World Congress on Health Information and Libraries
66 Steps

The Salvador Declaration

The conference ended as it had begun -- a long row of notables up on the big stage, making speeches about how grand it all was.  This time, however, Bruce was among them, which made the thing more amusing.  (As chair of the health libraries sector of IFLA, he was instrumental in getting the conference to Brazil in the first place.  But they hadn't told him he needed to be up on the platform for the closing until the day before, and he didn't know he was expected to speak until they moved the microphone in his direction.  He did a very nice job).    The Australian reps (assisted by Bruce) did the drawing for the big stuffed koala that everyone had been lusting after during the conference and that gave it a more festive air as well.

The main business of the closing was the "Salvador Declaration on Open Access: The Developing World Perspective", a copy of which we were all handed as we came into the hall.  Open access was one of the dominant themes of the conference, and this declaration was the result of the "parallel conference" on open access that was going on at the same time (it remains unclear to me what the relationship between the two is/was).   It was presented to the rest of the congress to resounding applause, and I suppose will be quoted hereafter as one more building block (or paving stone?) along the Gold Road.

There was a greater sense of urgency to the open access discussions here than I typically find in the US.  It was a stark reminder of just how great the gulf in access to information between the developed and developing worlds still is, operations like HINARI notwithstanding.  The delegates from Africa and Asia and throughout Latin America perceive themselves to be  so far behind the US and Europe, and they see better access to information as a key element in economic and social development.   A system of open access seems even more self-evidently the right thing to do for many of them than it does to the PLoS folks.  And when you look at it from their perspective, the need is pretty compelling.

What I did not see discussed, however, was much in the way of practical approaches to getting there, and of course that's the hang up.  The Salvador declaration calls upon "governments to make Open Access a high priority in science policies" and on "all stakeholders in the international community to work together to ensure that scientific information is openly accessible and freely available to all, forever."  The devil is in the details, and there is a far greater sense here that government ought to just "solve" the problem than one sees back home.

At the plenary on Friday morning, Jan Velterop spoke about the Springer Open Choice option (he's now employed in promoting that.)  It is still very difficult for me to take that program seriously and even Velterop didn't sound all that enthusiastic about it.   His attitude seemed to be, "It might work!  Let's give it a try!"  Sure.

Margaret Reich, from APS, was supposed to be on that panel as well, and I was looking forward to what she had to say, since she would have been one of the few voices at the conference presenting a different view.  But she apparently was unable to make it at the last minute.

My own paper that afternoon went over fairly well, and I had some good comments and discussion with people afterwards.  Carla has suggested that I take some of the charts and tables and do a poster for MLA, and I might go ahead and do that.  The evidence for the increased reach of the JMLA is pretty compelling, and helps to make the potential costs seem very worthwhile.

Overall, I was pretty pleased with the conference.  It's good to spend time with people from outside of the US, who share many of the same issues, but approach them from very different perspectives, and in very different social and governmental settings.   One hopes to come away from a meeting like this with one's perspective slightly altered, expanded, enriched.  From that standpoint, the conference was a definite success.  Whether it has any demonstrable impact on the changing face of scholarly communication remains to be seen.

Comments

Heather Morrison

The details may not be as devilish in countries outside the U.S. and the U.K. as one might think at first. For many, many countries, there has never been any profit in scholarly publishing. Publishing is heavily subsidized by governments. Jean Claude Gu├ędon has been gathering details and publishing them on the American Scientist Open Access Forum, if anyone is interested.

Thanks for posting this, Scott - very helpful. Did you know the post was featured in Peter Scott's Open Access News? I think it's very interesting - and open-minded of you - to want to hear the anti-OA viewpoint. Personally, I'm not noticing any lack of such a perspective.

Seriously, though, is Salvador unusual in this respect? What are discussions in the U.S. like?

Lynn

I find the confoundingly polarizing "anti-OA" versus "OAI advocates" labels both maddening and intellectually stifling. Scott says that he was eager to hear "Margaret Reich, from APS, ... who would have been one of the few voices at the conference presenting a different view". What I noticed is that he does not say that he wanted "to hear the anti-OA viewpoint".

