Re: Journal Papers vs. Books: The Direct/Indirect Income Trade-off

From: Bob Parks <> <> <>
Date: Tue, 13 Jul 1999 06:40:14 -0400

Date: Mon, 12 Jul 1999 13:24:08 -0500 (CDT)
From: Bob Parks <>

Stevan, this is not private correspondence so reply and send where you
want - I am not on all the lists which seem to be discussing the
points. And I am arguing for subversion (I hope).

SH> and HV>> have written:

>An intrinsically interesting side-issue is emerging from the exchanges
>with Hal Varian. Nothing substantive hinges on it for the purposes
>of the strategy and outcome I happen to advocate -- what I have taken to
>calling the "optimal and inevitable" one for the refereed journal
> freeing the literature online for everyone, everywhere, forever,
> through (1) universal public self-archiving of all refereed journal
> papers, and, when the time comes, (2) a downsizing of journals to
> providers of the service of quality control and certification, paid
> for on the author-institution out of S/L/P savings rather than at
> the reader-institution end via access-blocking S/L/P.
>Our disagreement is only about whether I am exaggerating the difference
>between the motivations of refereed-journal papers-authors (regarding
>THOSE papers) and authors in general -- of books, magazine articles,
>etc. -- in suggesting that the former are, and have always been,
>interested ONLY in giving those papers away, whereas other authors (as
>well as themselves, when wearing other hats) have at least the hope of
>some direct revenue from the sale of their texts.

I don't know of any study that has formally determined why we academics
do what we do, and how much of it we do. What I think is relevent is
whether 'free access archiving' of scientific literature will reduce
the quality of that literature, whatever the goals are of those who
write it.

1. has about 100,000 papers and that archive does not seem
to have reduced the number of journals in physics, nor the quality of
the scientific literature. Hence we have at least one strong piece of
evidence that 'free access archiving' will not lower the quality. I
don't know of any evidence showing that quality has been lowered in
physics or elsewhere.

2. 'free access archiving' allows the largest audience for scientific
work - the most readers can see the most articles. This then means
that a) the wheel will not be invented quite as often as it is now; b)
the possibilty of citation is increased. How that affects the quality
of scientific literature is unknown (to me at least).

3. seems to have conditioned its audience to 'filter'
relevent articles from the large number of submissions. I would guess
that works much like the usual filtering process that any academics use
for 'hard copy working papers'. I would guess that Harnad and Varian
get a very large number of hard copy working papers and each has some
way of filtering through them - that filter might depend on repuation
of the author, but those reputations are not solely determined from

4. When we have citation-linking for all scientific literature it will be natural
and easy to 'value' writing - namely by the number of citations (and
possibly the 'quality' of citations). Such citation criteria are
already used in promotions and salary (at least in my small biased
sample). One can argue whether quality is better determined from
citations than from knowing that two or three referees and an associate
editor have passed judgement.

5. As an economist, I would have to argue that the resources devoted
to refereeing are misallocated because they are not compensated
directly. In the current journal model, there may be too much
refereeing (or there may be too little). If 'free access archiving'
means the end of journal refereeing as we know it, I am not sure
whether I (at least) could argue that there is a social gain or loss.
Referees might spend their time writing/reading rather than refereeing,
which could result in better scientific literature than what exists
with their time spent refereeing. I am not arguing that refereeing has
no value, only that we do not know what that value is, and that
whatever that value is, it is not compensated (directly at least).

>So I am taking up the gauntlet here for one reason only: That if I
>should happen to be right and Hal should happen to be wrong about the
>reality of the fundamental motivational difference between
>refereed-journal authors and (just about) all others, then it is
>important to sort this out, because it is only too easy otherwise to

IMHO, the only reason to sort it out is to determine, given the goals
of the esoteric author (a term I like), whether 'free access archiving'
will lower or raise the quality of scientific literature. (to wit, I
do not know why I write these words)

>On Sat, 10 Jul 1999, Hal Varian wrote:
>>sh> Yes, but the question was whether they would trade it off for their
>>sh> refereed journal articles, not for their books and other activities.
>> But of course they do---the time spent writing textbooks, consulting,
>> and so on takes away from time spent writing and publishing academic
>> articles.

Again, the point should be whether the quality of the scientific
literature is harmed by 'free access archiving'. So we can argue about
whether academic authors would write given that there were no
journals. I suspect yes. We all start with the dissertation which is
mostly unpublished and uncited. Then we turn to gaining fortune and
fame (read promotion and tenure, text book contracts, consulting,
invited conferences at attractive locations, etc). We do this by
writing (in part). In the NO-JOURNALS world of 'free access archiving'
we write to attract others attention, and citation. Rather than
writing for three people (two referees and an editor) we now have to
write for a larger audience and have to write to attract a readership
(rather than attract an editor/referee). I don't see that deters us
writing. The goals of fortune and fame remain, its just the journals
no longer have a Faustian GRIP on us.

