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

From: Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_COGLIT.ECS.SOTON.AC.UK>
Date: Sat, 1 May 1999 15:12:05 +0100

On Fri, 30 Apr 1999, Anne Buck <> wrote:

> Stevan,
> We would like to point out some features of the Scholar's Forum that
> are being overlooked or misinterpreted.

Dear Anne and coworkers in the CalTech Proposal for the Scholars Forum:

First, let me make it explicit, as I have done before, that the CalTech
initiative is very welcome and should be supported. Let us in no way
balkanize our efforts over minor local differences. The overall idea is
excellent, timely, and should be pursued with energy and speed. The
recommendations and criticism below are made in the interest of
strengthening the Proposal by streamlining it, paring off what is not
relevant or tenable.

> 1. The Forum does not propose establishing one generic
> "journal" for all disciplines, or even a number of generic journals
> for different disciplines. It is a model for conducting scholarly
> discourse, not the name of one server somewhere. Each element of the
> Operational View flowchart stands for many such elements in practice,
> i.e. many editorial boards, panels of copy-editing technical writers,
> groups of referees, technical program committees, authors, and
> archives. The flowchart describes the relationships among various
> parts of the model. Arrows indicate communication or discussion
> channels; dotted lines indicate automated interaction with standards
> and protocols.

You have found the right word for it: "model." Models are welcome when
we are testing hypotheses. There are many hypotheses about how we might
reform the peer review system. Let them be modeled and tested. But let
us not link the fate of these models, their tests, and their outcomes,
to something that is already true, and demonstrated:

The current refereed journal literature, as it stands, is an extremely
valuable resource. It is what all future work is built upon. Perhaps a
better form of peer review could make it even better, but that is an
empirical question. What is undeniable is that the current refereed
journal literature, such as it is, is and has always been an invaluable
resource to researchers.

Currently, access to that literature is blocked by tolls for
Subscription/Site-License/Pay-Per-View (S/L/P), even though the
authors of that literature have given it away for free.

The cost of access to that literature, and the even greater cost of
lack of access to that literature, are the reason behind initiatives
like the Scholars Forum. The objective is to make this resource
accessible for free for all, online.

This objective has already been achieved in one particular sector of
the literature, in Physics, by the Los Alamos Eprint Archive (LANL).


The acceptance and indeed dependence of the world physics community on
LANL today is the proof -- if proof was needed -- that a free Archive
of the journal literature is indeed what the learned community needs
and wants.

It follows that LANL is not a "model," but a proven, working principle.
The gist of my recommendation to the Scholar's Forum is that that is
the principle it should implement, not any untested model for the
future of journals or their successors. The LANL principle has face
validity, overwhelming proof in practice, and is ready for extension to
all disciplines. Why take something we KNOW works stupendously well and
weigh it down with unproven "add-ons" that could well prevent it from
getting off the ground just when it's ready to carry the other
disciplines skyward, just as it has done in Physics?

> 2. The preprint server is distinct from the archive. The
> Consortium makes a long-term commitment to transfer reviewed works
> (final versions) to permanent archives, both paper (for now) and
> electronic. It guarantees that as digital technology evolves, all
> electronic works will be converted in a timely and high quality
> manner.

No one needs to transfer anything from anywhere. If there is a robust,
reliable Pandisciplinary Archive, its ubiquity and perpetuity soundly
underpinned by Consortia, then authors can self-archive both their own
unrefereed preprints and their own refereed reprints, as they do in
LANL, and, in future, journals (established and new, with classical
peer review and experimental) can have "overlays" on the Forum, as
they will on LANL, in which they can officially certify the refereed
papers. But for now, author self-archiving of preprints and reprints is
enough, as it was in LANL. The rest will take care of itself, once the
LANL revolution has spread to all the disciplines.

> We are adamant in our belief that "self-archiving" to a
> single pre-print server by authors when they submit a work is not
> building an archive. Archiving involves a commitment to retain and
> maintain a work in a secure, systematic fashion beyond the foreseeable
> future. The preprint server offers an author a venue for presenting a
> work openly, without restrictions, and obviates the author's need to
> maintain a personal server for this purpose. The Consortium will
> commit to providing on-going server maintenance and further archival
> retention including making conversions to new formats as network
> technology advances.

