The University of Southampton

Liège University awards honorary doctorate to Stevan Harnad

Published: 23 September 2013

For his two decades of contributions to Open Access, Stevan Harnad, Professor of Computer Science in Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton, is to be awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Liège in Belgium on Wednesday 25 September.

In 1994, the year he came to the University of Southampton, Stevan Harnad launched his "Subversive Proposal", which helped lead to what eventually became the worldwide Open Access (OA) movement. The proposal was that all scholars and scientists should post their peer-reviewed articles free for all online. The proposal was only heeded by a minority even within his own field of cognitive sciences, and even after he commissioned an ECS graduate student in 1997 to create CogPrints, an OA repository for cognitive science papers from all over the world, hosted by Southampton.

So in 1999 Stevan commissioned an ECS postgraduate student to convert CogPrints into free, open source generic software -- EPrints -- with which every university could create its own repository in which it could make its own research output OA. EPrints has since been adopted and emulated worldwide, but the repositories (all registered in the Registry of Open Access Repositories [ROAR] (created and hosted by Southampton) still remained largely empty of their intended OA contents.

In 2001, based on the finding of Lawrence reported in Nature, that computer science articles that were made freely accessible online were cited much more than those that were not, Stevan launched a series of studies (as part of the JISC-funded Open Journals and Open Citation Linking projects in ECS) that tested and demonstrated that the same OA citation advantage occurs in all disciplines. But even the prospect of enhanced citation impact was still not enough to induce more than a minority of researchers worldwide to self-archive their articles, so in 2003, the Head of ECS, Wendy Hall, adopted the world's first OA self-archiving mandate, requiring that all ECS article output be self-archived in the ECS OA repository.

And it worked: Since then almost 100% of ECS research output is OA (and enjoying the citation advantage). But what about the rest of the world -- or even the rest of the University of Southampton? (The world’s first university-wide OA self-archiving mandate was adopted by Queensland University of Technology in Australia, also in 2003, and Europe’s first was adopted by the University of Minho in Portugal, in 2004).

In 2004 the Parliamentary Select Committee on Science and Technology called for evidence on OA. The Committee’s resulting recommendation was that all UK universities and funding councils should mandate OA self-archiving, just as ECS had urged and done. In the ensuing years OA self-archiving mandates were adopted by additional UK universities (including Southampton)as well as all the RCUK funding councils, all registered in the Registry of Open Access Repository Mandatory Archiving Policies (ROARMAP), created and hosted by Southampton.

But both worldwide and in the UK, the adoption was still only by a minority, and most of the mandates were too weak, being intimidated by publisher embargoes on OA. So Stevan designed a new mandate that would be immune to publisher embargoes and could be adopted by all universities and funders, by separating the date of the deposit itself, which has to be immediate, from the date of setting access to the deposit as OA, which may be delayed if the author wishes to comply with a publisher embargo. In 2006 Stevan again commissioned the design of an eprint-request Button for repositories that allows users to request, and authors to provide, a free eprint of any deposited article for research purposes with one click each. This "Almost OA" Button not only tides over research access needs during any embargo, but it provides a mandate model that can be adopted by all universities and funders, irrespective of publisher embargoes.

The other component in this strengthened OA mandate was to stipulate immediate-deposit as the sole mechanism for submitting publications for institutional performance review, research assessment or research funding.

In 2006, the University of Liege became the first university to adopt this mandate model (coupled with a complementary mandate by the Belgian funding council, FNRS in 2011) and this mandate model proved extremely effective, generating deposit rates of over 85%, sustained now for over half a decade.

But while Stevan was promoting adoption or upgrading to this optimal mandate worldwide, the UK's Finch Committee in 2012 -- under the influence of the publishing lobby -- suddenly recommended a U-Turn in UK OA policy, away from requiring self-archiving (“Green OA”) toward instead publishing in journals that make their own articles OA (“Gold OA”) -- for a substantial fee. And that fee would have to be paid to publishers (out of already scarce UK research funds) over and above what the UK is already paying publishers for subscription access, using the UK's already scarce research funds, and abrogating authors’ free choice of journal.

RCUK adopted the Finch model mandate, despite outrage in all sectors (except publishers) in the UK, and no uptake outside the UK. This would effectively have made the UK lose the worldwide leadership in OA that it has exerted since 2003, but fortunately HEFCE came to the rescue in 2013, recommending the adoption of the immediate-deposit mandate for REF2020; and only a few weeks ago a BIS Select Committee also strongly seconded the immediate-deposit mandate while strongly recommending that the 2012 Finch/RCUK policy be upgraded to this mandate. If the RCUK does as Liege and Belgium have done, then the rest of the world is very likely to follow suit, and global OA will not be far behind.

It is for his role in this two-decade sequence of events that the University of Liege is awarding Stevan an honorary doctorate next week.

Together with the ECS Web Science Group, Stevan is organizing an International Summer Institute on "Web Science and the Mind" in Montreal in July 2014 at the Université du Québec à Montréal (where he is also Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Sciences) which will feature the leading researchers in Web Science presenting the new possibilities opening up in an Open Access world.

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