in semantics, expresses what’s going on: “Expand it [the definition of open access] to the point where it doesn’t work, then blame it for not working.”

BOAI is a manifesto and this is not science, it is about science. You cannot impose your politics on the language. You should simply say this what you want OA to be, not this is what the word must mean. In either case, calling those who do not agree with you names does not further your cause.

Perhaps a brief explanation of my work will help me make my point. Analytical philosophy is based on the idea that the classic philosophical problems are due to conceptual confusions, so the method taught is concept analysis looking for confusion and that is my training. Early on I was involved in some major Federal policy issues because of my prior engineering work and I discovered that these policy issues included significant conceptual confusions. So I switched from philosophy to policy analysis, but I was still doing concept analysis. Here is a 1980 article describing my early work:

By this time I had developed a diagnostic system of 126 kinds of confusion, plus the issue tree method for mapping complex issues, which greatly facilitates the identification of confusions. My focus was US federal regulations because most major new laws and regulations include extensive definitions sections which create new technical legal concepts. For example, the term pollution under the US Clean Air Act has a technical meaning that is far from the ordinary language meaning.

I go where the confusions are and open access is a great case. I have done staff work for both of the US Federal working groups on open access issues. The BOAI definition is a proposed legal definition which might well be included in a new law. As such it is debatable, just as all proposed policies are debatable. It is not however an analysis of the ordinary language concept of open access, because it is far too technical for that. The BOAI definition is a specific policy proposal, neither more nor less.

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