Re: For Whom the Gate Tolls?

From: Professor L.W. Hurtado <> <harnad_at_COGSCI.SOTON.AC.UK>
Date: Thu, 27 Aug 1998 10:48:42 -0400

L. W. Hurtado
University of Edinburgh,
New College
Mound Place
Edinburgh, Scotland EH1 2LX
Phone: 0131-650-8920
Fax: 0131-650-6579

Not being in the sciences but the humanities, but having been invited
to contribute to this discussion, I offer a few comments for what
they're worth.

1) Though there are the sorts of serious financial questions tackled by
Walker & Harnad in the postings to which we are to respond, it seems to
me that *the* major immediate problem standing in the way of the
serious and widespread use and development of purely electronic
journals (which I support) is the credibility and accessibility of this
format. The academic "culture" has not yet sufficiently widely and
happily recognized e-journal publication for this medium to attract the
best & brightest of people & research publications. With others, I have
more than once called for some collective efforts, esp. by academic
societies in collaboration with university authorities, to change the

2) Walker's proposal presupposes the U.S. science scene, with pages
charges, research budgets & grants sufficient to pay for such, etc. In
the humanities worldwide, conditions are very different. Grants are the
exception rather than the rule for research (largely because there
aren't many to be had!). No humanities granting agency/source would
accept page charges for any journal article, at least at present. If
the question is what should U.S. scientists do, then perhaps Walker's
proposal is a serious option. It won't do for other countries or for
academia outside of the sciences.

3) Harnad's bold proposal promises to cut the Gordian knot, but I'm
cautious, and not so sure as he. The paper journal that agrees to
publish my essay incurs an expense to do so, and has a right thus to
protect itself by being able to charge subscribers for the publication.
If I post the edited/published version of my essay (edited and
formatted at cost by a journal), for free access, don't I cut into the
opportunity for the journal to get back the costs for preparing my
essay in final form? Is this fair?

If I post a pre-publication version (i.e., not refereed and refined as
often happens through the refereeing process, not edited, not vouched
for in any way), what is it worth? In a busy world, one of the ways I
cope with limited time & a mountain of stuff that *could* be read is to
restrict myself in the main to things that have passed some level of
pre-publication assessment and fine-tuning. Of course, any thoughts of
some scholarly celebs might be of interest to some, and contributions
on "hot" topics might receive attention. But how much of published
research is really of either nature, particularly again if one takes
account of the breadth of academia?

4) In the Humanities, the main problem is not the cost of journals
(nearly all of which are either published by relevant learned societies
for minimal prices, or a few by university presses also for
comparatively modest prices), but the limited space available for
publication in them. Really high demand journals have an acceptance
rate of 10% or so, not because they get a load of junk but because they
have very limited space and can accept only a few (e.g., most
humanities journals are published only quarterly, and run about 5-6
articles per issue, for a large amount of space has to be given to
reviews of books, which are in fact *the* main medium for high impact
research in humanities fields).

E-journals, if run with standards equivalent to papers ones, and if
given the acceptance and credibility of paper ones, could open a wider
gate for good research. Not only more, but quicker publication. In my
own field, the time to publication after acceptance is usually a year
or more, such is the print cue for the limited space.
Received on Tue Aug 25 1998 - 19:17:43 BST

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