Re: Incentives

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Mon, 10 Jul 2000 12:27:27 +0100

On Sun, 9 Jul 2000, David Goodman wrote:

> Steve, a request which I make because I am so greatly appreciative of
> your work, and so eager to see it succeed.
> There are, as you have so often acknowledged, more than one possible
> way of improving the mode of production and distribution of scientific
> articles.
> Perhaps you might, when replying to suggested extensions or
> alternatives, discuss a little more how to incorporate, include, or at
> least make use of, others' suggestions instead of concentrating on why
> they are not quite as good as your original proposal.

David, fair comment: I do need to be reminded when my evangelizing goes
over the top! Thanks.

The suggestion in question (Peter Singer's), to change the incentive
structure of academic evaluation, is a commendable one, and I wish I
could think of a way to use it to help facilitate the freeing of the
refereed journal literature online (the theme of this Forum), but
unfortunately the only things I myself can think of are the obvious
ways this can slow and impede the freeing of the literature: It asks
people to change MORE things as a PRECONDITION for freeing the
literature: They must first change their evaluation practices and
their publication practices.

Perhaps Peter Singer is right, that this would all be for the better,
if there were a concrete idea of what people should do, and how, and a
way to successfully persuade them to do it.

But to me this still sounds like untested conjectures -- notoriously
difficult to get people to adopt (en masse, and soon), whereas freeing
the refereed literature by simply self-archiving it on-line NOW is not
something that depends on, awaits, or is (or ought to be) in any way
conditional on the testing and implementation of further untested
conjectures: It already has face-validity (if everyone did it, it would
most definitely free the literature, by definition), and it has been
tested and works (e.g., the Physics Archive). Nor does it require
giving up or changing anything else as a precondition; nor has it had
any untoward consequences.

The Forum is certainly open to further debate on these alternative
proposals, and I invite all those who can either contribute ideas about
how to change the academic incentive structure now, so as to facilitate
freeing the journal literature, or solutions to any of the problems I
have repeatedly pointed out -- e.g., in peer-review reform or
peer-review replacement schemes (self-publishing, open commentary,
etc.) -- to air them in this Forum.

Note that I have only used my Forum moderator's powers to invoke
cloture twice (as far as I recall): once on the side-topic that there
is a conspiracy on the part of university administrations to wrest
ownership of their intellectual property from their faculty (a
possibility, but too remote from the concerns of this Forum) and the
other on the side-topic that there would be no problem of free access
to the refereed journal literature if only more money were given to
libraries (again a possibility, but not increased in its probability or
relevance by dint of repetition).

Apart from those two cases, it seems to me that it is irrelevant that I
am the moderator of this Forum: I just happen to be one of its more
vociferous contributors, writing in favour of what I think makes sense,
and criticizing what I think does not (but always ready to be corrected).

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

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