Re: Central vs. Distributed Archives

From: J.W.T.Smith <J.W.T.Smith_at_UKC.AC.UK>
Date: Tue, 29 Jun 1999 13:52:58 +0100

Professor Harnad,

On Mon, 28 Jun 1999, Stevan Harnad wrote:

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

A monopoly in the sense that it could become 'the place' where readers
look for items relevant to their subject. The non-presence of an article
in a recognised subject specific archive could imply it is not relevant to
the subject. More on this later.

> 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.

You are missing the point. I am not concerned with its availability, I am
concerned with the implied validation of the presence of an item in a
given archive. Even if the archive is mirrored it is a mirror of somewhere
and the address of that somewhere has value. If this has no value why to
we need an archive at all? Why don't we all mount our papers on our
University servers? There are two advantages that I can see of a subject
specific archive:

- It can be properly maintained (it is a true archive)
- It can be a 'one stop shop' of where to look for items on a specific

I have no problem with the first role. It is the second that carries the
possibility of monopoly. As long as the archive is maintained by a neutral
organisation (like a large University) this is OK but what if it should
become privatised? Once an archive (or its mirrors) is seen as 'the place'
to search for items of interest and access to that archive can be
controlled it might be temping to place some restriction on access like
payment of a fee (for purely reasonable reasons like getting enough money
to maintain the archive). Now I know the actual quality control/validation
is provided elsewhere (maybe by the 'old' journals, maybe by other
players) but from the point of view of the author they may also need to be
in the archive as well as have the validation/stamp of approval of an
external organisation.

> 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)

You seem to contradict yourself here. If 'locus' (I don't mean physical
position) has no meaning why do we need a Physics archive, or a Biomed
archive, or any other subject archive? Why can't we either have one
universal archive which simply stores and serves on request (at no cost
and forever) any item sent to it, or no archive at all with items being
stored on a user site or a University site or a commercial site (or all
three or some other option/permutation)?

> 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.

You are preaching to the converted. I have been aware the trade model is
wrong for academic publishing for many years. There have been proposals to
replace this model going back to the 1920s or before. Nothing new here.

> > 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.

Why don't you drop the word 'journal' then? Why not use 'validator' or
some other word that indicates the role and doesn't carry over
connotations from the old "papyrocentric" model?

John Smith,
University of Kent at Canterbury, UK.
Received on Wed Feb 10 1999 - 19:17:43 GMT

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