Re: Napster: stealing another's vs. giving away one's own

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sat, 20 May 2000 14:44:40 +0100

On Sat, 20 May 2000, Dr. John R. Skoyles wrote:

> Publishers cannot hide their revenue behind fire-walls. Search spiders are
> now sufficiently smart that contents pages of any published journal can
> have its papers located upon personal servers thus enabling any company to
> set up alternative 'content pages' with urls to them rather than a
> publisher's own password protected and revenue generating
> Subscription/Site-License/Pay-Per-View S/L/P access tolls.

The above seems to miss the point of this thread (which is that
stealing publishers' products is theft and is neither to be condoned
nor to be associated in any way with authors' giving away their own
papers). It also seems to misunderstand the interoperability on which
open archiving is predicated.

(1) There is certainly no need for "rival companies" with "rival
contents pages" pointing to (phantom? bootleg?) full-texts from the
rightful publisher's firewalled archive. But nor is there a need to
trawl non-interoperable personal web pages for possible matches with
such contents pages.

(2) The open-archives' Santa Fe Protocol is designed to allow authors to
meta-data-tag their own self-archived articles by the journal, volume,
year, etc. in which they were published. This provides the basic
interoperability that allows these distributed, tagged full-texts then
to be drawn into one virtual archive that can be searched and harvested
on the basis of those tags (such as journal, volume, year).

(3) Such open-archive services can certainly also harvest
journal-contents pages -- if they are public -- as one form of
cross-check on authors' auto-tagging, but all openly archived full
texts also contain their all-important REFERENCE LISTS, an even richer
source of cross-checks than individual contents-pages (at least for
cited articles); and there are also free multi-journal indices (such as
PubMed), which promise much broader cross-checks than any single
journal's or publisher's contents listings.

> Second, the provision of quality control/certification needs to be
> separated from the historical accumulation of journal reputation. We --
> readers, employment/promotion boards -- are time short and so use the
> reputation of journals as a substitute for a detailed study of the quality
> of their quality control. Moreover, due to a Matthew-like process, those
> journals with high status gain more: good papers are submitted to journals
> with high reputation increasing their reputation further. This means that a
> publisher of a well known and respected title has a limited resource from
> which they can extract a premium. Publishers obviously have a legitimate
> claim to charge for the provision of quality control/certification, but do
> they have a right to gain this premium that has accumulated to their
> journals from the work given freely to them in the past? Does this not
> properly belong to the scientists that have given their time and work
> without compensation as paper contributors and reviewers? This point is
> central to science publishers as they adapt to their new role: they might
> complain that they are losing revenue, but much of that should never have
> belonged to them.

As repeated often in this Forum, it is a worthwhile empirical goal to
try to improve the peer review (QC/C) system; it could definitely use
some improvement (though not always in the direction they may appear to
need it from, say, the disgruntled rejected author's perspective). But
this is an empirical matter, requiring prior testing and analysis, and
has nothing whatsoever to do with the focus of this Forum, which is
concerned with freeing the peer-reviewed literature SUCH AS IT IS.

(For speculations about how to improve the QC/C system, posters are
advised to go to another Forum, and cross-post occasional summaries of
progress made. It does not help the cause of freeing the refereed
literature to conflate the issues only gradually coming into focus here
now with conjectures about "Matthew Effects" and the like.)

Nor is there any reason that the QC/C function should be wrested from
the hands of those who have traditionally implemented it (the
established journals). Let subversive self-archiving do its peaceful
work, liberating the research from needless access barriers, and then if
there are publishers who would prefer to abandon journal-publishing
altoghether, rather than scaling down to becoming mere QC/C
service-providers, THEN their titles can be taken over by new
open-archive-friendly publishers who ARE happy to serve only as QC/C
service providers.

(Fortunately, the real purveyers of the service -- the referees -- are
and always have been unpaid, just like the authors, and their loyalty
is to the journal, not to its revenue streams, publisher, or even its
current journal-title. Hence they can readily be reconstituted under a new
publisher or even a new journal-title if need be: But let us not assume
that this need will indeed be. There could be an entirely benign and
collaborative response to "subversive" self-archiving, with journals
gracefully scaling down to their new niche of QC/C service provider,
with no defection or abandoning-ship called for.)

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.

Discussion can be posted to:
Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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