Re: The "Los Alamos Lemma"

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sat, 4 Dec 1999 12:55:38 +0000

On Fri, 3 Dec 1999, Arthur Smith [APS] <> wrote:

> [Los Alamos Lemma]:
sh> "If you think you know an alleged obstacle to public self-archiving
sh> -- let us call the obstacle "X" [X could be copyright,
sh> preservation, plagiarism, whatever], an obstacle that must allegedly
sh> be overcome before we can self-archive, and yet X did NOT stop Los
sh> Alamos, then X is not an obstacle to public self-archiving."
> the lemma of course doesn't prove the theorem:

No, the success of Los Alamos is the (constructive) proof of the

> assuming the theorem is:
> "There are no obstacles to public self-archiving"
> Given the lemma, what obstacles do remain? Things which might apply for
> other fields but did not apply in the case of the Los Alamos archive.

Correct. It could be the case that there are indeed no obstacles to
self-archiving in general or in principle, but there could be some in
particular cases.

> Some such obstacles in the way of peculiarities of physicists, the
> applicability of intellectual property produced in (some fields of)
> physics, academic politics in other fields, etc, have already been
> raised.

They have, and they might be real, but I am betting they are only
apparent (having to do only with habit, not optimality), and will fade
with time and familiarity of the principle of open self-archiving of
refereed research (thereby freeing the refereed journal literature).

> However, I'd like to mention one other particular obstacle: the
> essence of timing. Los Alamos grew wildly at a time when researchers in
> those particular fields had few other options for reasonably rapid
> communication of research. Los Alamos got a toe-hold before the web even
> existed (the web itself, not coincidentally, also grew out of the need
> for physicists to communicate amongst themselves, and far surpassed the
> success of xxx or pretty much anything else...) Of course the web has
> helped Los Alamos be even more effective, but it has also revolutionized
> communication throughout the sciences, and in fields where there is no
> Los Alamos archive, researchers either have now or will soon be
> electronically communicating about research in a myriad of different
> ways, some of which include the formal publication of research in
> journals.

All true, but I can't quite see what the point is: Yes, there's much
much more to the use of the web in the service of research than just the
open self-archiving of refereed research (and the resultant freeing of
the refereed literature) -- but that does not mean that freeing the
literature through self-archiving is not one of the important, indeed
revolutionary, uses of the web.

And it's about "communicating" both unrefereed AND refereed research
(and that's the point), not just the fast distribution of unrefereed
findings (or discussion ABOUT them).

Online submission to and online availability of refereed journals is
certainly happening fast anyway (and very welcome), but there is a
world of difference between accessing online journals through a
financial firewall (S/L/P) and accessing them free from an open archive
of self-archived versions of exactly the same papers.

> That hasn't ceased in physics either, by the way. For a field
> with a now established rapid electronic publication culture, does author
> self-archiving actually add much utility? I don't know. Anyway, if this
> isn't an obstacle now, it will be soon: at least in my opinion, time is
> of the essence if author self-archiving is to succeed as well as it
> could.

If I understand correctly, you think it is an obstacle to
self-archiving that there are further uses of the web too, including
(for-fee) online versions of journals. If "self-archiving" is
reformulated as the "refereed-literature-freeing" that it really is, do
you still think the availability of all these other goodies is an
obstacle to it? Why? How?

Stevan Harnad
Professor of Cognitive Science
Department of Electronics and phone: +44 23-80 592-582
Computer Science fax: +44 23-80 592-865
University of Southampton
Highfield, Southampton
Received on Wed Feb 10 1999 - 19:17:43 GMT

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Dec 10 2010 - 19:45:39 GMT