Nature 10 September on Public Archiving

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Thu, 10 Sep 1998 12:57:54 +0100

Below is an expanded version of a paper that appeared
today in Nature magazine (10 September 1998).

Comments are invited in this Forum.

    Harnad, S. (1998) On-Line Journals and Financial Fire-Walls.
    Nature 395: 127-128.

        On-Line Journals and Financial Fire-Walls

        Stevan Harnad
        Cognitive Sciences Center
        Department of Electronics and Computer Science
        Southampton University
        Highfield, Southampton
        SO17 1BJ United Kingdom

The final state toward which the learned journal literature is evolving
in the age of networked hypermedia is as inevitable as it is optimal:
Sooner or later, the entire corpus will be fully and freely accessible
and navigable from the desk of any thinker in the world. The effects of
this on the scope and pace of Learned Inquiry itself will be
revolutionary, comparable only to the impact of three prior cognitive
revolutions: the advent of speech itself, then writing, then print.
Learned Inquiry, always communal and cumulative, will
not only be immeasurably better informed, new findings percolating
through minds and media almost instantaneously, but it will also become
incomparably more interactive, with collaborative, creative, critical,
and self-corrective cycles accelerable, potentially, almost to the
speed of thought (Harnad 1991).

So much for the inevitability and optimality of it all: When will it
come to pass? It could already have happened yesterday; everything is in
place, technologically speaking, and further resources are poised to
follow suit whenever we are ready. But there is no second-guessing
human nature; old habits find no end of rationales for perpetuating
both themselves and the status quo, even when, like a superannuated alpha
wolf, they are far past the stage of being able to defend their
status by anything but a menacing stare!

We will keep hearing solemn worries about the (1) preservability of
texts in the new medium. In reality, however, nothing is simpler and more
natural -- particularly as more and more of our intellectual goods take
flight from the paper flotilla into the digital skies, and our vested
interests up there become ever more collective -- than to arrange
jointly for their continuous, systematic uploading and upgrading pari
passu with ongoing developments in the medium: Bits are bits, and
far more readily transferable than flecks of ink. Moreover, local
preservation efforts scale up to an ever-growing set of eggs,
particularly if they are all kept in the same basket (as I will recommend

The (2) less-than-optimality of even the most advanced current
screen-reading will no doubt continue to be invoked as grounds for
holding the new medium at arm's length. What this tireless plaint fails
to reflect on is what proportion of our intercourse with the periodical
literature really calls for the _kind_ of reading (bath-, bed-,
beach-based) that is usually envisioned in this context, as opposed to
the desk-based searching, skimming, spot-checking, citation-tracing,
and active cut-pasting and quote/commenting that is the mainstay of
Learned Inquiry. Besides, there's still the desk-side printer for
whenever a huggable copy is needed; and long after the printer is
obsolete, there will still be the option of micro-thin "virtual papers"
that can simulate any papyrocentric feature (optimal or
counter-optimal) after which habit hankers, from portability,
pliability, and thumbability to even the musty smell of shelf-worn

But the biggest brake on progress is still surely the reluctance of
authors to entrust their work to a new, unproven medium in place of the
one that has served them faithfully for centuries. Nor is their
resistance based primarily on worries about preservability or readability:
Authors are concerned about (3) quality control (will the new medium be
as reliable and rigorous as paper?), (4) credit (will it bring recognition
and advancement as paper did?), and (5) plagiarism (will it make work
more vulnerable to theft?).

The answers here are just as transparent: (3) Peer review,
scholarship's classical mechanism of quality control, is
medium-independent: it can be implemented in the air as readily as on
land or sea (Harnad 1996). (4) Credit, likewise medium-independent,
follows the best work and workers, it does not lead them (though
authors and media can be like horses and water); kudos is ready to be
assigned to skywriting as soon as authors are ready to redirect their
pens heavenward. (5) Copyright too is medium-independent; and whatever
increased power the Net may provide for stealing texts, it more than
matches with its power for tracking them down (Harnad 1997c).

Yet, despite these 5 prima facie obstacles, things may look to be
moving along quickly enough: The latest (7th) Edition of the
Association of Research Libraries (ARL) Directory of Electronic Journals,
Newsletters and Academic Discussion Lists (
listed over 3,400 electronic serials in 1997, twice as many as in 1996,
29% in science, 28% in social science, and 14% in arts and humanities,
1,002 of them refereed (compared to 47 in 1996). This 2000% increase comes
largely from the fact that more and more existing paper journals are
now making electronic versions available for a fee: ARL listed 708
(compared to 168 in 1996), but this was already an underestimate, as
last year's _Nature_ review of new electronic journals (389,
137-138; 1997) had already listed over 2000 such electronic doppelgaengers.

