EMBO Meeting About the NIH/E-biomed/E-Bioscience Initiative

From: Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_coglit.ecs.soton.ac.uk>
Date: Thu, 19 Aug 1999 18:27:52 +0100

        Comments on the EMBO Meeting Statements about the
        NIH/E-biomed/E-Bioscience Initiative:

> This meeting organised by EMBO [The European Molecular Biology
> Organization], which included European journal editors, publishers,
> scientific society representatives and EMBL/EBI, endorsed the concept
> originally promoted by the NIH of a single, large searchable database
> for Life Sciences and cognate areas.
> The proposed name for the depository is E-Bioscience, which allows a
> broader scope than the original title of E-Biomed.
> There was considerable reticence to promote the concept of E-Bioscience
> on the basis of it being a location for material that was not peer
> reviewed.

This is a red herring. A clearly tagged sector of E-B will contain the
current peer-reviewed journal literature AFTER refereeing and another,
likewise clearly tagged sector will contain the pre-refereeing
preprints of those papers.

This is effectively identical to the current state of affairs in the
LANL Physics Archive, except that for unrefereed papers which could have
adverse clinical consequences if they were uncritically read as if they
were refereed, some special review mechanism will have to be devised in

For the sake of simplicity, let us bracket the unrefereed sector until
those special review details are worked out and for now focus on E-B
ONLY as a free version of the current peer reviewed journal corpus.
Much time will be saved and misunderstanding avoided if we stick to
this first approximation.

> Some such data, which were not peer reviewed could be a component of
> the depository and indeed for some data, it was accepted that peer
> review might not be appropriate.

This is not the central purpose of E-B, which is to free the REFEREED
journal literature through author self-archiving. It is a mistake to
focus on the details of how the unrefereed sector, once sorted, will be
handled. It is also divisive and plays into the hands of those who are
opposed to the E-B's central purpose of freeing the refereed
journal literature.

> Journals should make a distinction between the peer reviewed and the
> freely deposited data; the latter included in text of papers rather
> than citation lists.

Yes, the peer-reviewed sector should be prominently tagged as such, for
search engines, with the explicit name/volume/issue/page-span of the
peer-reviewed journal that it appears in.

(The rest here is again a red herring: OF COURSE the text will contain
this information, for it is an electronic reprint, containing the usual
citation information along with the abstract and the full text. This
confusion arises from the second misconstrual of the E-B initiative;
E-B is not intended to provide an ALTERNATIVE to the established peer
reviewed journals, but an ALTERNATIVE MEANS OF ACCESS to them, namely,
free online versions self-archived by their authors. E-B is not to be a
journal or journals; it is merely an Archive, just like LANL.)

> A light form of peer review (assessment or certification) may be
> required for some data, and a pilot scheme to see how this would
> function, should be established.

Fine, but this is again the divisive side-issue of what sort of special
constraints to put on the unrefereed sector of E-B. That is not the
central function of E-B and should not be allowed to restrain or retard
the implementation of the refereed sector.

> Journals would decide individually whether to accept for refereeing
> material that had been previously deposited on the E-Bioscience or
> other web sites.

Now HERE a central fallacy has been allowed to creep in which is
tantamount to treating E-B as if it were NOTHING BUT an unrefereed

Journals obviously have nothing to say here about whether they accept
already accepted and published papers! (They don't, of course, but
that's irrelevant to refereed papers in E-B, for they have already
been accepted by their journal!)

The rest is a reflection of some current journals' arbitrary and
indefensible (and unenforceable) policy of declining to peer-review
submissions that have been publicly archived.

That policy was and is entirely appropriate for submissions that have
already been peer reviewed, accepted and PUBLISHED by another journal
(why should peer review and journal resources be wasted on the same
paper twice? and how is a journal to survive if it publishes
hand-me-downs?); it is likewise fully justified for papers that have
been simultaneously SUBMITTED to other journals for peer review.

But such a policy has no scientific justification WHATSOEVER when it
comes to mere public self-archiving of the unrefereed preprint. (This
is the established practise now in Physics and other fields -- and why
not? All forms of peer feedback are potentially useful to an author,
before, during, and after publication.)

