A Role for SPARC in Freeing the Refereed Literature

From: Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_coglit.ecs.soton.ac.uk>
Date: Sun, 18 Jun 2000 14:01:21 +0100

               A PROPOSAL FOR SPARC

Currently, SPARC (whose admirable mandate is appended below) is a
library/institution coalition dedicated to lowering journal
subscription prices by using the collective bargaining power of its
important and influential participating institutional libraries to
favor journals that provide lower prices and greater value.

This is highly commendable, but perhaps somewhat short-sighted, for it
does serve to entrench the library serials community (and hence the
research community) ever more firmly in the current cost-recovery
system, which is based on toll-booths
(Subscription/Site-License/Pay-Per-View S/L/P) that block
READER-institution access to a PRODUCT (the refereed research report)
whose raw materials the institutions have themselves provided for free.

The optimal system for research, researchers, and their institutions
is one in which refereed journal publishers instead provide only
the much less costly SERVICE of Quality-Control/Certification (QC/C),
paid for by each AUTHOR-institution out of its annual S/L/P savings --
yielding free access to the refereed research literature for all at a
far lower institutional cost. (The QC-certified "products" themselves,
the refereed papers, can then be made accessible free for all through
interoperable institutional Open Archives <http://www.openarchives.org/>)

SPARC is currently working to lower the S/L/P barriers, but not to
eliminate them. Indeed, inasmuch as it redirects efforts that could be
devoted to eliminating S/L/P barriers to merely reducing them, SPARC
may be inadvertently prolonging the status quo, which is neither
necessary nor in the best interests of research, researchers, and their

Here, accordingly, is a 2-part alternative proposal for SPARC to

    (1) Rather than using SPARC's consortial power to favor publishers
    who merely lower their S/L/P prices (and enhance their S/L/P
    services), use it to favor instead those publishers who commit
    themselves to an explicit, agreed schedule of scaling down and
    transforming themselves and their cost-recovery system from
    reader-institution-end S/L/P product-provision to
    author-institution-end QC/C service-provision.

    (2) At the same time, immediately put the full weight of SPARC
    behind the (i) immediate mounting of Open Archives
    <http://www.eprints.org/index.html> at each participating
    institution, and their (ii) immediate filling by all of the
    institutions' authors, with their unrefereed preprints and refereed
    postprints, right now.

The cancellation pressure on publishers (from reader preference for the
free open-archived version) will combine with the incentive of SPARC's
transition cushion above (1), to hasten and facilitate journal
publishers' downsizing and transition to service-provision, which will
be a stable and permanent niche for them from then onward.

Stevan Harnad


   Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC)
           of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL)

   SPARC is a worldwide alliance of research institutions,
   libraries and organizations that encourages competition in
   the scholarly communications market. SPARC introduces new
   solutions to scientific journal publishing, facilitates the
   use of technology to expand access, and partners with
   publishers that bring top-quality, low-cost research to a
   greater audience. SPARC strives to return science to

   SPARC publisher-partnerships aim to:
            Create a more competitive scholarly communication
            marketplace where the cost of journal acquisition
            and use is reduced, and publishers who are
            responsive to customer needs are rewarded
            Ensure fair use of electronic resources while
            strengthening the proprietary rights and privileges
            of authorship
            Apply technology to improve the process of
            scholarly communication and reduce the costs of
            production and distribution

   What Does SPARC Do?

   SPARC influences the marketplace positively by encouraging
   publishers to enter areas where the prices are highest and
   competition is needed most - primarily in the science,
   technical, and medical (STM) fields. Through its activities,
   SPARC reduces the risk to publisher-partners of entering the
   marketplace while providing faculty with prestigious and
   responsive alternatives to current publishing vehicles.

   SPARC reduces publisher risk by:

            Encouraging the introduction of alternative
            scientific communication outlets of high quality
            and fair price
            Guaranteeing a subscription base and marketing new
            products to potential subscribers
            Generating broad support for SPARC projects through
            a wide-ranging communications program

   Library Support is Needed

   SPARC finances its efforts through coalition member fees that
   support operating expenses and help build a capital fund to
   provide start-up money for SPARC projects. SPARC also seeks
   grants to augment the capital fund. The key to SPARC's
   success, however, is the commitment of coalition members to
   support SPARC-endorsed journals.

   For more information on SPARC membership, academic
   institutions and research libraries should contact
   sparc_at_arl.org or consult the online membership information

   Wanted: Publisher Partners

   SPARC concentrates its resources on supporting ventures in
   which the gain from introducing price and service competition
   is great. SPARC seeks partners that are committed to fair
   pricing, intellectual property management policies that
   emphasize broad and easy distribution and reuse of material,
   and the ethical use of scholarly resources.

   SPARC encourages collaboration via the following channels:

            SPARC Alternatives program: Supports lower-cost,
            directly competitive alternatives to high-priced
            scientific, technical, or medical journals in
            important fields.
            SPARC Leading Edge program: Supports ventures that
            obtain competitive advantage through technology use
            or innovative business models, and/or address the
            information needs of an emerging or fast-growing
            STM field.
            SPARC Scientific Communities program: Supports
            development of non-profit portals that serve the
            needs of a discrete scientific community by
            aggregating peer-reviewed research and other

   Who Benefits?

