Re: Scholar's Forum: A New Model For Scholarly Communication

From: Ransdell, Joseph M. <ransdell_at_DOOR.NET>
Date: Sat, 24 Apr 1999 16:37:18 -0500


Your response to the Scholar's Forum Proposal is marvelously exact in
pinpointing its weaknesses, in making clear what the pivotal issues
actually are, and in describing what is really is and is not wanted now
by way of support from the research university administrators. Their
Proposal is quite unrealistic as it stands, and for precisely the
reasons you mention. I find nothing to criticize in what you say or to
add to it in further criticism of their plan as regards its viability.
You' have it down cold, in my opinion -- your critique is a masterpiece
and renews my faltering faith in the practical power of reason -- and
our disagreement on some points in the past should indicate that I don't
say any of this lightly. But I wonder to what extent the proponents of
the Proposal will be willing to simplify in the direction you point

The answer is of course to wait and see. But while awaiting their
response, I think it is pertinent to mull over the question of how much
of the plan its proponents will actually be willing to abandon at this
point to accommodate your criticisms, given the time and energies
already devoted to developing the plan over the past couple of years,
and also given what is ultimately at stake in it, which is clearly
something very great. The control of scholarly communication, not only
in the sciences but in academia generally, has enormous political
consequences on the global as well as domestic and local levels, and not
merely within academe. The plan to form a Consortium of the research
universities (possibly multi-national in scope, as seems to be hinted at
here and there in the document) for the purpose of administering the
system of control described in the Proposal may have awakened
enthusiasms among its planners that will not easily be dampened by
realism as regards its use for the benefit of scholarly and scientific

I think that prudence dictates that we should anticipate great
resistance to throttling the plan back to any significant degree
regardless of how unrealistic it is for its avowed purpose. For such a
Consortium, envisioned as a sort of international mega-university
meta-structure laying claim to the right to control (administer, manage)
academic thinking on a global level by management of its communication,
might well be regarded as suited to other and equally well-intentioned
but also equally questionable tasks of control as well, once it comes
into existence, and I would be surprised if the administrators who are
enthusiastic about forming such an organizational structure have limited
their thinking to the issues that primarily concern you and me and most
of the others on this list.

That is why the clarity and incisiveness of your response is of such
importance: if such an organization of communications control is to be
formed by the administrators of our research universities, it should be
made clear that it is not justified for THIS purpose -- which is, in
effect, precisely what you have already shown, and we surely want that
well understood. As I said, I have nothing to add to what you have
already said in that respect and fully support it, but I thought it
might be worthwhile to note a couple of things about the Proposal that
seem to me puzzling, given its avowed aims, which might be worth bearing
in mind while awaiting the reaction to your critical points.

The first thing I noticed was that much emphasis is put on the Los
Alamos server system as a model. Indeed, the "centerpiece" of the
proposal is said to be "a document database that incorporates and builds
on important features derived from Paul Ginsparg's highly successful
physics preprint server", and it seems likely that it was your work in
publicizing its significance that brought those behind this project to
an understanding of how important it is, Stevan. Yet what was
surprising in reading through the document was the way its authors
seemed to have overlooked one of the most fundamental principles at the
basis of it, namely, the principle of unrestricted author self-archiving
on public servers. This cannot be due to what they learned from you,
who have consistently emphasized the importance of this from the
beginning. Yet when they explicitly describe the importance of the
Ginsparg archive it is said to be because it "demonstrates the viability
of a large electronic archive that supports alerting services, automated
hyperlink referencing, indexing, searching, and archiving." No mention
there of self-archiving when it would obviously have been relevant, nor
is there anything to suggest this in the description of the New Model
under that heading in the proposal. It is as if "they just don't get

Now, it might be said that the Proposal is just clumsily written in that
respect, and since there is casual mention here and there of author
self-archiving, it might be said that the principle is being taken for
granted and thus required no special statement. This is possible, but
this charitable interpretation is not supported otherwise, and there is
definite reason to think that the vision presented by the document does
not in fact include that. For when we turn to the operational flow
diagram which they thoughtfully provided for us we find that this basic
principle of the Ginsparg system is not only missing but is in fact
positively precluded by the arrangements that are being suggested. Let
me explain, with reference to the diagram of the operational view of
"the New Model" to be found at:

We have in that diagram one box representing the "research community"
and another representing the "author", neither of which conforms to the
Ginsparg model as regards the depicted relationship of researchers
either as contributors to or readers accessing the material on the

Now, the term "research community" is not defined in the document, but
it actually seems to mean "privileged research community" since that
community is shown as having direct access to the central server in
contradistinction from whoever would have access to it via an "outside
server" mediated through a "read only participation agreement". This
latter phrase does not, however, suffice to identify by implication the
class of persons whose access is only via the outside server; for I find
no mention of such an agreement in the body of the Proposal, except for
what may be implicit in the following paragraph:


> All readers upon entering the database are notified that the contents represent
> protected intellectual property; readers must acknowledge acceptance of the terms
> of use. Readers may print out papers as well as make personal electronic copies for
> personal use, and they may forward URL's. However, readers must register to
> contribute to discussions and grant the Consortium limited, non-exclusive license to
> their contributions. Copyright is retained by the author of comments.

