Re: E-Biomed: Very important NIH Proposal

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sun, 6 Jun 1999 20:01:03 +0100

These are my comments and corrections on a June 7 article in The Scientist
by Paul Smaglik about the NIH E-biomed Proposal.
(The corrections were not made.) -- Stevan Harnad

URL for the article in question:

> By Paul Smaglik
> It's going to be a preprint service. It's going to be a reprint
> repository. It's going to kill off society journals. It's going to save
> them. It's going to compete with commercial titles. It's going to
> complement them.
> There appears to be no consensus on the effect E-biomed, a
> potential government-backed electronic publishing service proposed by
> Harold Varmus, director of the National Institutes of Health, will have
> on other journals-both paper and electronic. Nor does there appear to be
> much agreement on what form that service will take. "There's a vagueness
> in Varmus' proposal," comments Stevan Harnad, professor of cognitive
> science at Princeton University and the University of Southampton in
> England.

Paul, you MUST add:

    "but once this vagueness is resolved, there is a viable core that
    can have the revolutionary impact of freeing the biomedical journal
    literature for one and all forever."

Otherwise this does not reflect my own view on this, as we discussed in
your phone interview.

Note also that I am no longer at Princeton, but at Southampton.

> Varmus, who acknowledges that the proposal is young, calls that
> vagueness "evolvability" [see Varmus interview, page X]. While words
> like "vagueness" (and nonwords like "evolvability") are being applied
> specifically to E-biomed, they might well serve as accurate labels for
> electronic publishing as a whole. The field has splintered into a myriad
> of permutations. E-publishing now includes electronic reprint sites,
> such as a cognitive science one run by Harnad;

Paul, to put this in context, you should really say:

    "E-publishing now includes electronic preprint and reprint sites,
    such as the remarkably successful Physics Archive at Los Alamos,
    run by Paul Ginsparg, and its emulators in other disciplines, such
    as CogPrints, in cognitive science, run by Harnad;"

If you don't put it this way, the statement is neither representative
nor informative. There is NO DISTINCTION between preprint and reprint
servers: they are for self-archiving by authors, who can put either
preprints or reprints in there.


> E-only journals, such as
> MedGenMed, run by former JAMA:The Journal of the American Medical
> Association Editor George Lundberg;

To emphasize that there is NO INCOMPATIBILITY between running eprint
archives and e-only journals, I suggest that you mention Psycoloquy, the
e-only journal I have been running since 1990, the first peer-reviewed
e-only scientific journal, and, paradoxically, sponsored by the American
Psychological Association (APA), the biggest and most prestigious
paper-journal publisher in Psychology. This just shows that Learned
Societies can be extremely progressive (funding free journals) at the
same time as being reflexively regressive (APA has one of the most
restrictive copyright policies at the moment, along with Science and the
New England Journal of Medicine; in contrast, Nature is more
progressive, and the American Physical Society (APS), the APA's
counterpart in Physics, has the most progressive copyright policy of
all, one that will serve as a model for all the others):



> preprint archives, such as a popular
> physics site sponsored by Los Alamos National Laboratory;

Drop this in favour of the prior mention above. It is artificial and
counterproductive to try to distinguish preprint and reprint servers.
The only separating issue is copyright, and as noted, this varies from
journal to journal, rather than from preprint to reprint.

> and commercial
> sites by publishers including Elsevier Science and John Wiley & Sons.

Stress that sites like Los Alamos and CogPrints are for self-archiving
by authors and they are FREE, whereas sites like Elsevier's and other
journal proprietary archives are for FEE!

> Which of these disparate sites will thrive may depend on issues that
> affect them all. Who deservedly holds the copyright for research
> articles, what is the tolerance for "tolls" on the Information Highway,
> and how will the Web change the nature of peer review.

Don't conflate the special case of S/L/P access barriers to the refereed
journal literature with the more general and irrelevant issue of people's
willingness to pay for things on the Net or Web

> Subversive Proposal
> Harnad suspects-and hopes-that Varmus' plan will eventually
> resemble the "subversive proposal" Harnad made years ago.

how about "converge on" rather than "resemble."