   SPARC stimulates creation of better, faster, and more
   economically sustainable systems for distributing new

   These advances benefit:
            Researchers. SPARC encourages development of
            high-quality, lower-cost delivery channels, which
            will drive expanded access
            Publisher-partners. Working with a variety of
            publishers whose business goals are compatible with
            SPARC, SPARC supports development of vibrant and
            economically viable new models of scholarly
            Libraries. By fostering development of new
            alternatives to established high-price journals,
            SPARC encourages the kind of competition that will
            bring skyrocketing journal prices back to earth.
            Libraries will get more for their money.
            Society. Research conducted by faculty at
            universities - often with the aid of government
            funds - propels key advancements benefiting the
            economy. SPARC facilitates improved and expanded
            communication of this research.

            21 Dupont Circle, NW
            Suite 800
            Washington, DC 20036
            E-mail sparc_at_arl.org
            Tel: 202-296-2296
            Fax 202-872-0884


I'll be giving a talk along the following lines at a number of places in
the next 6 months (see list at end):


           Stevan Harnad
           Intelligence/Agents/Multimedia Group
           Department of Electronics and Computer Science
           University of Southampton
           Highfield, Southampton
           SO17 1BJ UNITED KINGDOM

    ABSTRACT: What is wrong with the following picture?

    (1) A brand-new PhD recipient proudly tells his mother he has just
    published his first article. She asks him how much he was paid for
    it. He makes a face and tells her "nothing," and then begins a long
    complicated explanation.

    (2) A fellow-researcher at that same university sees a reference to
    that same article. He goes to their library to get it: It's not
    subscribed to here; can't afford that journal; subscription budget
    already overspent.

    (3) An undergraduate at the same university sees the same article
    cited on the Web; clicks on it. The publisher's website demands a
    password: only paid subscribing institutions can have access.

    (4) The undergraduate loses patience, gets bored, and clicks on
    napster to grab an MP3 file of his favorite bootleg CD to console
    him in his sorrows.

    (5) Years later, the same PhD is being considered for tenure; his
    publications are good, but they're not cited enough; they have not
    made enough of a research impact. Tenure denied.

    (6) Same thing happens when he tries to get a research grant: his
    research findings have not had enough of an impact: not enough
    researchers have read, built upon and cited them.

    (7) He decides to write a book instead. Publisher declines to
    publish it: It wouldn't sell enough copies because not enough
    universities have enough money to pay for it -- their purchasing
    budgets are tied up paying for their inflating annual journal
    subscription costs.

    (8) He tries to put his articles up on the Web, free for all, to
    increase their impact; his publisher threatens to sue him and his
    server-provider for violation of copyright.

    (9) He asks his publisher who the copyright is intended to protect.

    (10) His publisher replies: You!

    What is wrong with this picture? (And why is the mother of the PhD
    whose give-away work people cannot steal, even though he wants them
    to, in the same boat as the mother of the recording artist whose
    non-give-away work they can and do steal, even though he does not
    want them to?) My talk will explain what's wrong with this
    picture, and how to fix it. The remedy applies to all institutions,
    but it is particularly urgent for less wealthy institutions, and
    less wealthy countries, for their researchers have been the most
    disadvantaged by the financial barriers blocking access to this
    give-away research literature that is meant to benefit all of

    Harnad, S. (1995) Universal FTP Archives for Esoteric Science and
    Scholarship: A Subversive Proposal. In: Ann Okerson & James
    O'Donnell (Eds.) Scholarly Journals at the Crossroads; A Subversive
    Proposal for Electronic Publishing. Washington, DC., Association of
    Research Libraries, June 1995.

    Harnad, S. (1999) Free at Last: The Future of Peer-Reviewed
    Journals. D-Lib Magazine 5(12) December 1999

To be presented at:

Le Destin Optimal et Inevitable des Revues
Scientifiques dans l'Ere PostGutenbergienne.
World Psychiatric Association Jubilee. Paris, 29 June 2000.

Keynote Address. Australian National Academies and the Australian
Copyright Agency. Sydney. Australia 26-27 July 2000.

Keynote Address. International Conference "Electronic Publishing in the
Third Millennium" Kaliningrad/Sveltogorsk, Russia, 17-19 August 2000.

"Peer review: how will it evolve?" Tenth International Conference of
Science Editors, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil August 27-30, 2000

Annual Guest Lecture, Institute of Information Scientists/IIS
Brunei Gallery, London 6 September 2000

Current Science Festschrift for Eugene Garfield. Madras 14-24 September
Madras India

Advancing Scientific Research through Open Archiving. Chemical
Information Conference: Annecy, France 22-25 October 2000.

Distinguished Speaker lecture. Society for Computers in Psychology.
November 16 2000 New Orleans

Roundtable on Subversive Proposal. American Historical Society.
January 4-7. Boston 2001.

Special Guest Lecture, Humanities Programme and the Department of
Physics: Opening Up the Refereed Research Literature Through Open
Archiving. Imperial College, London 24 January 2001.


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):


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

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