There is a crucial misunderstanding here: Self-archiving means
archiving by the author. This is not restricted to local self-archiving
in the author's Institution's Home Server (although that is an
important component in creating a safely distributed, redundant and
mirrored storage architecture). Authors need to self-archive in local
as well as global Archives, such as LANL (and, one hopes, Scholar's
Forum), with all the consortial resources you mention, to ensure the
reliability and preservation of the global archive.

Once the literature is indeed all being self-archived, the Online
medium itself will offer a wealth of resources for safely storing it,
upgrading it with new technology, preserving it, and so on. The hurdle
to cross is creating a LANL-style Archive in which authors are indeed
motivated to self-archive all their papers in the first place. That's
the hard part. The rest is implementational details. But if you
needlessly overstructure the simple target -- a LANL-style Archive in
which all authors place their preprints and reprints -- weighing it
down with further, unproved structures, instead of restricting it to
the tested and proven structures of LANL, you are needlessly
jeopardizing the prospects of getting the literature online and free,
as it has become in LANL.

If something has worked so well, why not extend it as is, instead of
trying to "fix" it first, especially when all the "fixes" are
controversial (and some of them incoherent), and hence likely to
inspire needless opposition?

> 3. The purpose of the Forum is not to put established
> publishers out of business, nor to generate a parallel universe to
> what already exists. We agree that scholars do not need duplicative
> journals.

I don't know what "duplicative journals" means, and no one wants to put
publishers out of business. The objective is only to free the refereed
journal literature, online.

> The Forum establishes a mechanism by which a society,
> group, conference committee, etc. may process and post their collected
> works without having to develop an infrastructure of their own. Once
> a standards and protocols platform is developed, it will be tested
> with people who have no established journals of their own before it is
> opened to general use.

Societies, conferences, journals, etc. already have standards and
protocols, and these are not uniform, nor should they be; nor is there
any reason for them to want to submit their standards and protocols to
any other body: This is not where the problem lies! Let standards and
protocols take care of themselves -- or let CalTech establish a second,
parallel initiative for the reform of standards and protocols. But for
the present initiative, focus on freeing the literature, such as it is,
standards and all!

Nor is founding new online journals a particularly useful goal. Let new
journals form as they are needed, as they have always done. The goal
here is to get the existing journal literature online and for free.

> There is no reason the Forum cannot entertain proposals
> from established journals to move their electronic collections onto
> Forum servers under the following important conditions:
> a.) The Consortium will not support any S/L/P terms
> from anyone for access to the materials on the Consortium servers.

A worthy and desirable outcome, but COMPLETELY unrealistic under these
conditions: Suppose I publish a successful paper journal now. I am
interested in producing an online version of it too. What should I do?
Set one up myself (as most journals are indeed doing) and continue to
sell it, like the paper version, for S/L/P, or give it to the Scholar's
Forum for free, so they can in turn give it away for free?

There is absolutely no incentive at all for a publisher to seek or
accept such a "service"! But with just one slight parametric variation,
almost exactly the same thing DOES make sense: if it is AUTHORS who
are offered the free server, in which they can make their papers accessible
for free for all. Journal authors already give their intellectual property to
their publishers for free, to sell via S/L/P; they can in addition put
it in the Scholar's Forum, where it can be accessed online without any
barriers from S/L/P.

> b.) To use a Forum server as its electronic
> distribution source, the publisher must freely accept the terms agreed
> to by all parties to the Consortium.

Vide supra. Why on earth should a publisher want to accept this? It is
authors who can and will.

> c.) Authors or their institutions retain copyright per
> the terms established by the Consortium (see the Model text).

Agreed. Extremely important for their right to self-archive!

> 4. The journal as a finite aggregation of vetted works will
> fade away. In its place, the Forum offers a strong set of value-added
> alternatives:

Yes, this will indeed happen, but only if the self-archiving
(subversive) route is taken, as in LANL. If it awaits prior
acquiescence by publishers, it has a long wait! (If it hopes to entice
authors away from its proven, prestigious, high-impact journals to new
journals or whatever, it has an even longer wait!)


> * Societies or other groups may create and disseminate coherent,
> accessible virtual collections of links selected for their pertinence
> to members' interests. Thus, a society may announce the availability
> of a work of particular interest to members but that may be outside
> their usual focus or discipline.

As I said before, this is so trivial and out-of-date for the online
medium that it is not worth spending any time thinking about.

> * In addition, this platform will enable individuals to establish
> their own subject profiles to create personal alerting services.

Also irrelevant and trivial. Why speak of such short-sighted banalities
in the same breath as the revolutionary possibility of freeing the
entire journal literature online?