Also, I strongly suggest, for completeness, that you likewise mention
the Scholar's Forum, an initiative parallel to the NIH one, and
potentially even bigger, because it includes ALL disciplines, not just
the biomedical ones, and it comprises the top US Universities (and
potentially all of them), not just NIH:

Don't underestimate this CalTech initiative. I have heard through the
grapevine that there is a GREAT deal of muscle behind it, as it is being
promoted by the Provosts of the US Universities, the ones most conscious of
the huge drain on University budgets represented by learned journals, as
well as the huge limitation on the potential impact of University
research represented by the access barriers of the
Subscription/Site-License/Pay-Per-View (S/L/P) system that they too
would like to subvert.

> That proposal
> calls for authors to archive their published, peer-reviewed papers on
> their own Web sites and give them away for free. Harnad notes that since
> authors don't get paid for their efforts, "there's no reason they
> shouldn't be able to give their own work away."

Note here that they already DO give it away, and always have done, in
the form of reprints that they themselves pay to produce and mail (for
free) to those who want them; the Net will effectively just become a
big, universal reprint distributor for the author.

> To have their work
> mounted, authors-or institutions-could perhaps pay the journal that
> published it a fee that is less than the yearly subscription rate.

NO, NO! Please don't attribute this completely counterproductive view
to me! Authors have already given their papers to their publishers for
free, so that their publishers can sell them. It would be absolutely
grotesque that authors should now, like libraries, PAY to buy back
their own work so that they themselves can in turn give it away for
free! Please think before saying such things!

> Such
> an arrangement would reduce the journal's role to peer review and a seal
> of approval.

THAT is indeed the service that authors' institutions can and should
continue to pay for, but not through access-blocking S/L/P but through
direct, up-front payment for this quality-control and certification
service, out of only a small portion of the institutional S/L/P

PLEASE get the logic and pragmatics of up-front payment straight,
otherwise you are simply advocating another variant of S/P/L
access-blockage (in which the author's institution is now paying L -- a
global site license -- for the "right" to make specific papers of their
own accessible to everyone for free: there is no justification
whatsoever for that; only the quality control and certification service
needs to be paid for!).

> The drawback? Copyrights. Many journals do not let authors
> retain copyright. And commercial and society-based journals likely
> wouldn't voluntarily give up the subscription income that makes them
> viable. Still, Harnad thinks that may change. He notes that the American
> Physical Society recently gave copyright control back to authors who
> submit papers to its journals. "The game is over in physics," Harnad
> comments. If other societies followed suit, that could pressure
> commercial publishers to do the same. But that's a big "if," notes Helen
> Atkins, director of database development at the Institute for Scientific
> Information (ISI) in Philadelphia. "[Harnad has] been proposing this for
> a long time. The basic idea he has is very interesting. I don't see
> anybody doing it."

APS is somebody; and they are not the only ones: Perhaps you should do a
survey of evolving copyright policy. My bet is that it's moving toward
the APS model. Subversion from self-archiving in Los Alamos, CogPrints,
E-Biomed and Scholar's Forum will help hasten the process.

> The top biomedical journals are especially protective
> of copyrights, but if E-biomed becomes enough of a force, that could
> change. Harnad thinks E-biomed will be more successful as a reprint
> repository for existing journals than a new, competing one. "We don't
> need more journals," he concludes.

And continue: "We need infrastructures that will facilitate
self-archiving by authors, as Los Alamos has done in Physics. The rest
will follow suit, as it has with the APS."

> E-only Options
> Lundberg would disagree, although he declined to comment on the
> need for E-biomed. He is the Northwestern University-based editor of
> Medscape General Medicine (MedGenMed), a clinical medicine Web site
> designed for both patients and practitioners; it will publish its first
> peer-reviewed articles soon. Lundberg hopes the site will trade on the
> brand name of Medscape, the popular clinical site that launched
> MedGenMed April 9. The journal will be a curious combination of old and
> new approaches to publishing.
> "We don't plan for this journal to be an annual, a quarterly, a
> monthly, or a weekly. We will publish articles as they are found to be
> of value. The date of publication will be the day it goes up," Lundberg
> says.

This is not news. It is already the policy of hundreds of e-only
journals, such as Psycoloquy (and many others).

You are here pitting something fairly humdrum and unenterprising against
something revolutionary, as if they were somehow either on a par or
alternatives. They are neither. E-only journals are one thing, free
archives another.

