Re: Economist article

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Fri, 12 May 2000 16:15:05 +0100

On Fri, 12 May 2000, John Peel wrote:

> I thought I would bring your attention to an article in this week's
> Economist (May 13 issue, p117) that gives a pretty good summary of the
> issues surrounding open access at the moment. The article is under
> copyright and The Economist website doesn't allow access to this particular
> article without a subscription (ah, the irony!), but it's good to see the
> broader media taking an interest.

It is important for sophisticates of this Forum to note that there is no
irony whatsoever in the fact that The Economist does not give away its
contents for free on the Web.

Why should it? Its journalists write the articles for a fee; their
entirely valid objective is to sell, not to give away, their work.

The WHOLE POINT of the initiative of freeing the refereed journal
literature is that this (trade) model does not fit that anomalous
literature, so fundamentally unlike everything else.

Researchers are not journalists selling their words, they are scientists
and scholars reporting their findings. Their rewards do not come from
tolls charged for access to their texts; they come from accessing
and making an impact on the minds and the research of other researchers.

The access-blocking tolls are hence working AGAINST these rewards, not
for them. (Charging for access to their research makes about as much
sense for researchers as charging for access to their ads would make
sense to the advertisers of commercial products.)

In the papyrocentric era, such give-away authors had no choice but
to make the Faustian bargain (with Gutenberg), that in order to defray
the substantial expense of typesetting, printing and distribution, they
would reluctantly acquiesce to the levying of access tolls to recover
those costs -- knowing that if they did not acquiesce then there would be
nothing at all for researchers to access (beyond what they reported
orally or by writing one-on-one learned letters).

In the PostGutenberg Era of Scholarly Skywriting, it is no longer
necessary to make that Faustian Bargain. Authors can self-archive their
refereed, certified work online in Open Archives; the only expense left
to be paid is that of the quality control and certification (/C), which
can be amply covered by the author-institution out of only a small
portion of its annual savings from the termination of all access-tolls
(Subscription, Site-License, Pay-Per-View, S/L/P). By paying up-front
for the QC/C SERVICE instead of having access-blocking tolls for the
S/L/P PRODUCT, we make the refereed research literature free at last,
as it always should have been.

(Sometimes, though, even non-giveaway authors and publishers find the
advertising model the approptriate one for some of their papers; see
below. Nature magazine is hybrid. Its research reports are giveaway,
but its science journalism is written for-fee. Note that Nature, unlike
Science magazine, likewise hybrid, explicitly allows its give-away
authors to self-archive on the Web. In reality, with or without
explicit permission, ALL give-away authors can do so, and do so

> Date: Fri, 12 May 2000 16:07:57 +0200
> From: "Declan Butler, Nature" <>
> To: Stevan Harnad <>
> Stevan
> The article I published in Nature yesterday on search engine
> technologies is freely accessible at the URL below.
> Declan
> Souped-up search engines
> For scientists, finding the information they want on the World-Wide Web
> is a hit-and-miss affair. But, as Declan Butler reports, more
> sophisticated and specialized search technologies are promising to
> change all that.
> Declan Butler
> European correspondent
> Nature

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 providing free
access to the refereed journal literature is available at the American
Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00):

You may join the list at the site above.

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Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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