Re: Serials Review Interview

From: Thomas Krichel <> <harnad_at_COGSCI.SOTON.AC.UK>
Date: Wed, 14 Oct 1998 05:50:03 -0400

Stevan Harnad writes:

> XXX is funded by both NSF and DOE. The funds are mostly for development
> of new features, because just the upkeep of the archive, along with its
> steady linear growth rate, is not expensive at all. It will generalise
> to all disciplines.

My understanding of XXX as advocated by Harnad is that a central hard
disk is used to store all the preprints in a discipline, or, if his
vision is right, in all disciplines. Basically, this vision implies that
a very small number of individuals actually have write access to the
data on this disk. This model works in Physics, but I doubt that it
does scale well. I see a lot of difficulties with disciplines where
knowledge is more contested, like the social sciences and the

In my own discipline, economics (which is another discipline that uses
preprints), some very able and dedicated pople have set a central
archive a la XXX, i.e. a disk where all preprints are kept centrally.
The reponse has been muted. Today, this archive stores less than 10% of
the total electronic holdings and its share is falling. XXX has failed in
economics. The system that is winning the critical mass is a
distributed system called RePEc where lots of archives, some large
some small share one metadata format. The metadata can then be
collected to build user interfaces. RePEc does not have an official
user interface, but there are several user interfaces that compete for
the users' favour. So the basic philosophy is

many archives ---> one dataset ---> many user interfaces

Documentation on the concepts underlying RePEc can be found
at Examples of interfaces are found

So much far for economics, which is a discipline I know quite well ;-)
Now consider the next statement:

> It is already doing so. It lately subsumed computer science too.

I think that Stevan is referring to the Computing Research Repository.
Let me quote from

        In May, 1997, a group was formed under the auspices of the ACM
        Publications Board to consider how an electronic repository for
        computing research should be set up.
        We discussed three options for the design of thea repository.
        The first option was to become part
        of the LANL repository.
        We decided against this option primarily because the LANL
        interface was not open in the sense that it did not provide an
        interface to which other repositories could link.

        The second option was to become a node in the
    NCSTRL system.
        The third option was to build a new system from scratch. This
        had the obvious advantage that we could do it right and the
        obvious disadvantage that it would take time.

        We settled on a hybrid approach that combines the best features
        of LANL and NCSTRL, and secured the cooperation of the two
        groups. We will be able to use the well-tested LANL software
        for submission, notification, and searching. The NCSTRL
        architecture will make it easy to build new gateways from which
        to access the files, with a more user-friendly interface and
        new features. (In fact, LANL will now be a node on NCSTRL.)

My interpretation of this last sentence is that NCSTL has subsumed XXX,
rather than "XXX subsumed computer science". In fact that proposed
architecture seems to be close to what I outlined for the RePEc system,
although it is not spelled out in these terms. Please correct me if I
am wrong.

My conclusion here is this: xxx is a good system but it is not the only
path towards a solution of the distributing electronic research
documents through the internet. Differnet disciplines will take
different approaches.

I am working on these issues of distributed publication of reseach
documents, please write to me if you are interested in these

Thomas Krichel
Received on Tue Aug 25 1998 - 19:17:43 BST

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