The only common point is FREE e-only journals: Is Lundberg's free? If
not, then it's just S/L/P barriers all over again, in a new medium. If
it IS free, then (unless subsidized) it is probably premature -- as is
the new author-page-charge based Institute of Physics (IOP) free-only
journal, which will, I fear, fail, because the culture is not yet ready
for it: E-only journals can't be financed up-front until (1) the
community has, and becomes addicted to, the journal literature for
free, online, hence (2) S/L/P cancellations occur, freeing a portion of
those savings to pay for (3) up-front charges for quality control.

In other words, till the fields are first softened up by subversion
through self-archiving, authors will neither see the point, nor have
the institutional support, for up-front expenses; besides, page-charges
have a bad reputation today, having added insult to injury as an
ADDITIONAL expense, over and above S/L/P tolls, in the paper era; and
they still have the smell of vanity press. All this will change, but
subversion and its ensuing changes in user culture must come first.

But the point is that MedGenMed vs. E-Biomed is an unbalanced and
incoherent opposition.

> On the other hand, he will avoid the so-called "fluid" peer review
> with which some E-journals have experimented. "We intend to use a more
> traditional form of peer review-traditional in the sense of shielding
> the identity of the reviewers from the authors and readers and not doing
> open peer review, whereby you put up something ... and get everybody to
> shoot at it." Lundberg feels that such approaches dilute the authority
> of a journal.

These are all platitudes. Most of the new e-only journals (e.g.
Psycoloquy, for over TEN years already) use classical peer review, with
anonymity, etc. Why parade these platitudes in the same breath as truly
new and potentially revolutionary stuff?

> Hosting such "fluid" documents can actually strengthen an
> electronic publication, argues Rick Luce, [**TITLE**], at Los Alamos
> National Laboratory. "One of the things that the medium clearly can do
> is turn static documents into living documents." That approach may
> explain why physicists have embraced the Internet as a research tool.

I assume you are referring here to open peer commentary (as opposed to
classical peer review) and how it can help in the evolution of papers
along the Scholarly Skywriting Continuum:

This too is happens to be one of my specialities. The PAPER journal I
founded in 1978 (Behavioral and Brain Sciences, BBS, published by
Cambridge University Press), specializes in peer commentary.

And, yes, the online medium is infinitely better suited to that, and
will make a lot more forms of peer commentary -- formal and informal,
refereed and unrefereed, on unrefereed preprints and on refereed
reprints -- possible and permanent. And it will contribute to updates
and upgrades of papers, both before and after the officially certified

But this is a side-issue! Commentary is a supplement to, not a
substitute for the classical system. And what is at issue here is the
classical system, that is, the 14,000 refereed journals presently
constituting the journal literature (or the 6500 subset of them covered
by ISI). THAT is the literature that subversion could make online and
free. Save the frills for another story; let this be about delivering
the quality controlled, officially certified goods such as they are.

> The success of the Los Alamos preprint resource may have inspired Varmus
> to draft his own proposal. However, publishers in the two disciplines
> have different preprint philosophies. Physicists have used preprints
> long before the Internet to communicate rough ideas and then, with
> feedback from others, to shape those preprints into publishable papers.

True, but this isn't just about preprints any more. Nor does Los Alamos
contain only preprints!

> In biomedicine, on the other hand, some of the most respected journals
> will not touch an article that has existed as a preprint in any
> form-sometimes even on a personal Web page. "There are plenty of
> biomedical publishers who won't accept a paper if it's been mounted
> anywhere," notes Atkins. But that, too, may change, especially if
> E-biomed shapes up as Varmus envisions.

Indeed it will change, as this policy, quite simply, has no
justification whatsoever; it is purely self-serving -- with the very
minor exception of papers whose unrefereed dissemination might endanger
public health: but these are a minuscule subset of the biomed
literature and can be treated as a special case, as E-Biomed is in a
position to do; they are certainly no justification for holding all the
rest of the literature hostage to such restrictions; that is done
merely out of publisher self-interest: to protect a revenue stream by
not allowing themselves to be "scooped."

But once the service provided by journals scales down to quality
control and certification -- with no question of S/L/P sales to worry
about protecting -- this will become the non-issue that it always
should have been: Except where public health might be put at risk by
premature publicizing, it is no business whatsoever of a journal's
whether or not an author has disseminated a preprint of the unrefereed

I might add that journals also will "not touch" a paper that has
already been published in another refereed journal, and in this they
are fully justified: For referees referee for free, and it is an abuse
of their services to ask them to referee a paper that has already been
refereed and published. But in an online world free of S/L/P barriers
there will be no incentive to "re-publish" work that has already been
quality controlled and officially certified by some journal. It is
already in the public eye, as accessible as anything else. HERE is
where comments and citations from peers can draw attention to a paper
that might have appeared in a journal that was lower in the
prestige/impact hierarchy than it might have deserved to be.