New, e-only journals, mostly free, are also being founded at a rapid
rate. (Alas, many of these are also foundering almost as quickly as
still newer ones appear. In this one respect the economic restraints on
paper publication were probably beneficial: More intellectual and
ergonomic effort and weight had to be put behind new paper titles to
justify the high start-up costs, thereby fortifying if not guaranteeing
their chances of survival. The absence of this economically dictated
quality filter on new e-journal start-ups is probably a retardant,
overall, on the speed of the transition to the PostGutenberg Galaxy,
because it reinforces people's fears that there is something unreliable
about the medium.)

But a twentyfold jump in the number of refereed journals on the Net
from 96-97, even if based more on 2nd incarnations of existing paper
journals than on new launches, is still progress toward the optimal and
the inevitable, is it not? After all, even a mere tenfold leap from
98-99 would put the number well over the 6500 refereed journals indexed
by the Institute for Scientific Information and near the 14,000 indexed
by Ulrich's International Periodicals Directory. Yale's Ann Okerson
(personal communication), Founder of NEWJOUR
( the e-list of new e-journals, estimates
that there are now over 8000 refereed on-line journals. That is
beginning to sound as if the core corpus may soon be in the sky for one
and all.

For one and all? Recall that the optimal and inevitable was described
as "fully and freely accessible," whereas we are observing a
proliferation of fee-based incarnations of paper journals on
the Net, with financial firewalls separating them from one another as
well as from the user. This fee/free issue -- and it is a crucial and
controversial one -- needs to be faced head-on.

The trick is to present it even-handedly: The advocates of the status
quo hold that things are progressing just as they ought. Both paper and
on-line versions of journals are obviously still in demand, so let
supply and demand orchestrate the transition. Keep providing both
versions -- the usual offer is the on-line version only for somewhat
less than the print version only, and both for somewhat more, but it
averages out to the current price structure, regardless of where and
when the demand balance shifts -- and then phase out paper if and when
the market demands. There has been some consideration of pricing
mechanisms other than subscription (site-license and pay-per-view being
the two other horses in the "trade troika": S/SL/PPV), but the overall
revenue per published page of journal has been held more or less fixed
in the reckoning.

What about the cost? Here estimates have diverged: Paper journal
publishers, diversifying toward hybrid paper/on-line editions, estimate
that costs per page increase (particularly as value is added to the
on-line pages in the form of hyperlinks, multimedia, etc.), so there is
certainly no basis for price reduction. What about when demand shifts
toward on-line-only? It is a truism in publishing that expenses must
be reckoned in terms of _first-page_ costs: It is all the work
(writing, refereeing, editing, composition, mark-up) that goes into the
first page that represents the lion's share of the expense. Printing
and distributing multiple copies of that 1st page represents at the
very most 30% of the page cost, and if and when that 30% saving
can be made, publishers will be happy to pass it on to subscribers; for
now, though, costs are up, not down (e.g., Garson 1997).

The other side of the story comes from the minority of journals that
have started as on-line only. There are as yet no equivalent pairs of
paper-only and on-line-only journals, exactly comparable in terms of
submission rate, acceptance rate, pages per year, subject matter,
readership, authorship, impact factor (citation ratio), and the
all-important "prestige" factor, but such comparisons as have been made
(e.g. Odlyzko 1998) suggest that on-line journals are managing for at
least 70% less, and that these economies could even be improved upon as
global Archives come into the picture, scaling down the first page
costs to those of implementing (not performing) peer review (just as
authors write gratis, referees referee gratis, and always have), plus
editing/copy-editing and mark-up (much of that becoming increasingly
off-loadable to authors too, as friendly HTML and eventually SGML
authoring tools appear and pressure for their disciplined use by all
authors grows).

A great deal rides on this discrepancy in estimates for the
true cost difference between paper and on-line-only pages: If the
saving is really only 30% or less, then S/SL/PPV is indeed the only way
to recover costs, and free access, though still optimal, becomes
unattainable instead of inevitable -- absent a massive subsidy (from
whom? to whom?).

