Why price boycott is the wrong strategy

From: Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_coglit.ecs.soton.ac.uk>
Date: Wed, 16 Feb 2000 12:58:07 +0000

Dear Bob (and Ted):

Thanks for the copy of Ted's "Lysisastran Scheme"
to refuse to referee for overpriced journals.

I completely sympathize with Ted's motivation, of course, but I think it
will not work (and it is hence not a good idea to promote it) for the
very same reason that enjoining researchers to submit only to the
lower-priced journals will not work (and is an unreasonable thing to
expect and ask).

Researchers want their work refereed by the established highest quality
(and impact) journals, and to be certified as having met those
standards. That is what promotes their careers as well as what guides
the research community in deciding what research is worth reading,
citing, building upon.

To submit to a lesser journal just because its price is better is to
compromise both one's career and the potential impact of one's
research. By precisely the same token, refereeing for a journal on the
basis of its price rather than its quality standards simply compromises
the quality filter that journals provide (and will not appeal to
referees who steal their refereeing time from the rest of their
overtaxed schedules, on the basis of journal and article quality and
interest, not on the basis of journal price).

Besides, it is an insufficient objective merely to lower journal
Subscription/Site-License/Pay-Per-View [S/L/P] prices, for that still
leaves most of the research world needlessly deprived of access to much
of the literature (no institution can afford it all) and FOR NO REASON
WHATEVER. The literature needs to be freed of ALL S/L/P
access-barriers, not just the highest ones.

Hence I'm afraid I must still favour the "Subversive Proposal" (open
that I have been promoting, over Ted's "Lysisastran Scheme." Indeed,
such not-fully-thought-through boycott schemes are no more helpful, in
getting the research community to see the real situation clearly, than
(1) the schemes to do away with peer review (as if that were the
offender), or the failure to distinguish (2) the non-giveaway (books,
magazines) from the giveaway (refereed research) literature, or (3) the
piracy of someone else's non-giveaway goods (books, magazines,
software, patents) from "self-piracy" of one's own give-away goods
(research reports), or (4) theft of authorship (plagiarism) from theft
of text (no problem for a give-away author!).

The air is fully of local views; a coherent global one is needed:

The only enemy is the Gutenberg trade model itself, not higher journal
prices, or publishers, or peer reviewers. For the Giveaway research
literature this was never the right model; in papyrocentric days, real
costs allowed no way to break out of its Faustian grip; the online era
of open self-archiving does.

So don't boycott your preferred journals; continue to submit papers to
them and to referee for them. But self-archive both your preprints and
reprints in the Open Archives. This will do better than lower price
barriers: it will eliminate them entirely.

Yes, 19th April would be an excellent time for you to come and visit in
Southampton. Let me know when dates are firm!

Best wishes,

Stevan Harnad harnad_at_cogsci.soton.ac.uk
Professor of Cognitive Science harnad_at_princeton.edu
Department of Electronics and phone: +44 23-80 592-582
             Computer Science fax: +44 23-80 592-865
University of Southampton http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/
Highfield, Southampton http://www.princeton.edu/~harnad/
Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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