Are things otherwise in France?

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sun, 30 May 1999 18:23:06 +0100

> Christophe Pallier <> wrote:
> Dan Ellis posted your advertisement for Cogprints on the AUDITORY list.
> Two of us had an argument about the idea that authors should make their
> work freely available on the net. I include part of the exchange at the
> end of this message.
> This led me to the 2 following ideas:
> 1. If not already done, one could maintain a web page containing a list
> of the journals which accept free dissemination of papers on the web.
> (I can volunteer to create and maintain such a page). We would
> recommend authors to send their papers to these journals. But how many
> of these journals are there?

A natural idea, and a benign one, but it is doomed to fail, and so it
should. Authors will (and should) continue to prefer to submit their
papers to the highest quality, most prestigious and highest-impact
journal for which it is eligible. Hence a black-list is likely to have
very little effect (though it will do no harm and might do a little

The much better and simpler thing to do, which will succeed, and
could succeed very quickly, is simply to encourage all authors to
publicly self-archive all their papers (both unrefereed preprints AND
refereed reprints). The attempt to block self-archiving is so
completely in conflict with the interests of research and researchers,
and so unenforceable, that it is certainly doomed to fail -- and has
already failed in Physics, because of a de facto "class action" (in the
form of massive self-archiving) that is irreversible, and has now led
to the most progressive and enlightened copyright policy of all on the
part of the American Physical Society, publisher of the most
prestigious and highest impact journals in Physics, a model for all
future learned journal copyright policies:

> 2. Why not try to write a generic copyright notice for scientific work,
> in the same vein as the GNU Public License from the Free Software
> Foundation (
> It could one or two paragraphs, stating that the work we want to
> publish must be made freely available to reproduce by anybody. We could
> then, as authors, insist on having these paragraphs inserted in the
> copyright transfer agreements we sign with publishers.
> I don't expect this to work easily, but hey, why not try? We coudl try
> to launch a campaign like the one for "free speech".

APS are already well on the way to providing this model. As a start, see:

> The best would be if some publishers endorsed the idea of free
> scientiific work, and have the authors pay the copyediting & formatting
> job.

That is indeed the target, but the hope is that these will be the SAME
publishers that now publish the established journals, but restructured
for this new online world.

> A compromise may be to leave the exclusivity of publication to the
> publishers for a short period, say one year.

Absolutely not! What nonsense! What researcher would or should agree to
a needless one-year embargo on research findings, particularly in the
critical initial year! Don't under any circumstances ever accept a
Trojan Horse like that.

> This may be very naive. You have a lot more experience than me with
> issues. What do you think we can do as authors and reviewers?

It is indeed naive, though well-intentioned. See further comments below.

> Christophe Pallier
> --------------------------------------
> Christophe Pallier wrote:
> Pierre Divenyi wrote:
pd> How beautiful and Platonic an idea: an electronic preprint archive where
pd> everybody could post his/her new opus within minutes, to be read by tens of
pd> thousands of pairs of interested eyes!

Don't confuse preprints with reprints. Unrefereed preprints can be
posted at once; but refereed reprints will still first have to undergo
peer review, which can be accelerated a little online, but will
continue to be a retardant for as long as referees (donating their
services graciously and gratis in accordance with the academic golden
rule -- for there is not enough money in the world to compensate them
for their heroic services, so don't even think of that) have other things
to do with their time besides instantly evaluating every one of your
papers and mine ("they" are, after all, US).

pd> Unfortunately, as long as our own mainstream auditory journals oppose
pd> on-line dissemination of pre-publications, and enforce their opposition
pd> through automatic rejection of papers disseminated this way, and as long as
pd> our mainstream granting agencies insist on peer-reviewed publications as
pd> representing the major (if not the sole) proof of scientific productivity,
pd> Professor Harnad is putting the cart before the horses. Moreover, even a
pd> cursory visit at the web sites he suggests makes it clear that, should an
pd> unsuspecting colleague except his offer and post his/her paper on the
pd> preprint archive, he/she may shoot him/herself in both feet at once.