But if the savings are the 70% or more that the new e-only journal
publishers are experiencing, then the optimal is not only inevitable,
but within reach: Currently, that 70% is paid in large part by Library
subscriptions. Simple arithmetic shows that if the page charges for the
remaining 30% were paid in advance, at the author's end, out of (and for
the sake of) those savings, not only would Institutional Libraries be
much better off, but the world Learned Community -- authors and readers
alike -- would be fast-forwarded straight into the optimal (Harnad

Unfortunately, the world Learned Community (as our earlier "from
whom?/to whom?" question suggests) is not a collective with any coherence
or clout. Moreover, even if Universities rechannelled all savings from
Library Serials cancellations to Faculty publication budgets, there
would not be a balanced quid pro quo, because highly research-active
Universities (the net page-providers, currently) would then face the
biggest costs, whereas less research-active Universities (the net
page-consumers, currently) would get a free ride. Not that there would
be anything wrong with that, as long as there were enough funds to keep it
all aloft. (And there might well be, because (i) the research-active
Universities also tend to have the biggest serials collections, (ii)
the 70% savings still leave considerable room for manoeuvring, and (iii),
research productivity being the lifeblood of Learned Inquiry, and
publication being its most measurable life-sign, other sources of
research support, university as well as governmental, would find it
natural to wrap into the funds for _conducting_ the all-important
research the relatively minor marginal cost of _reporting_ it.)

But as long as restructuring depends upon a collective -- and an
interdisciplinary, interinstitutional, and international one at that --
the optimal and inevitable may have a long wait. What is needed is some
incentive to take matters into one's own hands as individual members of
the Learned Community. There is a way, and it would allow individual
scholars to have their cake and eat it too. The proposal is simple,
and subversive (Harnad 1995b in Okerson & O'Donnell 1995): All authors
should continue to entrust their work to the paper journals of their
choice. But if, in addition, they were to publicly archive their
pre-refereeing preprints and then their post-refereeing reprints
on-line on their Home Servers, for free for all, then the de facto
practises of the reader community would take care of the rest
(irrespective of their reservations about bed/bath/beach reading);
library serial cancellations, the collapse of the paper cardhouse,
publisher perestroika, and a free for all, e-only serial corpus
financed by author-end page charges would soon follow suit.

A centralised variant of this subversion scenario,
http:///, has already passed the point of no return in
Physics and some allied disciplines in the form of Paul Ginsparg's
(1994, 1996) U.S. NSF- (National Science Foundation) and DOE-
(Department of Energy) supported Physics Eprint Archive at Los Alamos
National Laboratory; as history will confirm, he single-handedly set
the world Learned Community on its inexorable course toward the optimal
and the inevitable in August 1991. Hence 1998 e-journals are not the
right beans to count for e-future-casting: The number of new papers
being deposited by authors at xxx (that subversive sapphire masked by
all the look-alike cyber-smut sites) is now 100 per weekday, with the
number of "hits" by readers now 65,000 daily and both figures still
growing linearly The real
measures of the radical new way the world physics community is
accessing its research literature are these, not the rate at which the
fee-based on-line doppelgaengers are being put on the market.

In response to this reality, the forward-looking American Physical
Society, publisher of some of the most prestigious physics journals in
the world, has agreed to collaborate with xxx, which is already
the de facto locus classicus for much of the physics literature:
Manuscripts will be submitted to APS journals through xxx for
refereeing; the final, refereed, edited version can then also appear
through xxx, but with APS certification. These are the advantages of
eggs-in-one-basket centralisation. Backed by APS and NSF/DOE (and
backed up at numerous mirror sites the world over), the "preservation"
of this collective corpus is assured.

But the nature of cyberbaskets is such that there is always room for
more eggs. (The entire refereed journal corpus across all disciplines
is the size of the flea on the tail of the dog, compared to, say, the
storage capacity and bandwidth planned to serve the demand for
entertainment video. Even their 14,000 refereed serials represent only
1/10 of the magazines covered by Ulrich's.) Mathematics, computer
science, and cognitive science are already joining the disciplines
served by xxx; there is no reason whatever why xxx should not go on to
subsume (or subserve, rather) all the rest of the learned serial
literature too; economies of scale suggest that this may even be the
most efficient and direct path to the optimal; and a transition to
page-charge-based cost-recovery and free distribution in place of
S/SL/PPV will mean that journals -- competing for authors' papers
rather than readers' payments -- are free from the need for firewalls
to segregate papers from readers, and can instead collaborate in
launching scholarly skywriting into the PostGutenberg Galaxy.


Ginsparg, P. (1996) Winners and Losers in the Global research Village.
Invited contribution, UNESCO Conference HQ, Paris, 19-23 Feb 1996

Ginsparg, P. (1994) First Steps Towards Electronic Research
Communication. Computers in Physics. (August, American Institute of
Physics). 8(4): 390-396.