>> > I said something stronger, and I repeat it: The authors of refereed
>> > journal articles are not interested in making money on THOSE texts at
>> > all.
>> I submit they would be happy to make money on those texts, as long as it
>> didn't dramatically reduce the readership. You have implicitly assumed
>> that the only way to "make money on those texts" is to charge people to
>> read them, thereby limiting access. I think this is a very narrow view,
>> and limits the kinds of business models you might consider for information
>> industries.

The current business 'model' for scientific literature is, well,
absurd. Editors are mostly not directly compensated, and those who are
are not compensated at the market value of their time. Referees are
not compensated ($35 or $50 is not compensation). Authors are not
compensated at all directly. So the university pays us to
author/edit/referee and then buys our product back from a 'publisher'.
Resources must be misallocated in that model. If our current world was
a 'free access archiving' with citation valuations (rather than journal
valuations), proposing such a business model would, well, be absurd.
We need to unshackle ourselves from the current journal Faustian Grip,
from that mental model of the world, and proceed ahead. Nor should we
consider that scientific literature fits into other 'information'

>>sh> The conclusion is that in the case of the refereed journal literature
>>sh> only, the author has an interest in there being NO INCOME (to anyone)
>>sh> from sale of his texts, because income means access-blockage. This is
>>sh> also in the interest of the author's institution, which likewise gains
>>sh> kudos (and grant income) from the impact of his research (not to
>>sh> mention their savings from S/L/P cancellations!)
>> Here is where your confusion lies. It is false (as an economic
>> proposition) that there is a direct relationship between "no income" and
>> "access blockage". Consider a field where there is an economic demand for
>> the research (engineering, medicine, finance, etc.) It is common to see
>> research produced in these fields where publication is delayed. It is
>> first made available for a high price via consultancies, newsletters,
>> affiliates, etc., and later made available to the academic world at large.
>> This way the authors have their cake and eat it too---make money, and
>> still make the research available to all. Obviously this practice can be
>> abused, but that is beside the point. The point is that income can be
>> made even while providing broad access.
>Good case in point: The reply, insofar as my refereed journal papers are
>concerned, is loud and clear: Forget about the pennies I could make from
>the gate by denying or delaying access. Let everyone have it for free
>NOW. There aren't pennies enough in the (realistic) world to make me
>change my mind.

Where there is economic demand for the product (research), generally
the product (research) does not get published directly into scientific
journals. But this begs the issue of research-for-profit and
research-for-academics. The 'free access archiving' does not mean that
Monsanto should have its chemists do it.

Few of us 'publish' our research in high price places, few of us ever
get any direct compensation for our writing. For those pieces which we
do get compensation, we don't 'free access archive' and for the rest,
we do 'free access archive'. That seems to me is the point.

Much of the discussion between Hal and Stevan side steps into business
models (ignoring any further words on motivations of authors). So what
is the business that requires a model? Production of (quality)
scientific literature. Must that be tied to the elsevier et al (I use
elsevier in lower case as a generic for profit and non-profit
presses)? elsevier does not pay the authors, nor the referees nor the
editors which is 95% to 99.9% of the real cost of producing the
literature. In the 'free access archiving' world, we do not need to
wory about whether elsevier survives. We do need to worry about the
quality of the scientific literature, and elsevier itself does not
provide that quality control. Editors and referees do. Citations do.

Whether universities are willing to compensate us for editing and
refereeing without the elsevier label is an open question (especially
if the citation linking proposal becomes fact). In fact it is a
question which should be asked - how much refereeing should be done?
If we have citations, do we need refereeing and editing? It is not
that refereeing and editing do not increase the value of an article, it
is whether the correct amount of resources are devoted to that
activity, and whether citations (or similar) would be a more cost
effective way to discern the quality (for promotion, tenure, etc.).

Imagine a world with 'free access archiving' without journals. How
does one get promoted? Citations and review letters. Citation
analysis would be free, and universities would have to compensate for
outside review letters. Would that really change the quality of
scientific literature - for the worse? Not in my mind.


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Always remember: inertia has no effect on the ultimate steady state solution.
NEVER remember:  Keynes said in the long run we are all dead.
| Bob Parks                                          Voice: (314) 935-5665 |
| Department of Economics, Campus Box 1208             Fax: (314) 935-4156 |
| Washington University                                                    |
| One Brookings Drive                                                      |
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Received on Wed Feb 10 1999 - 19:17:43 GMT

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