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

From: Ransdell, Joseph M. <ransdell_at_DOOR.NET>
Date: Thu, 6 May 1999 20:42:33 -0500

Stevan Harnad wrote:

sh> It is beyond my powers to discern what is exercising Professor
sh> Ransdell, what he is worrying about, or why, so I will not attempt
sh> comment on most of what he has posted.

What, me worry? 8-) Actually, I do worry, though I'm delighted
with the way things are going thus far. Anyway, If anyone has any
criticisms of my point about the sort of objection that would be taken
to establshing a new administrative level of control I would be pleased
to learn of them and duly responsive.

sh> The only substantive point I
sh> found was the following, and unfortunately it is based on a
sh> misunderstanding:
jr > seems to me that Stevan's point that existing
jr > journals don't need to be subsumed under such an arrangement
jr > they are already doing a good job might mistakenly be brushed aside
jr > impertinent on the grounds that the question isn't whether they are
jr > doing okay but whether they are making any moves to go online
jr > and since there is little indication that they are, why shouldn't
jr > prestige of the universities forming the Consortium be used to
jr > them to get on board The Prestige Express and get the migration to
jr > internet started at last?
sh> Most journals ARE already migrating to the internet; that is not the
sh> problem. The problem is how to free the online journal literature
sh> Subscription/Site-License/Pay-Per-View [S/L/P]) access barriers.
That is
sh> what journals are not doing, and not going to do, except under
sh> from the user community, i.e., authors (self-archiving for free) and
sh> readers (preferring the free online version to any S/L/P strategies

There is no misunderstanding on my part, Stevan. I don't regard the
S/L/P strategies that the journals -- some of them -- are using right
now as migrating to the internet. They are just doing what they have
always done and allowing, in addition, some limited access on private
lines to some people at some places. Our department hasn't even asked
the library to buy site licenses for the various "experiments" in this
because they are doing it in such a feeble and inept way that it is
really just useless and the very idea of a site license for displaying
the results of scholarly research strikes me as perverse somehow. I
don't mean to reduce this to a verbal quibble, though: if you call what
they are doing "being on-line" I won't argue with you.

But none of this is to the point, really. I support your view because I
have the same aim, up to a certain point, at least: namely, unrestricted
self-archiving on machines with servers that provide universal
unrestricted access. I have surely made that clear. I'm sorry this
diverted you from what you must originally have intended to do, which
was to explain why you are so confident that they will not brush aside
your own insistence on the inappropriateness of the administrative
agenda they seem clearly to have in mind in the Proposal.

sh> Authors need support in self-archiving: They need a reliable Archive
sh> they can trust, backed by Institutions they trust, and protected
sh> copyright restrictions by collective initiatives they trust and can
sh> join. That is precisely the critical role the Scholar's Forum can
sh> play in this -- without any danger whatsoever of breeding a "class
sh> sycophants"!

Well, of course authors need all that, but they won't get any of it if
we don't look closely at what exactly is happening. One knows nothing
at all about what any of these things mean other than through the
examination of the detail of arrangements and agreements, and the
probable consequences of doing this or that. If I am mistaken as
regards the likely result of establishing an administrative system like
the one described, reasons can surely be given as to why I am mistaken.
There IS something to be concerned about in this, on the face of it. As
it stands, this is a proposal for a new level of government of
intellectual life by the coordination of some of the most powerful
institutions in the world. I'm saying that this sort of thing is not
what is wanted, and I thought you were, too. I don't see that I can be
faulted merely on the grounds that I have worries about such a thing.
It worries me when I learn that people aren't worried about these sorts
of ambitions. I would have thought that this sort of concern is just
common sense.

But as regards what especially concerns you, what I am saying is this:
assuming that by "the Scholar's Forum" is meant the system to be set up
by the Consortium which is described in the original Proposal, then what
is being established is a set of facilities designed for use in moving
journal publication on-line, such that if a given journal uses the
facilities then that journal is ipso facto on line in the relevant sense
because that is built into the design of the system. These facilities
are of the nature of a document archive with a variety of special
systems facilities for sophisticated document management, including a
server system for document input and output, and the whole is enframed
by an administrative system that determines, among other things, who
uses the facilities and how.

Now, I claim that there are certain reasons why the Consortium cannot
set up the sort of administrative system they have in mind -- not the
server system but the enframing administrative system -- and expect it
to have any long-range viability. (I am not criticizing the system as
an archive & server system, by the way.) But let us suppose that I am
wrong about that. It still is not clear why they should put as much
weight on your insistence on the self-archiving principle as you think
they should. My objections aside, it is surely well within the power of
such a Consortium to attract as many prestigious editors with their
journals as they can accommodate, and to keep on doing so until they
have brought on board every journal they think worth supporting, without
having to depend upon the much slower results of relying on the
self-archiving principle to work its results out gradually on the basis
of marketplace considerations. It would cost them something to set up
the facilities, but then they must know that or they wouldn't be
thinking of getting into this to begin with, and the expense might be
recoverable from the money saved by the end of the dependence on
commercial journals. Why would the journal editors and the contributors
to and readers of the journals be unwilling to take advantage of the
sort of arrangements and facilities the Consortium could provide if they
were assured that their editorial policies were not interfered with and
the papers published would be available at no charge? Sounds like a
bold and quite practical solution on the face of it.

Of course, I am claiming that it won't work, after all, and it
shouldn't. I could be wrong, but as regards your interests I am simply
providing a backup argument in case they decide that your insistence on
the self-archiving principle doesn't actually make that much difference
to them after all since they can accomplish the goal of getting
everybody on-line that deserves to be on-line without having to wait for
the eventual effects of free self-archiving. I can see why they might
think that. This might help explain why they have not shown much overt
interest in the self-archiving principle thus far, which I was unable to
track down functionally in analyzing their proposal, and why their
reference to the xxx server seemed more expressive of piety than of a
practical understanding of what that is all about. I don't attribute
any of this to sinister forces. It could be simple oversight, for
example, or sloppy thinking, though I am rather more inclined to
interpret it charitably as an indicator that their present perspective
on this doesn't make the importance of these things as obvious to them
as it should.

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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