The Open Access (OA) debate is a sea of confusion. These confusions take many forms but the deepest by far is the large number of contradictory models that fall under the term “open access.” When different people use the same words to mean very different things confusion is inevitable. Here is a short list of some of the many OA models that I have observed in the mix:
- Freely available journal paid for by author publication charges (APCs).
- Free available journal with no APCs, paid for by institution or funding agency grant.
- Immediate deposit in a repository, or web posting of freely available article which also appears in a subscription journal.
- Immediate deposit in a repository, or web posting of freely available article with no subsequent publication in a subscription journal.
- Delayed free access to the article in a journal after an embargo period.
- Delayed free access to the article in a repository after an embargo period.
And that’s just a sampling that addresses the question of access. Combine those with all of the different views on copyright and licensing for reuse, and you have an extremely complex matrix. Note that every one of the access models listed above already exists to a significant degree. Plus there is a lot of experimentation going on, which is good, even exciting.
The confusion comes into play in the policy domain where many voices are calling for government mandated open access. But different people are actually calling for very different things using the same language. The result is a great policy muddle.
There is a proper use of the term “open access” which is to refer to the social movement calling for it. But using that term as though it referred to an actual goal or outcome is hopelessly ambiguous and merely adds to the confusion. Using terms like gold OA and green OA does not resolve this confusion because there are not just two kinds of OA, as the incomplete list above makes clear. For each item on our list there are many possible varieties, so a full listing would be enormous.
The point is that it is not clear what we are talking about when we talk about OA and that needs to be recognized. In my taxonomy of confusions open access is what I call a poorly defined concept. This is arguably the worst confusion one can have because it infects everything that is said. That is why it is in the upper left hand corner of my matrix.
Social movements often depend on grand sounding but poorly defined concepts. The fact that the bedfellows are actually speaking different languages goes unnoticed and helps them get along and drive initial progress. It is only when the time comes for actual action that the confusion surfaces and that is where we are today.