Does "all readers" mean both those who use the outside server and those
who access the central server directly? It seems impossible to say for
sure, but I suppose it might be reasonable to assume that those with the
privilege of direct access will have previously agreed to something in
order to get that sort of access, and it could simply mean people within
the university system governed by the Consortium who have already agreed
via their basic contract with their university. What is not clear,
too, is what their privilege is supposed to be in respect to document
access unless it is the distinction between those who are allowed "to
"print out papers and make personal electronic copies for personal use
only" and those who are limited to on-screen reading. (In other words,
the outside server may just mean the server that serves up on-screen
access only, or perhaps some feebler access than that, such as access to
abstracts and tables of content only, as is already the practice in the
case of some electronic journals.) In any case, those in the privileged
research community are also shown as being able to participate in the
"threaded discussions" (provided they go through some special
registration process). But you rightly regard that sort of thing as
"na´ve" in conception, Stevan, and not of critical significance for us
here, and I agree with you on that, too, and will not pursue it further

So much for access to the database and the use of the server from the
point of view of the reader of scholarly/scientific documents.

As regards input into the system by the author, this is shown in the
connections between the box labeled "authors" and two boxes labeled
respectively "archives" and "servers" (meaning the central server
system). This gets complex but the point of basic interest to us is
that the author can in no case get anything into the server without
passing through (1) input protocols, (2) tech program committees, and
(3) copyright agreement. Now, (1) input protocols governing style (i.e.
the basic format of scientific publications) are built into the
procedure of using the Ginsparg server and are of no special interest
here at the moment, and (2) the function of the "tech program
committees" is perhaps that of insuring effective differential treatment
for preprints and for papers subject to peer review or already reviewed,
and although this is important I assume that it has chiefly to do with
matters of technical interest only. The passage through (3) the
copyright agreement is clearly the key factor for us to get clear on.

But let me just note before proceeding that, first, there is no
significant resemblance between the system of document management that I
have just described -- the so-called "New Model" -- and what is of
distinctive importance about the Ginsparg server system, in spite of the
talk about the Ginsparg system which seemed to suggest that it was
something that was being reincarnated in the New Model; that, second,
they are in fact radically incompatible as regards unrestricted author
self-archiving; and that, third, the New Model makes the system of
publication which the Ginsparg archive has been in the process of
defeating seem by comparison like something from a veritable Golden Age
of open communication! Once again one gets the impression that the
point is being missed somehow by the proponents of this Proposal.

In any case, the copyright section is where the "nitty-gritty" is to be
found as regards the basis for forming the Consortium, since without
control of that sort being giving to the Consortium there would appear
to be little or no justification for it as a communcations control
system since its control procedures would have no clout. As Hobbes
said, "Covenants without the sword" are just empty words, and the sword
here lies in the legal powers implicit in copyright. Given certain
kinds of control over copyright, though, the Consortium would indeed be
a viable new Leviathan. Whether we need any further such organization,
regardless of the benevolence of the intent, is surely questionable, if
it is conceived as a document control system, as it plainly is the
Proposal. The uses of a Consortium as a support system, providing
protection of the sort wanted rather than imposing administration where
none is required, is quite a different matter, though.


> Authors or universities retain copyright according to institution policies. A
> mechanism at the input level requires authors to grant a limited, non-exclusive
> license to the Consortium. This agreement grants the right to provide unlimited
> access to all work in either preprint or archival servers for non-commercial purposes
> for the term of the copyright. Authors may grant limited-use licenses for their work
> to other not-for-profits or commercial entities, for which they may receive
> compensation, as long as such agreements do not infringe upon any rights previously
> assigned to the Consortium.

Note that with the plan being based on the idea of forming a controlling
Consortium, interest in the question of whether the individual shares or
gives copyright to the university or not is of secondary importance. It
is the agreement with the Consortium that counts, first of all, in this
arrangement. (The agreement with the university could be of importance,
too, but I will leave that aside here in order not to lose focus on the
Consortium agreement.) Now, the third sentence in the passage above
contains an ambiguity which is of the first importance: Is it saying
that "the agreement grants the right to provide unlimited access to all
work in either preprint or archival servers, etc." to the CONSORTIUM or
to the AUTHOR? Formally, it may look at first as if it could be either
one since the agreement is bi-lateral, between author and Consortium, so
that the agreement could be to assign that right to either of them.
Yet in view of the fact that the author already has that right prior to
the agreement, as original copyright owner, whereas the Consortium does
not, it seems odd to word it that way since the Consortium is in no
position to grant any such right until after the agreement has been
made! Unless this is merely poorly worded, then, the agreement says
nothing about the right of the author in consequence of the agreement
and merely assumes that the Consortium will thereafter choose freely to
protect the author's rights to unrestricted self-archiving on a public
server. This is not an assumption many would be willing to make about
an organization of the power latent in the one envisioned.

In view of its importance, I find this seemingly clumsy wording just as
troubling as I find the misleading reference to the Ginsparg archive as
model for the basic relationship of authors and readers to the document
database. But you are no doubt right, Stevan, in taking the stance that
we should presume the best of intentions on the part of the authors of
the Proposal and regard the needed corrections of the plan as a matter
of guiding its proponents -- the administrators of the research
universities -- towards developing a more realistic understanding of
where support is really needed.

In any case, it seems to me that we can reasonably expect (1) a radical
rectification of the plan for access to the database by author and
reader alike with the aim of restoring the principles of the Ginsparg
archive, and (2) a rewording of the statement about copyright agreement
that unequivocally leaves authors with the rights to make their work
unrestrictedly available, and not merely available through a restrictive
system of document control such as is described in the graphical
representation of the control system in this Proposal. As you say:

> This is critical: Authors must be protected, and feel protected, from
> any need to give up self-archiving rights.

Joseph Ransdell

Joseph Ransdell  <> or <>
Dept of Philosophy   Texas Tech Univ.  Lubbock TX 79409
(806)  742-3158 office    797-2592 home    742-0730 fax
ARISBE:Peirce Telecommunity
Received on Wed Feb 10 1999 - 19:17:43 GMT

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