Re: Authors "Victorious" in UnCover Copyright Suit

From: Ian Ross <i.ross_at_CMCB.UQ.EDU.AU>
Date: Sat, 12 Aug 2000 07:21:29 +1000

> To clarify, I was emphasizing refereed journal
> articles, monographs, etc. when I said that
> authors give nothing away. They exchange rights
> for recognition and dissemination. Self-archiving
> lacks distinction at best and, at worst, may confuse
> a work with all the amateur stuff unleashed on the
> web with all the best intentions.
>Albert Henderson

It seems to me that when we talk about why scholarly not-for-profit authors
publish, Albert Henderson and Stevan Harnad represent different views of an
authors motivation, which we could caricature as the "marketing" and the
"idealogue" views.

To Stevan, authors care primarily that their work is high quality
(including that it is peer reviewed) and freely available to all, because
their interest is primarily in promulgating their ideas/discoveries
("idealogues"). Here the suitable vehicle is one which allows perfect
transparency to the scholarly community who will search for it. As long as
the work is available, and free, the scholarly community will seek it out
and appreciate it with no barriers. Here the important quality of the
vehicle (ie "journal" - or website) is that it be accessible. Hence it
makes no difference whether it be the authors website or a that of an
online "journal".

To Albert, authors are purely after peer recognition which is the commodity
they "buy" with their work ("marketers"). In this case the vehicle is
important for actively "selling" the work to the scholarly community who
are NOT searching for it - ie it's a bit like advertising. Here one job of
the journal is to bring the work to the attention of an (at first)
marginally interested peer community, by being "essential reading" for that
community, just as a large billboard on ones way to work is "essential
reading". The second job of the journal is to provide a benchmark for
boasting about one's work (hence the preoccupation with "impact factors").
Since there is little chance that a selection/promotion panel or grant
reviewer will actually read one's work to assess it's quality, they will
rely on the journal's name as a shorthand for quality (as when one
casually tosses off a remark about ones last Nature paper). In this view
the primary reason why a work must be of quality is that this is almost the
only way (apart from friends in high places) that work will be accepted by
the journal of choice. It has little to do with an intrinsic desire to
provide high quality work to ones peers; this is an unanticipated side
benefit (the "invisible hand" of science?). It also provides an access
point for the abstracting servives which themselves rely on a journals
"quality" to decide whether it is worth including in their abstracts (a
third function). Journals also provide a fourth function - a stable
archive of the global literature "for all time" (theoretically, anyhow) and
a reliable point of access for the global community. I suggest that there
is a fifth job as well, and that is to produce a nicely formatted end
product which psychologically proclaims to the author that the work is
completed, set in stone, "out there", unable to be tinkered with, stable
for all time. I wouldn't underestimate this purely psychological need to
have an official imprimateur and a final "version".

Naturally the truth is somewhere in between these opposing views. In fact
there are very few journals that one actually browses through these days -
electronic searching has long replaced the casual browse as a means of
staying current. Consequently, as long as the work contains relevant
keywords, and is suitable indexed (eg by an abstracting service) it WILL be
found, no matter what "journal" it is "published" in. Hence the
abstracting/search/access service (eg Medline, Cogprints) becomes the
primary "authorised" gatekeeper. All this supports Stevans view. On the
other hand, as long as journal names are shorthand benchmarks for tagging
the quality of ones work, Albert's view also has some force. Regrettably
most of us need to have some kind of shorthand benchmarking of quality for
convincing employers that our work is justifiable. Journal names are long
entrenched for this purpose - look at how journals themselves strive to
attract high profile authors to improve their "impact factor". Its a
mutual admiration society and the issue is social, not technical. Until
some other generally acceptable measure of quality becomes available,
journal names will continue to be important. Search-and-access, archiving
and "final presentation" functions are also important - although these need
not be carried out by a journal or conventional abstracting service, it
will take some time for conservative biological scientists to be convinced
that other mechanisms have the required permanance for them to be trusted.
Few of them will trust their precious work to an "experimental" system
except those who (by reason of long publishing history and/or impeachable
global reputation and recognition) no longer NEED the peer recognition.
And as long as (i) "journals" provide all these services in a "one-stop
shop", and (ii) the financial pain is borne by our employers, not by us
(directly) then most of us will continue to use them.

Apologies for the long monologue.

Ian Ross

Dr Ian L. Ross PhD
Institute for Molecular Bioscience
(formerly CMCB)
The University of Queensland
Ph 61-7-3878-8618 or 61-7-3665-4447
fax 61-7-3878-8663 or 61-7-3665-4388
Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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