Re: problem of the Ginsparg Archive as self-archiving model

From: ransdell, joseph m. <ransdell_at_DOOR.NET>
Date: Sun, 3 Sep 2000 08:26:37 -0700

In response to David Goodman:

You catch the general drift of my thought, David. I certainly agree
that it is a matter of fact whether or not other scientific communities
can actually make good use of a Ginsparg-like archive and server system,
and am strongly in favor of figuring out ways to get them to try.

I wonder, for example, what the molecular biologist's reasons actually
are, since there is more protection for priority in making one's paper
available as a preprint on an open access server like that at LANL than
there is in submitting it to a journal, where the non-public aspect of
peer review does sometimes provide the opportunity to have one's ideas
filched by the clandestine peer reviewer. To what extent that actually
happens I don't know, but that is a recurrent fear in connection with
peer review, and the solution is to make it available first in the
pre-print form, provided the place of appearance has reliable dating
procedures, reliable document handling, and so forth, which is what
Ginsparg was careful to make sure of in setting his system up.
Self-archiving on one's own website is not good for that purpose unless
extraordinary measures are taken to establish document identity,
reliable time-stamping, etc., and few individuals have the sort of
expertise required to make their websites secure in that way. Of course,
Stevan's (and others) work on the new self-archiving software is aimed
at part in remedying this. Anyway, the point is that it is not at all
clear what the molecular biologist's reason is, given that establishing
priority surely is not the real reason.

More generally, there must be many fields which, like the fields
well-served by the LANL system, have been working for quite a long time
on the basis of preprint distribution. Primary publication and regular
journal publication have, in other words, been on separate tracks for
decades in many fields in the sciences precisely because the great
emphasis on priority has forced preprint distribution to become the
primary publication medium. What distinguishes the people using the
LANL system is that they were willing to give up their privileged status
by using an open access distribution system. It wasn't just the use of
the automated system that counted but the willingness to allow that
system to be made available to anybody. There was a risk in that in
several respects. For one thing they couldn't know in advance but what
the quality of work made available in that way would contain too much
poorly prepared material to make it feasible to use it. Also, they must
have been more or less aware that this would subject them to a lot of
hostile criticism from people who would see them as encouraging
barbarism. But they did it anyway and it worked.

My reason for believing that it worked is this. Had it not worked, the
effect of it would have shown itself in professional communication in
those fields by now. To take a fanciful example, suppose that the
research community began to develop the same kind of uncritical habits
of thinking that, say, the New Age devotee has who is always ready to
accept any new belief that comes along, whether it be crystal power,
orgone accumulation, pyramid power, salvation by extra-terrestials, or
what have you. The effect of using the automated server system as a
place of primary publication would then be to generate acceptance of
just about any research claim made through it, and this tolerance of
inconsistency and incoherence would in turn result necessarily in less
and less common agreement and understanding in the research community as
the contradictions in their beliefs increased. This would in turn show
itself in the literature, which would become increasingly irritable and
angry in tone as misunderstandings proliferated unchecked by critical
control; accusations, suspicions, and postures of belligerence would
become increasingly normal; the basic form of primary publication --
which is actually rather strict -- would cease to be followed by the
people submitting papers to the archive, and so forth. And as that
happened people would stop using the server as the basic medium of
primary communication and either reform around some new and private
method of distribution or else the research community would just
dissolve as a community. That is why the statistics of use have some
real force, considered as showing what the tendencies are: if the
system wasn't working it would by now have shown signs of increasing

This is what I have in mind in saying that the automated system of
primary publication cannot be and will not be used other than by people
who are in fact matured enough in their practices to use it. But there
certainly should be many more that are competent enough to use it than
are actually using it. Could it be that they just are not ready to give
up on the advantages they might be enjoying as "invisible colleges"? In
that case it is mainly just a problem of lack of moral leadership in
those fields. But there may be other reasons than this. I have no idea
what they might be. It seems to me that there is an answerable question
in this, though it would take people in those fields to provide the

Joseph Ransdell
Dept of Philosophy  806 742-3275  Home: 806 797-2592
Texas Tech University - Lubbock, Texas 79409   USA (Peirce Gateway website)
Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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