Peer commentary can help correct the oversights of classical peer
review, but multiple submission, being an abuse of a scarce resource
(referee time) will be as unacceptable with free e-only journals as it
is now with S/L/P paper journals. Nor will page charges make it any
more acceptable; for referees are, and will remain unpaid: there is not
money enough in the world to compensate them for their heroic services,
donated gratis to a prestigious journal or granting agency by reason of
an academic golden rule.

> However, E-biomed might have the opposite effect. Large
> publishers will continue to deny publication of material that appeared
> as a preprint, will resist giving up copyrights, and will do whatever
> they can to charge for full-text articles pulled from the Internet. "I
> think the focus has been 'Protect the revenue stream,'" Luce notes. "If
> you and I were the journals, we wouldn't want to go along with this,"
> Harnad agrees.

I agree. But now we come to what I have called the "Faustian Bargain":
There is a profound conflict of interest in this, one that is unique to
the refereed-journal literature (it is NOT true of books or magazines),
and that places research and researchers on one side, and publishers on the

The Faustian Bargain in the past was that all authors transferred
copyright to their publishers because that was the only way they could
gain the immortality of PUBLICation. This was fine for the trade
literature (all books and magazines), because those authors contributed
their texts for fee or royalty, and shared in the take from the
toll-gate receipts. But this was never true of the refereed journal
authors, who wanted only to reach the eyes and minds of their
fellow-researchers with the reports of their research findings, so
their work could have its full potential impact, and be built upon as
broadly as possible.

Yet they too had to transfer copyright, because there was no other way
to cover the real expenses of paper dissemination. The
access-restrictions imposed by the toll-barriers were against their
interests, but the only alternative was even worse, namely, no access
at all.

In today's online era (what I've called the "PostGutenberg Galaxy of
Scholarly Skywriting") this is no longer true. There IS a way of
covering the much tinier expenses (of quality control and
certification) without the need for any access barriers.

And if, in this newly unveiled Faustian conflict of interest -- which
could never be resolved in any other way in the Gutenberg era, but now
can be -- the publishers insist on continuing to impose the trade
model, with its S/L/P-barriers, when it is no longer either necessary
or useful, then (and only then), the research community is in an
excellent position to bolt -- for of course we are not only the authors
and the readers, but also the referees and the editors (the quality
controllers and certifiers).

I do not believe it will come to this, however, which is why I advocate
subversion rather than confrontation or defection. For the copyright
laws in this Faustian domain -- where authors don't WANT to be protected
from the theft of their own texts! -- is not only unjustifiable, but
also unenforceable. Everyone can post a preprint: Will journals be
sending virtual agents around trawling for preprints 24 hours a day all
over the Net, to compare with all incoming submissions? How alike must 2
texts be to count as the same draft? And once the preprint has been
refereed and accepted, will the publishers then trawl for lookalikes on
the Web again? How different does the self-archived version have to be
from the accepted final version in order to count as just another
preprint, rather than a "reprint."

This is all nonsense, of course, because there is not only no logical or
practical basis for making such distinctions when the AUTHOR wants to
give it away (there are plenty of bases for it when it is another author
or publisher who is trying to steal the text-AUTHORSHIP rather than the
text, but that's plagiarism, and not what's at issue here), but there is
also absolutely no justification for it: It is against the interests of
both research and researchers to try to enforce such arbitrary
strictures in the PostGutenberg Galaxy -- for THIS special, give-away
literature (often publicly funded already, with publication mandated by
the funder).

> Links to Success
> Large commercial publishers see E-biomed as a threat and a
> challenge. "As written, the Varmus proposal almost encourages a
> reduction in the number of journals available to authors," comments
> Brian D. Crawford, vice president and general manager, life and medical
> sciences, at John Wiley & Sons of New York. Karen Hunter, senior vice
> president of development at Elsevier Science, agrees. "If it's intended
> to replace journals, I think that's a concern."

