Central vs. Distributed Archives

From: Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_coglit.ecs.soton.ac.uk>
Date: Mon, 28 Jun 1999 17:26:32 +0100

On Mon, 28 Jun 1999, J.W.T.Smith wrote:

> This entire debate seems to have become hung up on whether or not the Los
> Alamos Archive model is applicable to e-publishing or e-archiving in other
> subject areas (especially biomed). This has obscured the fact it is
> perfectly possible to believe, as I do, that the Los Alamos Archive model
> is not the way to go for many subjects yet also believe in a model where
> the role of current journals is reduced to that of quality control only.
> My objection to the Los Alamos Archive model is that it is centralised and
> such a model can easily degenerate into a monopoly.

A monopoly of what PRODUCT, on behalf of what PROVIDER relative to what
MARKET? For Los Alamos is in the (government-supported) "business" of
making it possible for authors to give away reports of their own
scientific research away to one and all for free.

And what do you mean "centralised"? Los Alamos is open to one and all,
reader and author alike, the world over; it is mirrored in 15
countries, cached in who knows how many other places and ways,
incorporated into further Gateways such as NCSTRL and Spires, and there
integrated with other archives. Anyone else can make copies of the
archive too (that's part of what make the "product" free entails), and
the authors who self-archive in it are encouraged to archive their
papers elsewhere too, if they wish, including in their own
institutional servers, which can then be gathered together as another
backup of the "central" archive.


As I have noted before, this central/distributed issue is a red
herring, based in part on papyrocentric thinking (we are in reality
talking about a distributed virtual library where locus has little
meaning) and in part on proprietary thinking, based on the reader-end,
access-blockage trade model (whereas we are talking about self-archiving
facility in which authors distribute their own "products" for free).

This has all been discussed in:




> You asserted in a
> recent note (27 June) that there was no intention that any archive become
> a 'mega-journal'. However if it becomes the place where academics in a
> given subject expect to find relevant articles it will have become just
> that and it will become *necessary* for authors to place their work there.

Nothing of the sort! The journal is the quality controller and
certifier. There will continue to be the full spectrum and hierarchy of
journals, varying in quality and impact factor, each with its own
distinctive "brand name." In the virtual archive, this will be
designated by tags, so you can restrict your search engine to the
refereed literature appearing in, say, American Physical Society
journals only, if you wish.

An Author Archive is hence, as I said, not a Mega-Journal: It is an
archive, in which the entire refereed journal literature (as well us the
unrefereed preprint literature) is available for free for all.

Now who is monopolizing what for whom?

> Although I have long argued, e.g.,
> http://www.ukc.ac.uk/library/papers/jwts/d-journal.htm
> for the separation of the quality control role of the traditional journal
> from the publication role I have always advocated a 'distributed' model
> over a 'centralised' model for 'publication/archiving'. This at least
> escapes the possibility of a monopoly by the operators of the central
> archive. It also echoes the argument in Stuart Weibel's earlier note (11
> June) about the redundncy inherent in the multiple copies of
> books/journals in the current paper library model. That model may be
> inefficient (too many duplicates are kept) but its robustness is clear.

Redundancy is a non-problem; we know all about backups, mirrors,
distributedness, and even distributed coding. It is a waste of time to
keep dwelling on these solved problems. Moreover, they have nothing to do
with the "monopoly" issue, which is likewise a red herring.

Stop thinking in terms of a reader-end "product," with competition
among access-blockers, and think instead in terms of a platform for
author-end "freebies," with collaboration among access-providers, and
things will come into better focus. This is the refereed journal
literature, not trade books or magazines.

> we should take from past publishing models that which is
> clearly of value like peer review (and maybe distributed archiving?) but
> discard that which is clearly constraining (due probably to some feature
> of the underlying medium of the old model) like the linking of quality
> control and distribution.

Correct, but then what is all this needless fuss about centralisation
and monopoly?

> Summary: It is possible to escape the problems of the 'trade model' of
> current academic publishing without running headlong into the possibly
> equally constraining model of a monopolistic central archive.

Yes. Change the vocabulary.

Stevan Harnad harnad_at_cogsci.soton.ac.uk
Professor of Cognitive Science harnad_at_princeton.edu
Department of Electronics and phone: +44 2380 592-582
Computer Science fax: +44 2380 592-865
University of Southampton http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/
Highfield, Southampton http://www.princeton.edu/~harnad/
SO17 1BJ UNITED KINGDOM ftp://ftp.princeton.edu/pub/harnad/
Received on Wed Feb 10 1999 - 19:17:43 GMT

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