Don't be so fatalistic. Look instead at the empirical data. No feet were
shot in Physics, where the game is now over:

> This kind of short-term, individualistic rationale distresses me.
> If we all shoot, then the bullets may not reach our feet but,
> hopefully, the heart (or rather the wallet) of the sharks of scientific
> publishing.

Don't demonize the publishers. You would do the same in their shoes.

They will only scale down to what is optimal and inevitable for
research and researchers when they clearly feel that they have to, and
for that, WE researchers have first to realize what is optimal and
inevitable for us, and act accordingly. Class action, in the form of
universal self-archiving, will accomplish both goals: to free our
journal literature and to send our publishers the message that they
must restructure themselves to accommodate it.

> True: If only a small proportion of us follows Harnad's lead, we might
> end up in troubles...
> It is a case of the well-know prisoners' game: if we cooperate, we all
> win (maybe less than if we play alone), but if we don't cooperate,
> some, maybe the majority, will lose a lot.

There was no prisoner's dilemma in Physics. See URL below. Moreover, we
now have the advantage of the precedent of Physics already in place.
They are, after all, kin of ours, hence part of the "class action."

> It doesn't take a complex demonstration to be convinced that now that
> the cost of publishing scientific results has dramatically dropped, the
> existence of publishers who charge huge prices and prevent widespread
> dissemination of the papers, is an anomaly.

It is not their existence that is an anomaly, but the continuing
needless expenses. Subversion through self-archiving will bring this
into line with reality. The demand for paid paper journals will not
vanish at once (no significant cancellations have yet been detectable in
Physics, though they will no doubt come, eventually); there will be
time for rational restructuring; but meanwhile the free online
literature will already be there for us all.

> It seems obvious that a very small amount of the funds that are devoted
> to research could be invested in paying the few people needed to
> maintain scientific electronic journals, which content could be
> accessed freely by anyone. I am not against private enterprise and
> indeed, this job might very well be done by private publishers, if they
> can offer a better service than public agencies. (Why not have the
> source, that is the author(s) pay a reasonable amount to have the paper
> published. The price would pay for the few hours (or less) of work
> needed to format the paper for electronic publication, and maintain
> servers).

There is no need for new entities to take this service over from the
established journals; they have the experience and expertise; they need
only restructure for the new circumstances, which are indeed likely to
entail scaling down to online-only, and selling, instead of the journal
itself (which will be archived free for all), only the service of
implementing peer review and certification:

> Note that in this scheme, there is of course no reason why the
> reviewing process should be any different for these journals than for
> the ones we currently have.


> I am unsure whether this will ever happen: current publishers don't
> want to lose the goose with the golden eggs, and are fighting hard to
> prevent this from happening. Rather, some of them try to install a kind
> a pay-per-view system. This makes me sick...

The cost-recovery model that publishers are attempting to retain is
Subscription/Site-License/Pay-Per-View (S/L/P). I have dubbed S/L/P the
"trade troika," because all three are predicated on access-barriers,
because they are selling a product, the article/journal, rather than a
service, the quality-control/certification. Up-front payment for this
service makes most sense, because it frees the literature from
toll-barriers. The author-institution, instead of subsidizing the
literature by a huge S/L/P expenditure to buy it back, instead pays for
it up-front, out of only a small portion of its own S/L/P savings!

So there is no need to look for outside subsidy (except initially,
during the transition period). Because the cost of
implementing quality control alone will be so much lower than the
current costs of doing it all, the S/L/P savings themselves will be
enough to cover the up-front costs with plenty left over to spend on
essential things (such as books, which definitely do NOT fall under
this nontrade model, because books-authors, like book-publishers, want
fees or royalties from the toll-gate receipts, whereas with the journal
literature this is not, and never has been, the case).