That's just because of the vagueness of the initial draft of the
proposal. As soon as it is brought more into focus, and the inessentials
and incoherencies are dropped, it will become clear that SELF-ARCHIVING
the entire literature is what is at issue, and this entails no reduction
whatsoever in the number of journals: It is intended to reconstitute
every single one of them (via author self-archiving) online, and for
free, thereby ushering in the optimal and inevitable outcome of this
process, and encouraging the publishers to restructure themselves so as
to continue providing a useful service to this new, smaller niche.

It is the false impression that E-Biomed is trying to spawn a new breed
of rival journals that has gotten publishers' hackles up, but this will
be remedied in the next draft. The subversion, on the other hand, will
continue to be inherent in the project, as it should be, but that is
not something against which either a logical or an ethical or even a
practical case can be made: It must be tolerated by the publishers, and
adapted to, as it has been by the APS. There is neither a means nor a
justification for trying to stop it.

> Both Crawford and Hunter
> agree with Harnad and Varmus that the publisher's strength is the name
> and reputation of its journal. Both publishers are trying to boost both,
> by taking advantage of interactive communication. They're building links
> to other references, adding sound and animation to Web publications when
> appropriate, and hosting online discussions-enhancements that, in many
> cases, first appeared in electronic preprint, reprint, and
> E-journal-only formats. Crawford and Hunter use the term "value-added"
> to describe those features.

Ah me, the "value-added" argument! Here is the quick rebuttal:

ADD-ON enhancements for a fee are just fine. Add them and then try to
sell them. But do not try to hold the refereed article HOSTAGE to those
add-ons: Let a generic, quality-controlled, certified draft be
self-archived for free, and then continue to try to persuade the user
community that they are better off with an enhanced version, with
add-ons, for a fee (S/L/P).

My prediction is that the user community will prefer the free,
no-frills version. Then, and only then, will publishers realize that
there is no hope of sustaining S/L/P barriers, and they will scale down
to up-front payment for peer review and certification.

Note, however, that subversion is an end in itself either way: The goal
is to free the refereed literature. Self-archiving does that. WHETHER or
NOT a parallel S/L/P version proves to be sustainable, the goal will
already be attained by providing the free version.

> That potential added value could well spring from the
> competition of the other electronic information sources. And
> noncommercial sites, such as Stanford University's Highwire Press and
> Los Alamos' experimental "Library Without Walls" have been adding
> similar features. Highwire Press, founded in 1995, mounts 127
> high-impact science and technology journals. Highwire has for years been
> adding many of the hyperlinked features that commercial publishers are
> now exploring. The "Library Without Walls" project lays one search
> engine over a multitide of databases, including PubMed, ISI's Web of
> Science and other massive journal repositories.

This is all highly non-revolutionary stuff: It is merely about driving
S/L/P prices down. Subversion is about eliminating them altogether, to
produce a completely access-barrier-free literature for one and all.
Cheaper S/L/P will solve SOME researchers' access problems, but freeing
the literature will solve EVERYONE'S, EVERYWHERE. That's a difference
between night and day.

> The competition between the noncommercial sites and the
> commercial ones will likely increase as a result of the E-biomed
> controversy. "Some of that conflict, frankly, is healthy," Luce opines.
> "What I see are two spheres of where papers go or where you might access
> literature. One I'll call an informal sphere-which would include things
> like preprints and more informal communication. The other I'll call a
> more formalized sphere. And that would be where there's very careful
> peer review." That formal sphere touches both the public and private
> sectors, because online journal publishing is not now one single thing.
> And perhaps, E-biomed notwithstanding, it never will be.

This is all exceedingly murky, and based on the vagueness of the
current draft of the E-Biomed proposal. The real categories are these:
(1) Free self-archived preprints AND reprints vs. (2) S/L/P-toll-based
reprints. That's all! It's not preprints vs reprints, informal vs
formal, peer review vs peer commentary. That's all just fog and

> Medscape General Medicine (MedGenMed)
> l
> Elsevier Science
> Highwire Press
> Los Alamos "Library Without Walls" project
> Los Alamos Preprint site
> Stevan Harnad homepage
> (including links to "Cogprint" cognitive science reprint site; the
> "subversive proposal"; and discussions and essays about electronic
> publishing)
> Wiley Interscience
> [Q&A HED]
> Varmus Seeks Societies' Support for Electronic Journal
> On May 5 Harold Varmus, director of the National Institutes of Health,
> unveiled a draft proposal for E-biomed, an electronic publishing system.
> The plan sketches out several routes for a U.S. government-backed
> system. It includes provisions for electronic preprints, perhaps
> resembling the Los Alamos National Laboratory-hosted physics site, as
> well as original publications, perhaps matching newer E-only journals,
> such as MedGenMed, or existing print journals' electronic versions. In a
> recent conversation with News Editor Paul Smaglik, Varmus hinted that he
> seeks to cooperate with society journals and perhaps compete with
> commercial ones. The following interview has been edited for length and
> clarity:

