Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Jim Till: Be Openly Accessible - or Be Obscure

Now that the Canadian Institutes for Health Research's Open Access to Research Outputs Policy Announcement has been released, it is high time to celebrate the Chair of the CIHR Advisory Committee on Access to Research Outputs, one of Canada's most noteworthy open access advocates, Dr. Jim Till.

Formerly a member of the Open Access News team when it was a group blog, Jim is now the author of one of the most thoughtful and thought-provoking blogs on open access on the web: Be Openly Accessible or Be Obscure. What I love about Jim's blog - aside from the delightful name, and wonderful concept - is that his posts are original works, often profound reflections and new perspectives on open access. Jim's work has inspired and sharpened my own thinking on topics such as the economics of article processing fees. Jim often points to particular articles, that are OA - or not, and what the consequences are. If you read my writings often, you may have noticed phrases such as unless you're aiming for obscurity creeping in; definitely an influence!

Jim's first foray into public open access advocacy was in 2000, when he wrote this message to The American Scientist Open Access Forum, where he muses about the difference in self-archiving behavior between physicists and the biomedical community. In this message, Jim expresses thanks to my colleague Peter Singer for his provocative article in CMAJ, and for pointing me toward this forum.

Jim's participation in The American Scientist Open Access Forum led to an invitation to publish in a toll-access journal, Learned Publishing, on the topic of self-archiving. This was also his first experience with self-archiving, of the article, Predecessors of preprint servers, Learned Publishing 2001; 14(1): 7-13, available OA in arXiv (with the permission of Learned Publishing).

Jim's first experience with open access publishing came earlier, however, with the article Peer Review in a Post-Eprints World: A Proposal, in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. This article explores the possibilities the internet and archives open up for new, and perhaps better, means of peer review, such as combining a system of informal comments with formal commissioned review. I believe Jim was, and is, on to something here. Not long ago, I spoke to an author who had recently published in physics, who described the process of self-archiving the preprint in arXiv. Because arXiv is so well read, the author had received such significant, substantial input before the article was even submitted for publication, that the formal peer review process went very smoothly indeed.

The desire to move forward with these new potentials made possible by the internet is part of what I think Dr. David Lipman meant when he spoke about the pent up energy for change in the interview reported earlier on IJPE.

Before we get to unleash this energy, though - before we get to play and discover, we need to move forward with developing and implementing strong open access policies. Jim has already accomplished far more than most of us; prior to CIHR, Jim was instrumental in the development of the Open Access Archive of the Canadian Breast Cancer Research Alliance (CBCRA).

For everything that you have done and continue to do, Jim - thanks, and I look forward to that next blogpost on Be Openly Accessible or Be Obscure.

This post is part of the Canadian Leadership in the Open Access Movement series.