Re: The July 6-7 NYAM "Freedom of Information" Meeting

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sun, 9 Jul 2000 11:09:37 +0100

On Sat, 8 Jul 2000, Michael Jacobson wrote:

> The assessment that made the most sense to me came from an editor
> belonging to the Physics organization AIP [Marc Brodsky]. He predicted
> that the major, leading journals will continue to flourish and be able
> to dictate their terms to authors, simply because of the power of their
> prestige. On the other hand, the majority of lesser-status journals,
> which currently exist mainly to enable authors to publish, will fall
> prey to various open-archiving projects and many will simply
> disappear.

I can only repeat that this might perhaps have been the outcome for a
while if the only strategy for freeing the refereed journal literature
had been the "switch" (EITHER/OR) strategy ("switch from your
established, high-quality/high-impact journal to a new, untried journal
that does not charge for reader-access"). Authors would not renounce
journal-impact for free-access-impact.

But this is not the only way to free the literature: The self-archiving
(BOTH/AND) strategy does not require switching. Authors can have
journal-impact AND free-access-impact.

And, paradoxically, this puts the non-commercial journals (not
necessarily "lesser-status," by the way!) at an advantage, because once
self-archiving starts to erode S/L/P revenues, they are in a better
position to down-size to the essentials: providing the
Quality-Control/Certification service only.

(It is regrettable if the New York meeting has reinforced the incorrect
idea that the EITHER/OR strategy is the only way to free the
literature! I hope this Forum will help to make it abundantly clear
that it is not: that new journals, and new forms of peer review are not
what is wanted or needed at this time. All that is needed is free
access to the current refereed literature, and author self-archiving
will provide precisely that, instantly, with the glue of
interoperability <>).

For a detailed rebuttal to Arnold Relman's NEJM critique of the
Varmus initiative, see:

    Harnad, S. (2000) E-Knowledge: Freeing the Refereed Journal Corpus
    Online. Computer Law & Security Report 16(2) 78-87.

> Pat Brown called upon authors to boycott all journals that don't behave
> like "good scientific citizens". I got up and said that I don't think
> there is a single scientist who would boycott the New England Journal
> of Medicine if it accepted an article, on the basis that the NEJM isn't
> a good scientific citizen. He disagreed with me, and said that he, for
> one, wouldn't publish in it. Made me feel young again, like I was at
> an anti-war rally in the 60's...

I wish this EITHER/OR strategy all the best; if it were to prevail, the
outcome would be the same: free access. But when faced with an EITHER/OR
meta-choice between an EITHER/OR strategy and a BOTH/AND strategy, the
outcome should be clear just from applying the boolean logic...

> The folks you have to feel sorry
> for are the academic society publishers. Their hearts are in the right
> place, and they're used to being on the morally "right" side of things,
> while making money for their organizations. Now, their economic
> viability is threatened by the new environment, and they just don't
> have the real capitalist competitive fire that commercial publishers
> do. Sort of like the not-for-profit hospitals in the US, that used to
> "do well by doing good", and are now struggling to survive in the
> waters of corporate medicine. Not easy.

The academic society publishers have a shorter distance to go, in
down-sizing to the essentials. Moreover, their interests are more
closely aligned with those of the researchers themselves, their
constituency. The only thing they have to realize is that if it is so
clearly contrary to the interests of research and researchers to block
access to their research in order to support commercial publishers'
revenue streams, it is likewise contrary to their interests to block
access to their research in order to support academic societies' "good
works" (meetings, paper publications, lobbying, scholarships). These
good works are indeed good, but not good enough to warrant keep being
subsidized by needlessly holding research findings hostage to them.
Academic societies can and will find other ways to support those good
works. The research itself must be freed.

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):

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

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