> At this point, we have the choice between two attitudes:
> 1) an egoistic attitude: putting our career before our scientific
> ideals, and not caring about this issue: just compete to publish in
> the "best" journals.
> The tax-payers will pay the costs, and what's the problem if our
> colleagues can't access the information?...
> 2) a responsible attitude:
> - refuse to submit or review papers in journals handled by publishers
> that refuse to allow free access to the papers (either on the authors'
> web site or on their own).
> - fight to convince journals editors to change publishers: why a
> journal couldn't move to cogprints? The journal may consists of a web
> page with links to the accepted papers.

There is another option, which is having your cake and eating it too:
Continue to submit to your established journal of choice, but
self-archive as well. This subversive path has been followed, with
astounding success, in Physics:

We need not keep debating it all, meanwhile falling prey to Xeno's
Paradox. We need only stride ahead and self-archive. The infrastructure
for it is in place (at all our home institutions) and more is on the

> If, as an author, this is impractical right now, the correct stance is
> to *disobey inane copyright laws* (and convince your peers to do so):
> publish accepted papers on servers like cogprints.
> It is only if the scientific community does this massively that we have
> a chance to prevent the pay-per-view system to win.

Correct. But don't be so sure you are disobeying laws either. There are
massive untested and unreflective ambiguities and vaguenesses here:
There is absolutely no law about self-archiving unrefereed preprints
(only arbitrary and unenforceable policies on the part of some journal
publishers), and the law about self-archiving of refereed reprints
has a slippery slope with respect to the versions: How many changes in
my unrefereed preprint constitutes stepping over the line and making it
into a refereed reprint? Besides, authors need not and should not sign
away their self-archiving rights; here too a class action is in order.

The critical factor (and everyone keeps forgetting this) is that
copyright law is intended to JOINTLY protect the publisher and the
author from theft of text. This is fine for royalty- fee-based books
and magazines. But where the author wants to GIVE the text away rather
than to sell it, it becomes a very different ball-game...

> They are people who try to make a better world happen. Why not take the
> example of the Free Software Foundation ( to create a Free
> Science Foundation?
> Christophe Pallier
> Response
> Cher Christophe,
> You have completely missed the point of my comment to Stevan Harnad's
> suggestion on electronic publication. The main reason is that you see
> the situation from your own environment which, thanks to a slew of
> built-in protection for academics and researchers that you benefit from
> in France as well as in the majority of Western European countries,
> makes the question of whether to publish or not by-and-large optional.

No such thing. Publishing in rigorous refereed journals is critical
everywhere in the active scientific/scholarly world. France cares just
as much for "impact factors" as the UK or US do.

> Let me tell you that in the U.S. it is not. In other words, you are
> quite pampered-spoiled by our standards. Maybe you should also be
> informed that the majority of American contributors to the auditory
> list is able to do research through the sole support of government
> agencies that adhere to the publication policies I outlined in my note.
> Thus, you should not try to admonish those of us for whom there is no
> alternative but to adhere to these policies. If you want the policies
> to change, address your criticism to the agencies.

Funding agencies mandate only that the research findings be published
(in reputable refereed journals) -- not that those journals should black
access to them in return for refereeing and certifying them. On the
contrary, there is a strong move toward retention of self-archiving

> For your information, personally I would be quite in favor of having
> all publications available electronically. My private opinion, however,
> weighs very little in this matter which amounts to fighting windmills
> stronger than even Stevan Harnad's personal opinion: according to what
> I gathered from the information on the web pages he wanted us to see,
> his many years of effort, alas, have accomplished very little. The
> establishment is strong and you guys in France are unlikely to be able
> to export a second French Revolution to conquer it.
> Pierre Divenyi

Courage, chers cocombatants! The battle has been won in Physics, and all
that's needed to carry this on to the rest of the disciplines is to
emulate what the Physicists did (thanks to Paul Ginsparg, to whom all
power and glory!). Just self-archive, and the rest will take care of

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

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