Re: NIH's Public Archive for the Refereed Literature: PUBMED CENTRAL

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Mon, 13 Sep 1999 16:59:13 +0100

On Mon, 13 Sep 1999, Paul Smaglik, News Editor, The Scientist, wrote:

> At this point, it seems like high-impact journals like Cell, Science,
> and Nature are staying away from PubMedCentral, while smaller ones are
> considering (I understand PNAS is, at this point, wavering on the
> fence). What's the dynamic here?

It looks as if that's the case for now. The high-revenue, high-impact
journals are abstaining, preferring to protect their revenue streams, and
only the weaker journals (and it is not clear how many) are considering

There are still confidential negotiations going on, however, and Paul
Ginsparg is optimistic, so I too have my fingers crossed.

The worst-case scenario is that PubMedCentral just becomes a repository
for the weaker journals -- thereby confirming that for-free is for the
weak and for-fee is for the strong, and thereby digging in instead of
uprooting the status quo.

The best-case scenario is that enough good journals join in and get a
big enough following from the world research community that it creates
a groundswell of pressure from that community on the journals that are
holding back.

I will certainly do everything I can to encourage the latter outcome,
but meanwhile I will also keep investing my efforts in promoting
self-archiving, because I still believe that's the best and fastest bet
for freeing the literature online. (Journals do not presently have any
real incentive to give their contents for free away online, but their
AUTHORS certainly do! This profound conflict of interest can be
resolved by author self-archiving of their refereed papers.)

> It seems like Science et al, don't want to give up revenue because they
> already have full-text online versions available for a fee, or for free
> to subscribers.


> If enough smaller journals sign up, could Sceince et al be forced to
> join -- especially if more people submit to those journals or to
> PubMedCentral directly?

I hope so. I doubt, though, that the pressure will come in the form of
author-unwillingness to submit papers to Science: its prestige and impact
factor and career value are simply too high. I think the author pressure
will come in the form of insistence on free archiving, especially as
authors start to see that the free literature is more accessible, hence
offers "impact" of another kind (as it indeed does), which will of
course translate into the classical impact factor too.

> Of course, Science et al are banking on their prestige as the most
> desirous place to publish. Comments?

They are, and for a while it is a safe bet. But the subversive power of
free public archiving is immense, and if PubMedCentral manage to
assemble a critical mass of sufficiently high quality free journals,
that just might serve to put the rest over the top too.

[Note, by the way, that Science is a hybrid journal, with fee-based
commissioned and staff articles as well as give-away refereed reports,
and of course it is only the latter that need to be freed.]

Stevan Harnad
Professor of Cognitive Science
Department of Electronics and phone: +44 2380 592-582
Computer Science fax: +44 2380 592-865
University of Southampton
Highfield, Southampton
Received on Wed Feb 10 1999 - 19:17:43 GMT

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