> 5. The Forum provides flexibility to authors:
> * The Forum supports choice on how widely a work may be made
> available prior to acceptance; authors may submit works directly to
> editorial boards or to conference planners without first announcing
> their work in a preprint server.

Again, a banality. Authors always have the choice about whether or not
to self-archive their preprint publicly before refereeing. I am afraid
that if you keep dwelling on this sort of empty nonsense you risk not
having the proposal taken seriously at all.

> * Authors do not have to relinquish their right to submit papers
> to established journals; the Forum represents one option for authors.

This is completely incoherent. It is not even clear what this "option"
is, once one clears away the fog: The Forum is just an Archive. It will
contain either unrefereed preprints or refereed reprints. But to get
from unrefereed preprint to refereed reprint one still has to submit
the paper to a journal (established or new, conventional or
experimental) for refereeing. So what's new here?

> 6. The Forum does not propose to change the peer review
> process. Peer review will continue to be conducted within the
> disciplines by referees selected for their expertise by their peers.

If the Forum does not support any new forms of peer review (protocols?
standards?) of its own: that's very good. Then it is even clearer that
it is just an Archive (although "just" is an understatement, for a
free, global archive like LANL is just what Learned Inquiry needs).

But then why mention peer review at all? The Forum does not want to
take it over, and become a megajournal or journals: good. It dreams of
an arrangement whereby publishers seek to archive their contents in the
Forum, offering them free for all. Dream on. But AUTHORS will certainly
want to do this, once the Forum is available to them. So do so, and say

> * Editorial Boards will continue to be established just as today
> by the scientific community, to serve the same critical needs. There
> may be an infinite number of such boards, and they may be broadly
> based or highly specialized, depending solely on their objectives and
> goals. They will continue to exercise exactly the same quality
> control function as for today's journals and they may compete in areas
> in which the scholarly community feels that competition is beneficial.

This passage has absolutely no content. It is like saying that life
will go on: Of course peer review will proceed apace. Why even mention
it, or link it in any way with the substantive thing the Forum is
trying to do?

> 7. Copy-editing is a minor process. As Andrew Odlyzko
> recently pointed out, "The manuscripts prepared by authors have been
> improving, to the point that copy of diminished value."

I agree, but its value is still nonzero, and will be part of quality
control, along with peer review, no matter who implements it.

> * However, editorial boards may demand that any author have a work
> copy-edited to meet its quality standards. The Forum proposes that
> such copy-editing continues to be performed but that the author
> becomes responsible.

Such decrees are, I regret, ludicrous! Why is the Forum pronouncing on
all these things that are not, will not be, and should not be under its
control or aegis at all? Implement a free archive and let the user
community take care of the rest, as it did with LANL!

> * The Forum proposes to eliminate the need for an editorial board
> to contract with or become a publisher to accomplish copy-editing, by
> establishing lists of approved consultants or services to whom an
> author may take a work that needs to be brought up to the board's
> standards.

It is beyond me why any of this is even being mentioned, but if not
dropped, it will risk giving a potentially serious and substantive
proposal an air of amateurism and even quackery.

> * It is the prerogative of the editorial board to insist on
> receiving verification of required copy-editing from its approved list
> prior to final acceptance of a work.

Ah, me.

> 8. The new management of copy-editing illustrates a central
> advantage of the Forum model: production cost is shifted from the
> reader/subscriber to the author/creator. Authors are given meaningful
> incentive to improve their writing skills and to submit quality copy
> at the outset which would certainly improve the lot of referees and
> editorial boards!

I've commented on this once already: Distinguish pre-refereeing help in
writing from post-refereeing help. The latter is called copy editing.
No one can do it entirely for himself. Your friends can't be counted on
to do it for you, for everything, always. Even a departmental service
may not meet the standards of Journal X. So it follows that part of
peer review, if you like, is some quality control for FORM, along with
the usual quality control for CONTENT.

The rest is again amateurish future-casting (and does not sound very
informed by prior editorial office experience either!)

Please forgive the irony, but it is so disheartening to see really good
stuff mixed in with nonsense like this! Just drop it and the proposal
will fly!

> 9. While journal publication may take time to displace or
> reconfigure, conference proceedings are expensive, limited
> publications that are difficult to access but contain many valuable
> works. They may provide an ideal arena for initial experimentation.

