Re: Replies to questions about "electronic journals"

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 3 Oct 2000 11:44:24 +0100

On Tue, 3 Oct 2000, Thomas Bacher wrote:

> > Do you believe that electronic journals are more effective than print to
> > disseminate research? If so, why?
> sh> Yes, much moreso, because:
> sh> (1) they can be disseminated to everyone, everywhere,
> sh> instantly (no advanced printing, no mailing), forever.
> [I think that this should read: then can be disseminated to everyone
> who has an e-mail account, internet access and the computational speed
> to access the material, they can't be sent everywhere, they can be sent
> instantly in most cases, but the material still needs to be vetted and
> formatted.]

You are using the wrong comparison set! Here is the right comparison:

Compare (a) how, and to whom, the refereed journal literature is now
accessible on-paper (with its speed and scope limits and its financial
access barriers) with (b) how, and to whom it would be accessible if it
were all on-line and free for all.

The answer is that the access would be incomparably greater overall:
Far more researchers would have far more of the literature, for

And of course this will drive the further spreading of email-access and
band-width (even though it is already spreading like wildfire now!).

So let us not make the indefensible argument that "on-paper is better
than on-line until every last citizen has instant, on-line access":
They will, but there is no earthly reason to wait till then!

> sh> (2) they can all be accessed from a desktop (no walking to libraries)
> [If you have the machine and network arrangement and the correct license
> scenario]

See above. But no licenses! I am talking about FREE access. Please see
the three years' worth of discussion in this Forum of how this access
to the refereed literature, freed of all
Subscription/Site-License/Pay-Per-View (S/L/P) tolls, can be attained
immediately through author self-archiving in interoperable
institutional eprint archive (

> sh> (3) they can be searched online, digitally
> [Why is the word digitally here. But yes they can be searched in most
> cases if formatted and indexed correctly.]

The archives, available free to all universities and
research institutions, all conform to the Open Archive Protocol and
are hence fully interoperable (sharing the critical meta-data tags
such as author, title, journal, date...)

> sh> (4) they take up no space
> [Absolutely untrue. They take up space and more so as time goes on due
> to the sophistication of the product, the images enclosed in the
> product, and other miscellania. They also need to be archived like
> print products.]

I haven't no idea what you can possibly have in mind here! If you
compare the world-wide shelf-space occupied by the 14,000 refereed
journals indexed by Bowkers with the space they would occupy on the
disks and servers of the distributed network of institutional eprint
archives worldwide (including all allowances for mirroring and caching)
there is no contest: The respective physical space occupied in the two
systems differs by orders of magnitude! It's a few distributed mirrored
bits-on-disk, vs. life-size characters-on-paper-on-shelves duplicated
all over the planet!

> sh> (5) they can be easily cut/paste/quote/commented
> [Copied, falsified, distributed, plagarized, etc.]

Both could be done in both media. The digital medium offers the
advantage of incomparably more powerful detectability. (Besides,
"copied" and "distributed" are GOOD, for this give-away literature!
Only "falsified" and "plagiarised" are bad...]

(And why this focus on the dark side [every human medium has one],
while completely ignoring the incomparably brighter light vouchsafed by
the new medium?)

> sh> (6) they can be printed-off only if needed (a lot of journal use
> sh> is just scanning/skimming: best done on-screen rather than on-paper)
> [Usually they are printed off shifting the cost of printing from the
> publisher to the user.]

And your point is...?

If the only access barrier to the entire refereed literature were the
cost of printing off those papers you feel you need to print off (I
repeat that a lot of digital literature-navigation is more efficient
on-line than on-paper), is there any doubt in your mind about whether
researchers would opt for retaining S/L/P barriers instead?

> sh> (7) they can be reference-linked online to the online papers they cite
> sh> and are cited by (also to data and comments and responses and
> sh> corrections and updates): see
> [As long as the links stay active and aren't changed.]

Such a worrier! See

> sh> (8) the downloads, citations, and general "digital embryology" can be
> sh>
> sh> used to develop rich, new "scientometric" measures of impact,
> sh> influence, time-course in the growth of knowledge: see:
> [In the best world scenario.]

No, in the optimal and inevitable scenario, which is now fully within

> > sh> (9) most important of all: all obsolete access/impact-barriers of the
> > sh> costly on-paper medium can now be bypassed, and the refereed research
> > sh> literature can all be freed online, through author auto-archiving:
> > sh>
> > sh>
> [As long as authors cooperate and don't feel they need to be paid for
> their work, as long as standards are maintained, and as long as the
> have nots are given computers free of charge by the haves. If this were
> the case, it would already have happened.]

Are you anticipating that the authors of refereed papers will, for the
first time in history, suddenly wish to be paid royalties/fees in
exchange for access to their research reports? How odd that, after
giving them away for so long, researchers should suddenly get it into
their heads that paper-sale-income is better than impact-income,
precisely when the possibility of removing all impact-barriers has at
last come within reach! (Perhaps advertisers, who have always given
away their ads, will get the same bright idea, and start charging us
for accessing them!)

No, researchers are funded to do their research, but they never did and
never will want to block the impact of their ideas and findings by
holding out for pennies in exchange for access to them: It is only the
intermediary vendors who have been doing that. Let us not mix up the
two parties. (Their interests are aligned only in the case of the
NON-give-away literature -- books, magazine articles -- where the
authors are writing for royalty/fees, hence have a stake in the
toll-gate receipts. That non-give-away literature will proceed pretty
much apace in the on-line era, as it has always done: none of what I
say applies to that literature. But it is not helpful to keep ignoring
the profound difference between it and the [tiny, special] give-away
literature, of which refereed journal papers are the main instance.)

And why are you so concerned with the current have-nots who lack the
computer-access and not with the current have-nots who lack the funds
for S/L/P-access? If you do the arithmetic, you will find that everyone
will be immediately far better off with the refereed literature freed
online -- and the "haves" have the further advantage that they can keep
purchasing the S/L/P version too, for as long as they wish. Once S/L/P
becomes an OPTION, rather than an offer one cannot refuse, your arguments
about the virtues of paper, etc. can get a fair test.

> The issue is much more complex than described in this utopian hyperbole.

Nothing utopian or hyperbolic: feasible, right now (and also optimal and

> Thomas Bacher, Director, Purdue Press
> 1207 SCC-E, W. Lafayette, IN 47907-1207
> (765)494-2038 Fax: (765)496-2442

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 the ongoing discussion of providing free
access to the refereed journal literature online 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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