Like any hotly controversial issue (the U.S. debate on abortion is a good example), classing any viewpoint as anti- or pro- serves to cut off the discussion. It's as if it should be obvious that we have all made our minds up one way or the other, and the other "side" is just wrong. Unfortuantely, this polarization has made the ongoing debate on open access less of a discussion and more tedious and predictable. Whomever can rant the loudest on Liblicense wins.


I was at the conference in Salvador as well. One memorable paper was delivered by an impassioned researcher from Japan who proposed that all research be submitted to journals published in the country in which the research was conducted. This was his proposed solution to the high cost of research journals. Based on his 15 minute presentation, I don't think his proposal will work. But ten years ago I thought the same thing about open access. When the OA discussion was still a discussion, I learned a lot and some of my views have changed. If they were so inclined, Mark D might class me as an OA advocate, while the Other Mark might class me as anti-OA. What I see are many sides of a complicated issue.

My point is that all of us should be as "open minded" as Scott. One might actually learn something by listening to those we don't think we agree with. Or whose experience and background might yield new insight to an issue we thought we had all figured out. I learned many things at the conference and in Brazil that served to reinforce what I have learned in a lifetime of travel: There is no one truth.

Heather Morrison

hi Lynn -

Good points about the polarization of the OA discussion. What to do about this when some folks are lobbying hard against policies to support OA, I don't know.

For some time, my participation in Liblicense discussions has been reserved to counter anti-OA arguments. This seems to be the list where these get brought up, more than any other. It is a good learning experience for me, in a different sense from what you're thinking. A fair bit of the arguments I've made for OA have actually come from a close examination of the arguments against OA.

For example, one of the sillier anti-OA arguments is that it makes information more readily available to terrorists. We don't want to help the terrorists, of course, but what is it we really do want - to make sure their subscriptions are paid up before they blow us up?

Thinking through this issue made me realize that making information less accessible would not deter too many terrorists (even the poor ones might not hesitate to stoop at piracy). Far more likely that non-terrorist types would have a harder time finding the information they would need to prevent or recover from a terrorist attack.

If anyone prefers my style from earlier days, read my blog instead of my current Liblicense postings. I agree with the researcher from Japan, by the way - talk about this in my blog posting, "An open access model to facilitate global economic stability and equity", at:
http://poeticeconomics.blogspot.com/2005/08/open-access-model-with-potential-to.html

Mark D

I no longer work for a scholarly publication. So I can speak my true mind. My real opinion about OA; it is a side issue. The method of funding publication is not the real issue.

When I hear librarians speak on this issue, including Heather, the issue really centers around the cost of scholarly journals. As I pointed out in my presentation at CONBLS a couple years back, OA will only resolve that issue if it increases competition. Why are scholarly publications so expensive? Simple, there is a duopoly of supply, Elsevier and Kluwer. The cost of scholarly publishing will only come down when that duopoly is broken.

Will OA break that duopoly? That remains to be seen. As I have said to Scott and Lynn many times. If I were employed by Elsevier, I think I could make a strong economic case for going OA as a mechanism of destroying the few competitors that are left.

Why do I say that? Librarians continually confuse price and cost. Part of the reason Elsiveir is so profitable rests in its efficiency, as well as the high price it charges. Society publishers are less efficient. Watch out, you may get what you wish for. OA may take off, destroy the society publications and leave you with only Elsivier and Kluwer. The end result would then be higher prices, whatever the funding mechanism (author's fees or subscription charges).

As for government funding. If Canada funded scholarly publishing (or even here in Australia) the way it funds its hospitals, I don't think I would have confidence in the result. Besides I am philosophically opposed to government controlling publication of anything. Imagine George Bush being in charge of the publication of works on stem cell research.

Lynn, I don't think I have ever thought of you in terms of pro or anti-OA. Though I have always suspected that you might be a closet member of the American Heritage Foundation.

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