Re: Self-Archiving the Refereed Journal Literature

From: Prof. Tom Wilson <t.d.wilson_at_SHEFFIELD.AC.UK>
Date: Fri, 26 Nov 1999 20:56:53 -0000

The debate on self-archiving continues to be, at the very least,
'interesting' and the question of what value, if any, publishers
'add' to the scholarly literature is one of the more interesting
topics. As Don King suggests (hello Don, if you are receiving this)
"no one has, as yet, quantified exactly how much they have done so"
Steven Harnad's (perhaps politically correct) notion is that they add
value by controlling quality through the service of refereeing. But,
in fact, it is not the publishers who provide that but the rest of
the scholarly community acting as unpaid referees - as well as
contributing their own publications free of charge to be exploited
for profit by the publisher.

Journal publishing of the scholarly literature has the most absurd
economic structure of any business in existence. Who else gets their
raw material at zero cost? Who else has quality control performed at
virtually zero cost, organized not by the publisher but by the ill-
paid editor who knows who to call? Who else has had their archiving
carried out not by themselves but by libraries? Does Elsevier or
anyone else who has taken over smaller publishers over the years have
a complete print archive of their output - of course not. I would be
very surprised indeed to find any economically valid justification
for the notion that publishers add value.

Even the question of refereeing as a desirable quality control
mechanism is subject to doubt - the ultimate test of quality is
whether or not the text is used in forwarding the development of the
discipline. Only a small percentage of the total output performs in
this way and yet all is quality controlled. At least it ought to be
debated whether a more economically efficient quality control process
is to publish openly and freely without refereeing and rely upon the
reader and user of the information to make his or her own quality
judgements when using or deciding not to use a text. The vast amount
of uncosted refereeing activity would then be saved and perhaps the
scholar could get on with pursuing his or her own work

Publishers have been necessary for the past 200 years because of the
communication gap between presenter and reader - that gap is now
bridged through electronic systems and anything that gets in the way
of it is going to fail. I would not be at all surprised to find that
some of the major scholarly publishers are quietly going about the
business of buying into other interests, for example, in the
entertainment world or the real-time information businesses, knowing
that their future is a limited one.

Professor Tom Wilson, Ph.D.
Department of Information Studies
University of Sheffield
Sheffield S10 2TN
Tel: (+44)(0)114-222-2631
Fax: (+44)(0)114-278-0300
Web address:
Professors must have a theory as dogs must have fleas.
H.L. Mencken
Received on Wed Feb 10 1999 - 19:17:43 GMT

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