The commercial vs. learned-society, bad-guy vs good-guy dichotomy, is at
best simplistic, at worst simply erroneous. The big, successful
Nonprofits, whether Learned-Society or University, are virtually
indistinguishable from the Commercials in their means, ends, policies
and prices. Examples are the American Chemical Society and the American
Psychological Association and, for that matter, the American
Association for the Advancement of Science (which has one of the most
regressive copyright policies).

Yes, the Learneds and Universities are more likely to come round once
they smell the subversive coffee, than are the Commercials; but at the
moment, it is as little in their immediate interests to do so as it is
for the Commercials. So there is no point expecting a priori
cooperation. The APS (Physics) is the most progressive, but note that
that is only AFTER 8 years of resoundingly successful subversion by Los

No: Self-archiving is the way, and not some attempt to separate the good
guys from the bad guys and make a deal before there is any de facto
pressure to make a deal.

> Q: How will E-biomed affect existing publishers?
> A: I think it's too early to say what the impact will be. We have to
> distinguish among the various kinds of publishers. We proposed this to
> stimulate discussion and to move toward developing a system of
> publishing that does at least three things: take advantage of the
> flexibility in electronic publishing; move toward providing full,
> unfettered, and seamless access to the entire biomedical literature; and
> [create] a system that has the ingredients for evolvability in various
> directions. Things are changing very rapidly, and it's important that we
> have a system in which peer review and copyright holding and different
> means of raising money can evolve along with the mechanics of the
> system. We're obviously concerned about how much this methodology will
> cost and how it will be paid for.
> We have to distinguish between two kinds of publishers: publishers that
> are private, profitmaking organizations and those run by societies that
> represent the interests of thousands of scientists. We've been working
> largely with some of the societies to discuss some of these issues, and
> we are certainly aware of and concerned about the possibility that
> revenues could decline for scientific societies. I think we have to have
> a culture change here that may take a while to develop; that is, people
> who are potential members in scientific societies-scientists like
> me-have to be reminded or taught that societies do a lot more for their
> members than simply give them cheaper access to a few journals.
> Societies lobby effectively for the concerns of scientists and many
> political and cultural venues. They run important meetings, they worry
> about the future of minority, female, or young scientists, and they
> advocate usefully on behalf of all those folks. They develop a sense of
> community within a scientific discipline. If any individual society's
> journals were no longer purchasable, but instead just available on
> E-biomed or some similar site, it would not be an issue of deprivation.
> Indeed, the societies should be showing their members that they are
> participating in a new wave of more useful dissemination and
> presentation of information. No one is being deprived of anything by the
> absence of a cut rate on a weighty journal that can now be accessed much
> more easily through the Web.

I don't think it's all about lowering S/L/P prices. It's about no
longer holding the report of research hostage to S/L/P at all (not even
in the interests of supporting learned societies' other "good works":
their best work would be to free the research literature of needless,
research-inimical and obsolete access barriers at last, to the eternal
benefit of research and researchers).

> Q: How important is the issue of who holds the copyright?
> A: Some people, I think, overemphasize that. I think it's significant,
> and I would prefer to see authors hold copyrights-they've written their
> proposals that way. But it would not bother me if we had editorial
> boards that participated in E-biomed who wanted to try to hold
> copyrights while others didn't. I think that's where evolvability has a
> major role. People who feel strongly-there are probably a lot of
> them-will say, "I'll submit my electronic publication to an editorial
> board that has high visibility and is highly respected and also allows
> me to retain my copyright." And others might say "I don't really care"
> and may go with another board that wants to hold their copyright. We'll
> have to see how important that really is.

Alas, this is still part of the vagueness of the first draft. People
will continue doing EXACTLY what they have done till now, which is
submitting to the highest quality/impact journals in their subject area.
Copyright is critical ONLY inasmuch as it attempts to block free
self-archiving. THOSE are the substantive issues.