For a rebuttal of this kind of policy, which has come to be called the
"Ingelfinger Rule," practiced by The New England Journal of Medicine of
which Franz Ingelfinger was the long-time Editor, but also practiced by
the AAAS journal, Science, see:


> Journals indicated that they would agree to transfer full text to the
> free E-Bioscience after a lag period of up to 6 months, each journal
> establishing its own timetable for release.

In the process of weighing these stipulations, I hope everyone will
pause here to pose for yourself the question: "What possible
interest could it serve to science to DELAY the public accessibility of
refereed scientific research scientific reports for up to 6 months?"

The answer is that such measures are solely for protecting the current
revenue streams of scientific journals and their current modera

The new possibilities FOR SCIENCE opened up by the PostGutenberg Era of
public online archiving, however, require a profound re-thinking of all
of this. And there ARE viable ways of covering the true costs of peer
review without access blockages, arbitrary 6-month embargos of refereed
findings, or arbitrary suppression of pre-refereed drafts.

    Harnad, S. (1998) On-Line Journals and Financial Fire-Walls. Nature
    395(6698): 127-128

> There was little concern about the principle of the author retaining
> copyright on articles but some practical aspects would have to be
> covered by the agreement that licensed the material from the author to
> the journal.

The absence of concern is most welcome, but note that this is the eye
of the storm, for it is the retention of this copyright that guarantees
the authors' right to self-archive their refereed journal articles.


(And of course we are speaking of the copyright for peer-reviewed
journal articles, not some nebulous E-B halfway house!)

> It was expected that payment by those that submitted articles to
> journals would become the norm (independent of any electronic
> initiatives) and that a modest sum from that would be transferred to
> E-Bioscience to ensure that a permanent searchable record of the data
> was available and maintained.

This too is oversimplified: Yes, the final solution will be
author-institution-end publication charges paying for the sole
remaining service rendered by the peer reviewed journals after
self-archiving is established, namely, Quality-Control & Certification
(QC/C) (peer review/editing). This will be paid for out of the
reader-institution-end savings arising from the termination of all
institutional Subscription/Site-License/Pay-Per-View (S/L/P) expenditure.

The essence of the change is that S/L/P charges are access-blocking,
and freeing the literature through self-archiving will put an end to

But there is a long way to go, and there are a lot of battles still to
be fought and won, before the established journals acquiesce to scaling
down to the optimal and inevitable for science by becoming QC/C service
providers instead of sellers of the published text. Right now, journals
think of page-charges as SUPPLEMENTS to S/L/P revenue, not substitutes
for it, and S/L/P tolls are predicated on access-denial, whereas
self-archiving is the opposite.

As to the costs of establishing and maintaining the Archive itself:
Currently LANL is supported by NSF/DOE subsidy; the marginal cost per
paper is already tiny. As the self-archives scale up to include the
entire refereed journal literature in all disciplines, the cost per
article will become so minuscule that there will be no point in
speaking of it. It only looks nontrivial now, when the the size of the
existing archiving resources relative to the number of papers they
could potentially accommodate is still so large.

(Advocates of the status quo, however, are fond of warning of
unspecified "hidden costs" that will eventually haunt advocates of free
public self-archiving; there is no such menace in the distributed
networked world of the PostGutenberg Galaxy.)

> EMBO was asked to continue to play the role of being the representative
> of Europe in these discussions.
> EMBL/EBI was asked to ensure that it could provide the technical,
> hardware and software infrastructure for E-Bioscience.
> Funding for the infrastructure, pilot schemes and other actions could
> come, inter alia, from the publishers, charitable organisations,
> research councils, and the European Union. EMBO was asked to coordinate
> the efforts to obtain this support.
> An international governing body should be established without delay to
> allow this worthwhile initiative to advance in an orderly manner
> without delay.

Indeed. But let it be clear that the free public self-archiving of the
current refereed journal literature plus its pre-refereeing drafts is
what is at issue here, not new journals or semijournals or prejournals
or parajournals.

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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