Re: The True Cost of the Essentials (Implementing Peer Review)

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Wed, 2 Feb 2000 14:00:29 +0000

> From: [Anonymous]
> Subject: Re: Nature's vs. Science's Embargo Policy
> This returns us to the original issue.
> No one has anything against authors putting whatever they want of their
> unpublished results into their websites. However, when they then try to
> publish those results, a problem arises, because publishers need to
> control distribution of information in order to insure that people pay
> for it, which is necessary to cover the costs of peer-review (as well
> as various degrees of profit for the publisher, which is why they are
> in this business). Even learned societies such as AAAS and the Society
> for Neuroscience, which publish their own journals, understand that you
> cannot charge for something that is being given away, and therefore
> prohibit free distribution of the material that they publish. Note that
> this has to apply both pre- and post-publication for the publisher to
> be able to earn money.

You are quite right that this returns us to the original issue. My
reply to this was that the PRODUCT (the text) is to be given away, and
only the (QC/C) SERVICE is to be paid for (out of the savings from what
used to be paid for the text).

And I think your own text contains the refutation of its opening
sentence ("No one has anything against authors putting whatever they
want of their unpublished results into their websites"): Publishers
(and no one else) do, and that is why they persist in trying to prevent
it. And they do so purely in order to continue being able to sell the
PRODUCT (superflous in the Online Open Archive era), rather than
scaling down to just selling their only remaining essential SERVICE.

> Which brings us back to the same problem. If you seek to eliminate the
> publisher from this process, thus providing information free of charge
> to the user, who do you think will pay for the privilege of supporting
> peer-review? And why would they do something like that? Libraries, who
> are the current chief supporter of the system, will not pay for
> something that is available for free (this would be the first thing
> hard-pressed administrators would eliminate from the budget).

(1) I did not propose to eliminate the publisher, but to have the
publisher down-size to providing the only remaining essential SERVICE
(QC/C), which would be paid for, out of the S/L/P savings.

(2) The text (the author's!) would be free (in the Open Archives); the
QC/C service (the publisher's) would not.

(3) Who will pay for peer review? The same institution that rightly
insists on it in its promotion/tenure review; the same institution that
insists on publication as evidence of productivity -- and not
vanity-press publication but peer-reviewed publication (journal quality
and impact factors will continue to be the weighting factor); and the
same institution that enjoys the annual windfall savings from S/L/P
cancellation, out of but a small part of those annual savings.

(4) Libraries will not pay for peer review (why should they?). But
Library Serials S/L/P budgets are line-items of the institution's
(the university's) budget. It does not take a great deal of foresight
to see that, as a quid pro quo, part of the windfall savings from the
demise of S/L/P will have to be redirected toward sustaining the
essential QC/C system, on which so much else depends. Indeed, an
orderly transition from reader-institution S/L/P payment for the texts
as products, to author-institution-end payment for QC/C as a service,
would be contingent on this quid pro quo.

(5) But none of these considerations should for a moment detain
author self-archiving, which is the reality-check that is driving this
natural process of evolution toward the optimal and inevitable for
research and researchers. Trying to filibuster self-archiving at this
point simply has no justification (except the safe-guarding of current
journal revenue streams at all costs, regardless of the fact that the
current system is no longer either necessary or optimal for
research). This will be come more and more transparent to everyone as
time goes on. Physics has already shown it:

> And it is against the self-interest of the librarians to support a
> system that minimizes or eliminates their jobs.

Neither paper serials nor their S/L/P costs are the raison d'etre of
librarians. On the contrary, the serials crisis is one of the banes of
their existence, and prevents them from being able to buy more books.
Besides, journals are going online anyway, either way (with or without
S/L/P); so they will be managing online resources whether they get
them for-fee or for-free. So let us not think of keeping the literature
hostage to S/L/P out of misplaced compassion for librarians!

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

NOTE: A complete archive of this ongoing discussion of "Freeing the
Refereed Journal Literature Through Online Self-Archiving" is available
at the American Scientist September Forum (98 & 99):
Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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