Yes, yes, conference proceedings (unrefereed, or lightly refereed) were
always a problematic case, and often no publisher wanted to do them
(and no doubt many conferences never got published, for that reason).
They are a natural for Archives, but they are the easy (and small)
part. The refereed journal literature is the hard (and much larger)

> Conference organizers will have the opportunity to
> distribute abstracts or preliminary works prior to a conference
> without incurring the expense of printing and mailing, thus reducing
> the costs associated with publicizing a conference.

LANL, by the way, has already implemented this for at least one
conference I know of, with no fanfare, and without any implication that
any new principles are involved: The unrefereed conference literature
is virtually preprint literature anyway. Conference overlays, to add
weight to such preprints in the form of another kind of certification
tag on which users can search (unrefereed conference proceedings,
refereed conference proceedings), will be a useful feature.

> The Forum also provides a mechanism for conference
> organizers to announce programs and create indexes of submitted works.
> Full papers, reviewed or not, may be made available at a later time
> with links to the original program and possibly with added commentary
> from the conference itself. Refereed papers would be included in the
> archive, and could include links to standing editorial boards in
> addition to the conference links.

If you continue to be vague about Journals, the hard case, and verbose
about conferences, the easy case, you risk turning the Forum into a
conference server, and delaying still further the freeing of the
all-important journal literature.

Commentaries, as I said before, are yet another matter -- interesting,
important, but nothing the Forum needs to make any explicit commitments
about. Comments -- both refereed and unrefereed -- are among the many
items that authors might self-archive in the Forum (along with revised
updates, corrigenda, and other potentially linked material).

> 10. The Forum proposes to develop a dynamic alternative to
> deadening email discourse surrounding works in servers. By providing
> a hierarchical "threaded" discourse platform, comments may be linked
> in a coherent and logical manner. Readers will have access to the
> full discussion rather than to edited email commentary.

The "Forum" will do nothing of the sort (and does not gain credibility
from so self-proclaiming, any more than Al Gore does when he claims to
have created the Internet!). This has already been done, via software,
in the form of the many Variants of Hypermail Archives that are in
growing use today. Such threaded, linked comments and responses are
again candidate items for deposit in the Archive.

> * All prior comments will be available to each reader, in full, as
> submitted, without requiring compilation or intermediation.

Ah me. Verites de lapalise...

> * To facilitate this new mode of discussion, the Forum will
> develop the mechanisms to support and retain linked commentary.

Eminently worthwhile feature, but already proposed by the American
Physical Society in 1992, and as obvious a capability for an online
archive as citation-linking.


> * The author of a comment on a refereed work may also submit it
> directly to an appropriate editorial board for review and possible
> inclusion in the archival record.

Would this not be amply covered by a generic statement that the Archive,
besides containing unrefereed preprints and refereed reprints of
papers, will also contain refereed and unrefereed commentaries on those
papers, with links?

> 11. A well-designed index to the scholarly record assures
> that present and future scholars may efficiently identify relevant
> work. Since the Forum's input protocols and standards platform will
> permit the creation of a body of works that carry consistent
> identification parameters, works may be sorted and retrieved by those
> parameters. Consistent identification parameters counterbalance the
> limitations of hyperlink-only retrieval or free text-only searching.

Online search and retrieval tools are a growing research specialty.
Unless the Forum somehow wants to become, or to claim to be, especially
expert or advanced in this specialty, they are best leaving it to the
experts, and focusing on the invaluable resource the Forum really IS in a
position to provide: A free online archive. Don't hitch your wagon to
any current vision of the shape that online search and retrieval will
be taking in the near future.

> We submit that the Scholar's Forum, in its alpha-to-omega vision for
> advancing scholarly communication, addresses for the first time in one
> coherent model the wide range of needs and concerns of the academic
> and research community. The Scholar's Forum provides a framework for
> experimentation to develop the next paradigm for scholar discourse.

Please, forget about models and paradigms! Apart from a few platitudes
along with a few bloopers, which should all be dropped, we have here a
proposal to extend the proven LANL principle to the rest of the
disciplines. Go ahead and do it! It will work, and a free, globally
accessible learned journal literature WILL produce a new paradigm for the
use of the learned literature, to the eternal benefit of research and
researchers. The rest of the visionary stuff only obscures the picture!

Best wishes

Stevan Harnad
Professor of Cognitive Science
Department of Electronics and phone: +44 1703 592-582
Computer Science fax: +44 1703 592-865
University of Southampton
Highfield, Southampton
Received on Wed Feb 10 1999 - 19:17:43 GMT

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Dec 10 2010 - 19:45:30 GMT