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

From: Andrew Odlyzko <amo_at_RESEARCH.ATT.COM>
Date: Mon, 4 Sep 2000 17:35:02 -0400

A few comments on Stevan Harnad's latest message:

  On Mon, 4 Sep 2000, Stevan Harnad wrote:

  Fortunately, it doesn't matter whether we see eye to eye on either the
  current causal role of peer review or its future. The objective here is
  to free the current research literature, such as it is, both pre- and
  post-refereeing, online. Self-archiving it all will do this. If the
  peer review has indeed been superfluous all along, that can and will
  eventually come out in the wash; but it has no bearing on the (agreed)
  desirability of self-archiving both preprints and postprints NOW.

Agreed. If some areas are not sufficiently mature to handle
free distribution of articles, they can go back to the traditional
publishing model. I don't believe this will happen, but am ready
to be surprised.

> 2. In the general evolution of electronic communication, there will
> be considerable pain for publishers and librarians.

  Why for librarians? Can they not do something better with their money
  than what is now being spent in the "serials crisis"? Perhaps you are
  thinking of their time rather than their money. But that too is
  hypothetical. I doubt that you will find a single librarian who would
  prefer to perpetuate the serials crisis and prevent the online freeing
  of the journal literature because of worries about what they will do in
  the world of free journals.

  (Perhaps I am wrong about this?)

  With journal publishers it is another story, and I regret that it must
  be so, but it is: there is now a conflict of interest between the old,
  Gutenberg way and the new PostGutenberg way, and current publishers'
  revenue streams can only be protected at the expense of what is both
  optimal and attainable for research and researchers. That conflict of
  interest has to be resolved, and I think it is fairly clear that the
  resolution must be in favour of research, not of protecting publishers'
  current revenue streams.

The librarians as well as the publishers will experience considerable
pain. The reference librarians should do well. However, consider the
huge ranks of all those dedicated specialists in areas such as
cataloging. Their jobs will go away.

The irony of all this is that in the long run cutbacks in libraries
and publishing industry are unlikely to produce any long run savings
for universities. Total spending on information is likely to go up,
as I have predicted several times. That has been the historical
trend, and we are becoming an Information Society, after all. By
way of analogy, consider the world of 550 years ago. A serious
scholar of that time might have looked at Gutenberg's printing press,
computed that a single printer could do the work of 100 scribes, and
concluded that, given the limited demand for Bibles and other
literature among the largely illiterate population, publishing
would shrivel. What happened instead is that publishing exploded,
whethere measured in terms of number of employees, revenues, or
pages of books produced.

While Gutenberg did ignite rapid growth in publishing, this advance
was led largely my new people. In "Silicon dreams and silicon bricks:
the continuing evolution of libraries" (available on my home page
at <>) I cited a
source that estimated that only between 4 and 6 percent of the
printers who worked before 1500 had started out as professional
scribes. Hopefully today's librarians and publishers will form a
larger fraction of the information professionals of the future
than this 4 to 6 percent.

> That will be
> outweighed by the gains for scholars and the general public, but
> those large gains will be spread much more thinly. As a result
> there are few people with a large interest in pushing for a rapid
> change.

  I disagree. Refereed journals are neither written for nor read by the
  general public. They are written by researchers, for researchers. And
  researchers are the ones who would gain from the freeing
  of this literature. (The public too would gain, but only indirectly, as
  its benefits from scholarship/science always are.)

Well, that is another point where we disagree. Yes, you are right,
refereed journals are written by researchers, for researchers. But
I think that is changing, in two ways:

(i) There is increasing pressure for more interdisciplinary work,
which forces narrow specialties to try to make their communications
understandable to wider (although still scholarly) groups.


(ii) There is latent interest in research results by the general
public, interest that is stimulated by easy location and access
to that information. Here is a quote from "The rapid evolution
of scholarly communication":

 Easy access implies not only greater use, but also changing patterns
 of use. For example, a recent news story [Kolata] discussed how the
 Internet is altering the doctor-patient relationship. The example
 that opens that story is of a lady who is reluctantly told by the
 doctor she might have lupus, and leaves the clinic terrified of what
 this might be. She then proceeds to obtain information about this
 disease from the Internet. When she returns to her physician, she is
 well-informed and prepared to question the diagnosis and possible
 treatment. What is remarkable about this story is that the basic
 approach of this patient was feasible before the arrival of the Web.
 She could have gone to her local library, where the reference
 librarians would have been delighted to point her to many excellent
 print sources of medical information. However, few people availed
 themselves of such opportunities before. Now, with the easy
 availability of the Web, we see a different story.

 [Kolata] = G. Kolata, Web research transforms visit to the doctor,
  New York Times, March 6, 2000, pp. A1 & A6.

  And Andrew and I can retire to our tents and get back to our research,
  reaping the benefits of the give-away corpus, free at last!


Andrew Odlyzko
AT&T Labs - Research voice: 973-360-8410 fax: 973-360-8178
Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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