E-Biomed is not and will not be a journal or journals. It will be a
free archive for self-archived preprints and reprints, with the
possibility of official "overlays," in which the paper is authenticated
by the journal itself. That is merely a matter of tagging and
encryption. There is still equivocation to be carefully resolved here
about just what E-Biomed itself is meant to be and to deliver. I am
suggesting that the coherent core is a reliable, permanent, useable
infrastructure for self-archiving by authors, with the option of
authenticated overlays by journals, if and when they are ready for it
(as the APS is already doing with Los Alamos).

> Q: How closely will the final structure resemble the Los Alamos model?
> A: That's been the preprint system. Our proposal ... is built in a way
> that would allow our community to either have that system or to have a
> very high proportion of postings be reports that have been reviewed,
> edited, and stratified by traditional hierarchies. I think the way our
> culture works now-given its size and the number of publications-we're
> going to remain in the camp of reviewing and identifying journals with
> different status.

Still far too vague on the critical essentials: Los Alamos is NOT just a
preprint archive. It is a SELF-archive, hence authors can put in
whatever they like, preprint or reprint, and they do.

So THAT barrier has already been crossed. Exactly the same should and
will be true of E-Biomed. Authors can, as a first approximation,
self-tag their refereed journal reprints as such. That's good enough
for subversion. Once the user community is addicted to E-Biomed as the
locus classicus for the journal literature, instead of the S/L/P
corpus, then "official" authentication overlays will come onto the
horizon, but not before, or a priori, for (apart from newborn journals,
which are irrelevant), for established journals such an a priori
arrangement would be to shoot themselves in the foot before they had
even had a chance to make alternate arrangements to restructure for the
free Skywriting era.

> Q: What about cultural differences between the physics community and the
> biomedical community?
> A: [Physics] has a hundred authors writing one paper and they don't
> publish as much; the need to stratify the literature by hierarchy and
> status is less of a problem. But there are some things that my lab does
> and I'm sure other labs do that might not ordinarily constitute a
> publication. But it's useful information if I can deposit it somewhere.
> It could be a conversation, a posting, say, that my other colleagues who
> work on wnt genes might want to see; I could never put it into a
> reviewed manuscript with space constraints. Nevertheless, it might be
> useful. And rather than put this into my own Web page, which everybody
> would have to consult one by one, it would go into a central repository,
> which a search engine could pick up.

Yes, yes, the preprint sector will hold many treasures. But the essence
of it all is the reprint sector, which will free the entire biomedical
journal literature.

> Q: What do you make of journal publishers' arguments that their major
> asset is their status, their seal of approval?
> A: I agree with that. I think people have gotten the idea that because
> we're proposing alternative routes, we don't value editing-I spent a lot
> of time as a scientist editing and reviewing. And I believe that's
> useful. I do think that, in the last few years, because there have been
> so many manuscripts submitted and because there's been such a tight view
> of the hierarchy, that people spend an awful lot of time revising
> papers, sending them to different journals. This is a very inefficient
> process, which we ought to be able to make more effective. I think all
> of us have a lot of quite significant papers that spend a year bouncing
> around and undergoing fairly minor corrections before our colleagues can
> see them. I don't like that. I'd like to see my colleagues' work earlier
> and I'd like them to see mine sooner. I think we all can envision ways
> in which the process could be speeded up in electronic format.

Again, too vague. Self-archiving unrefereed preprints solves part of
this, and is highly desirable and commendable. But there is no need
to speak about any of the problems of peer review here -- either its
quality, its efficiency or its timing. There ARE such problems, to be
sure, but they are not to be conflated with the project at hand, which
is to free the peer-reviewed literature (such as it is!) for one and

There's room for projects to improve peer review, speed it up, and what
have you. But let us not LINK the fate of the clearcut and eminently
desirable goal of freeing the literature with the more hypothetical and
conditional one of trying to improve peer review. Such issues should be
disentangled completely from the plans for E-Biomed or they will simply
raise needless opposition from the defenders of classical peer review,
or worse, will make the prospects of a free literature -- already
highly desirable a priori -- depend on the prospects of various peer
review reform schemes, schemes which may or may not prove successful
(and certainly require a good deal of prior empirical testing before
being implemented at all, let alone implemented en masse).

Self-archiving, in contrast, has face-validity, and has already been
shown to be readily feasible and astoundingly successful by Los Alamos.

Cheers, Stevan

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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