Re: Elsevier Science Policy on Public Web Archiving Needs Re-Thinking

From: Arthur Smith <apsmith_at_APS.ORG> <harnad_at_COGSCI.SOTON.AC.UK>
Date: Fri, 25 Sep 1998 16:12:49 -0400

On Tue, 22 Sep 1998 Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_COGSCI.SOTON.AC.UK> wrote:

>(1) I write a paper. It consists of the following:
> "The ratiometer reading for Clintonite-21 it 4.072."
> ...
>(3) JoR sends it to referees, who reply "brilliant finding, but
>failed to make the Starrken correction: the reading should be 3.972."
> ...
>According to Elsevier policy, it is in something's/someone's interest
>that my home-server and xxx either contain:
> "The ratiometer reading for Clintonite-21 it 4.072."
>or nothing at all.

It is clearly in Elsevier's best interest in retaining the journal
itself as the authoritative "final" version of papers - it is possibly
also in the best interest of general support for peer review. It is not
in the best interest of the immediate researchers who use these
articles, I agree. That is why we do not have such a policy at APS.
Nevertheless, it seems a perfectly coherent and rational policy:

Clearly there are 2 versions of the article:

   (1) The pre-print. This could exist in a universe where the publisher
(and peer review) does not exist, and the value seen by all researchers
is 4.072. Is this "optimal"?

   (2) The "final article". This would almost certainly not exist without
the publisher. And don't argue that the "referee" would see all this on
the author's web site and fix it - first of all, Elsevier is ALREADY
allowing the author to post it on his web site - why has not the
referee or somebody else come and told the author about the Starrken
correction already? Most people seeing a paper on the web "missing the
Starrken correction" would either say "stupid author, won't trust any
of his papers any more" or would send the author a note which the
author would have no reason to trust or obligation to believe. The
publisher sets up a trust relationship where the author is obligated to
listen to and satisfy the selected expert referee, or at least the
editor overseeing the relationship. This is what peer review is all
about, and is what the majority of irreducible publishing expenses boil
down to. It is what the publisher is investing its resources in. Why
should the publisher give away the product of these investments, when
they are accessible to most researchers through their libraries, or for
a small fee directly?

>Is it coherent to declare that "you may publicly archive your work, but
>not the correct, final version?" (Will you shoot me if I just fix the

They could sue the institution for infringement - easy to get people to
back down when their department chair is breathing down their neck.
The policy is certainly enforceable, whether they will actually try
I do not know.

>Is there an apter word than "tortuous" to describe the attempt to
>justify this constraint as being in the service of "preserving
>textual integrity"?

What if the author comes in again with another "correction" and changes
the number to 3.995? Are we relying on authors for versioning and
keeping their readers aware of changes? Publishers have (an admittedly
inadequate) method of dealing with such corrections through
errata/corrigenda in later publication. Textual integrity is a real
issue, not to be lightly dismissed.

>Does "ludicrous" not quite capture portraying such a self-serving
>restriction as "adding value"?

They didn't say the restriction added value. You seem to be confusing
the economics of the issue here. The restriction is a protection of
what they perceive as the value added through the editorial process,
which you do not dispute (3.972 is better than 4.072, so value has been

>Is the conflict of interest with which this is all but exploding blatant
>only to my ears?

Sure there's a conflict - everybody involved has different interests
(authors, referees, editors, readers, and librarians and publishers) -
but I don't quite see what you're driving at with this accusation -
Elsevier as publisher wants to publish its own way, not through free
pages on the web - if authors are willing to agree to this, why not let

>And here is the last step of the reductio ad absurdum: Both the author
>and the referees have "added their value" to the product for absolutely
>nothing, not a penny!

You place too much economic value on money itself, and not enough on
the intangible (sometimes even tangible) benefits authors and others
(yes, even referees) gain from the process. My argument is that without
the publisher, this "added value" would, at least in 99% of cases,
never be created, no matter how much authors and referees thought of
the value of their contributions.

Arthur Smith <apsmith_at_APS.ORG>
Received on Tue Aug 25 1998 - 19:17:43 BST

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