Re: Electronic archiving and IIS talk

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Fri, 8 Sep 2000 17:06:24 +0100

On Fri, 8 Sep 2000, George Lundberg wrote:

> But there is another fly in Stevan's ointment: Large numbers of articles
> submitted to biomedical journals NEVER appear in print after being
> unfavorably reviewed. They do not deserve publication. Editors and
> reviewers REALLY DO protect both readers and author in this process.
> What is then done with those "pre-print" versions that are available to
> all? gdlundberg

No fly, and the ointment meets all needs.

(1) As Stephen Lock and many others have pointed out: Virtually all
papers are "published" somewhere, eventually, somewhere in the hierarchy
from the highest quality, highest rejection-rate, highest impact, most
rigorously refereed journals at the top, all the way down to the
unrefereed Vanity Press at the bottom (Usenet Chat-groups and arbitrary
websites are now the online Vanity Press).

    Harnad, S. (1986) Policing the Paper Chase. (Review of S. Lock, A
    difficult balance: Peer review in biomedical publication.) Nature
    322: 24 - 5.

So research paper publication has always been a matter of each paper's
finding its own level.

(2) Peer review, and the "labelling" of the accepted draft with the
journal's imprimatur, is the dynamic filter that ensures that the
paper finds its proper place in this hierarchy, and the journal's
label and reputation guide the user in selecting what to read, trust,
try to build upon.

(3) An unrefereed preprint is an unrefereed preprint, no matter what
medium it appears in. And Vanity Press is Vanity Press. The quality
labels continue to exist, and continue to be the guides they always
were. As always, the rule is "caveat emptor": you use unrefereed
material at your own peril.

(4) The objective of self-archiving is to free the REFEREED literature

(5) The unrefereed literature is already free, and there is neither any
reason nor any means to stop it from going online. When it is archived
by reputable researchers, who also simultaneously submit it to
reputable journals, it is often very useful for fellow-researchers to
have it early (but with clear knowledge that it is not yet refereed or
accepted/certified). But "caveat emptor," as always, prevails. Nothing
new here.

(6) Yes, pre-refereeing papers are revised, often many times: That
is the nature of the cumulative, collective, self-corrective, fallible
 enterprise of scientific research:

(7) Post-refereeing papers may need to be revised, corrected and updated
too. Peer review is not infallible either.

(8) But, within all these natural embryological stages of knowledge-
generation, the formal milestone, signposted as the "final, refereed
draft, accepted for publication by Journal X, on (date)" continues to
serve EXACTLY the same special function it has always served.

(9) In other words, nothing is lost by self-archiving (i) successive
drafts of pre-refereeing preprints, (ii) the official accepted version,
and (iii) successive revisions and updates. One only gains. And, as a
special case, all but the official draft (ii) can still be ignored (but
again at the user's peril!).

(10) The special case of protecting people from unrefereed reports that
could be dangerous to public health is a matter that goes beyond the
scope of journals (along with web-based pornography, child abuse,
racist literature). Registered, interoperable, and answerable Eprint
Archives, however, can adopt various possible vetting mechanisms for
screening out preprints that might fall in this category. There is no
principled problem here; all that's needed is a responsible, agreed
upon clinical vetting system, like the one Harold Varmus contemplated
in his NIH proposal:

  Harnad, S. (2000) E-Knowledge: Freeing the Refereed Journal Corpus
  Online. Computer Law & Security Report 16(2) 78-87. [Rebuttal to
  Bloom Editorial in Science and Relman Editorial in New England
  Journal of Medicine]

  Harnad, S. (2000) Ingelfinger Over-Ruled: The Role of the Web in the
  Future of Refereed Medical Journal Publishing. Lancet (in press)

As far as I can discern, this takes care of any conceivable fly in the
self-archiving ointment.

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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