Harnad, S. (1990) Scholarly Skywriting and the Prepublication Continuum
of Scientific Inquiry. Psychological Science 1: 342 - 343

Harnad, S. (1991) Post-Gutenberg Galaxy: The Fourth Revolution in the
Means of Production of Knowledge. Public-Access Computer Systems Review
2 (1): 39 - 53

Harnad, S. (1992) Interactive Publication: Extending the
American Physical Society's Discipline-Specific Model for Electronic
Publishing. Serials Review, Special Issue on Economics Models for
Electronic Publishing, pp. 58 - 61.

Harnad, S. (1995) Electronic Scholarly Publication: Quo Vadis?
Serials Review 21(1) 78-80 (Reprinted in Managing Information
2(3) 31-33 1995)

Harnad, S. (1995) Universal FTP Archives for Esoteric Science and
Scholarship: A Subversive Proposal. In: Ann Okerson & James O'Donnell
(Eds.) Scholarly Journals at the Crossroads; A Subversive Proposal for
Electronic Publishing. Washington, DC., Association of Research
Libraries, June 1995.

Harnad, S. (1995) Interactive Cognition: Exploring the Potential of
Electronic Quote/Commenting. In: B. Gorayska & J.L. Mey (Eds.) Cognitive
Technology: In Search of a Humane Interface. Elsevier. Pp. 397-414.

Harnad, S. (1996) Implementing Peer Review on the Net:
Scientific Quality Control in Scholarly Electronic Journals. In:
Peek, R. & Newby, G. (Eds.) Scholarly Publishing: The Electronic
Frontier. Cambridge MA: MIT Press. Pp. 103-118.

Harnad, S. (1997) How to Fast-Forward Serials to the Inevitable and
the Optimal for Scholars and Scientists. Serials Librarian 30: 73-81.

Harnad, S. (1997) The Paper House of Cards (And Why It Is Taking So Long
To Collapse). Ariadne 8: 6-7.

Harnad, S. (1997) Learned Inquiry and the Net:
The Role of Peer Review, Peer Commentary and Copyright.
Antiquity 71: 1042-1048

Harnad, S. & Hemus, M. (1997) All Or None: No Stable Hybrid
or Half-Way Solutions for Launching the Learned Periodical Literature
into the PostGutenberg Galaxy. In Butterworth, I. (Ed.)
The Impact of Electronic Publishing on the Academic Community.
London: Portland Press. Pp 18-27.

Hitchcock, S., Carr, L., Harris, S., Hey, J. M. N., and Hall, W. (1997)
Citation Linking: Improving Access to Online Journals.
Proceedings of the 2nd ACM International Conference on
Digital Libraries, edited by Robert B. Allen and Edie Rasmussen
(New York, USA: Association for Computing Machinery), pp. 115-122.

Hitchcock, S., Quek, F., Carr, L., Hall, W., Witbrock, A.,
and Tarr, I. (1997) Linking Everything to Everything: Journal
Publishing Myth or Reality? ICCC/IFIP conference on
Electronic Publishing 97: New Models and Opportunities, Canterbury,UK, April.

Odlyzko, A.M. (1998) The economics of electronic journals. In: Ekman
R. and Quandt, R. (Eds) Technology and Scholarly Communication Univ.
Calif. Press, 1998.

Odlyzko, A.M. (1997) The slow evolution of electronic publishing. In
Electronic Publishing - New Models and Opportunities, A. J. Meadows and
F. Rowland, eds., ICCC Press, 1997.

Odlyzko, A.M. (1995) Tragic loss or good riddance? The impending
demise of traditional scholarly journals, International Journal of
Human-Computer Studies (formerly International Journal of Man-Machine
Studies), 42 (1995), 71-122.

Okerson A. & O'Donnell, J. (Eds.) (1995) Scholarly Journals at the
Crossroads; A Subversive Proposal for Electronic Publishing.
Washington, DC., Association of Research Libraries, June 1995.

Transition from Paper Study Group. (1998) Who Should "own" Scientific Papers?
Science. Science URL on Sept. 4

Porteous, J. (1997) Plugging into electronic journals. Nature 389:

Walker, T.J. (1998) Free Internet Access to Traditional Journals.
American Scientist 86(5)
Received on Tue Aug 25 1998 - 19:17:43 BST

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Dec 10 2010 - 19:45:26 GMT