Re: Workshop on Open Archives Initiative in Europe

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Mon, 30 Oct 2000 18:08:10 +0000

> On Mon, 30 Oct 2000, Raf Dekeyser wrote:

> The concrete objective is to actually assemble a group that wants to
> take immediate collaborative action leading to the deployment of OAI
> compatible preprint repositories that must become nodes in the
> envisioned electronic scholarly communication system.

Why "preprint repositories"? Open Archiving spans both unrefereed
preprints and refereed postprints, which, together, are called EPRINTS.

Why would the European initiative focus only on PREprints, rather than

Also, as we shall see, there are a number of preconceptions and
assumptions built into the document announcing this meeting. They
largely concern untested hypotheses about peer review, which are
unconnected, repeat unconnected, with either (1) the open archiving
initiative <>, which is concerned with
established shared metadata conventions for the purpose of
interoperability or (2) the self-archiving (sub)-initiative
<>, which is concerned with freeing the
peer-reviewed journal literature from financial firewalls online,
not with freeing it from peer review, or with untested modifications
of or alternatives to peer review.

> Issues to be addressed in the light of this objective include:
> _ Should archives be organised on an institutional or on a
> discipline-oriented basis?

A worthwhile question (but why either/or rather than both/and? that is
what interoperability makes possible!)

> _ Who should be the parties taking the responsibility of launching,
> managing and ensuring a long-term archival function for the archives?

Another worthwhile question. Obvious candidates are Universities and
Research Institutes, their Libraries, and Learned Societies.

But do not confuse or conflate this question of who is to manage the
archiving with the question of electronic publication. Insofar as the
refereed journal literature is concerned, the one we all wish to
liberate, the publisher is still the publisher. Electronic archiving is
a different matter from publication.

Publication (except if it is vanity press) entails quality control
(peer review) and its certification. Implementing that is the
traditional province of the publisher. Archiving the result is a
different matter. Archiving concerns are not publishing concerns. Do
not mix them up or you will only delay the freeing of the refereed
literature instead of hastening it.

> Are these parties the universities, the scholarly societies, the
> international research centres, the publishers?

Until and unless the refereed literature is freed, publishers will only
wish to archive fire-walled, proprietary versions of it. So it is not
their archiving contribution that is at issue here.

But, by the same token, we are not talking only about unrefereed
preprints. We are talking about freeing the peer-reviewed literature.
Implementing peer review is not the province of archivists, nor of
universities, research institutions nor libraries. And when Learned
Societies do it, they do it in their capacity as Publishers.

Do not conflate these things or only confusion and further delay will

> _ Which parties are willing to deploy prototype archives?

A worthwhile question. Thanks to interoperability, the reply need not
be either/or: All the above (including publishers, if they wish) can do
so. Distributed OAI-compliant Eprint Archives will be harvested into
global archives, irrespective of individual provenance:

> The exploratory objective of the meeting relates to the certification
> of writings submitted to archives. Since there is broad consensus that
> certification of scientific writings is an essential function that must
> be provided by any acceptable system for scholarly communication, the
> question of how it can be implemented in a novel infrastructure cannot
> remain unanswered. Therefore, the exploratory objective of the
> workshop is to try and identify and discuss the crucial properties
> required to augment Open Archives of non-peer-reviewed material into
> true building blocks of a novel scientific communication mechanism
> addressing the needs of science, the scientific community and the
> public in general.

This passage is replete with problematic assumptions having nothing to
do with the Open Archives Initiative itself.

There is the assumption again that the OAI concerns preprint archives
(it does not, and never did, even when it was briefly called the UPS
[Universal Preprint Service]: OAI is and always was about
pre-peer-review preprints AND post-peer-review postprints, i.e., about
EPRINTS (electronic papers). And the peer-review is and always
implemented by journals, not by any other entity.

There may eventually be scope for exploring new methods and even peer
review reforms. But that is another initiative, it is not the Open
Archives Initiative, which is concerned with interoperability, nor is
it the Self-Archiving sub-initiative, which is concerned with freeing the
peer-reviewed journal literature online through self-archiving.

(Note that one SUBMITS papers to journals, whereas one DEPOSITS them in
archives: please do not conflate submitting a paper for publication,
which is dependent on successfully passing through the filter of peer
review and certification, with archiving, which simply makes the paper,
whether pre- or post-, accessible online.)

> This objective inevitably leads to considering whether the current
> mechanism of certification of scientific writingsr, the peer-review
> process, is an artefact of the established journal system or not. It
> forces considering the feasibility of novel certification mechanisms
> and -- if such mechanism can indeed be envisioned -- attempting to
> identify its characteristics. Whatever the outcomes of such
> considerations are, the implementation of a certification mechanism
> building on material in e-print archives remains to be addressed.

Again, there is here a complete conflation between the objective of
freeing the peer-reviewed literature, and the objective of modifying or
reforming the peer review system. These are completely different
objectives. The online medium has relevance to both objectives, but that
still does not make them the same objective, or even similar objectives.

Reforming peer review is hypothetical, and untested. The online medium
makes it possible to experiment with it. Good. Go ahead and experiment
with it.

But that has nothing to do with another desideratum, which is freeing
the peer-reviewed literature, such as it is, now. The online medium makes
that immediately attainable WITH NO NEED TO FIRST WAIT TO TEST OUT NEW

The two are simply separate issues.

> Issues to be included in the discussion resorting under this objective
> include:
> _ Is the often-proposed model of building on the concept of
> a-posteriori certification -- i.e. certification as an add-on to a
> non-peer-reviewed writing actually feasible or is a-priori
> certification required/preferred?

This cannot be settled by a priori discussion: It needs careful and
systematic testing. Is there any need to wait for the outcome of such
discussions to go ahead and free the current peer-reviewed literature,
such as it is, now?

> _ How does the mechanism guarantee scientific quality?

Worthwhile question for peer review reform; a red herring for freeing
the peer reviewed literature now.

(Peer review does not "guarantee scientific quality," by the way; it
is just the quality-control system that is [presumably] maintaining its
current scientific quality, such as it is, now.)

> _ Who initiates the certification process?

These are all open-ended questions. A good look at how peer review
is currently implemented by those who are experienced in doing so
would go a long way toward answering them: Ask experienced journal
editors, or referees.

(But why should these questions be exercising digital librarians who
are trying to resolve the serials crisis?)

> _ How does the submission of a non-peer-reviewed writing relate to the
> certification mechanism?

Every paper submitted to a refereed journal is a case of a "submission
of a non-peer-reviewed writing" for "certification."

These questions are not well-informed. Before undertaking peer
review reform, it would be best to gain some expertise in how it works

> _ How does the certification mechanism relate to promotion and tenure
> evaluations?

Promotion and tenure evaluations depend, among other things, on the
refereeing mechanisms and impact factors of the journals in which the
candidates' papers appear. This is a medium-independent matter. It has
nothing to do with whether the refereed paper appeared in paper or
online; nor with whether the paper was available for free or for fee.

So why is it being conflated with the Open Archiving and Self-Archiving

> _ Who should be the parties organising, co-ordinating and overlooking
> the certification process?

It is within the researcher community's reach to free their refereed
papers, now, by self-archiving them in Eprint Archives, thereby, among other
things, solving the Libraries' serials crisis (but mainly for the saking
of immeasurably increasing the visibility and impact of their research).

But this needless and naive soul-searching about the dynamics of peer
review is just a red herring.

> _ Which economical model(s) is/are feasible
> to implement the system in a sustainable manner?

This is a pertinent question -- IF we are talking about the
tried-and-tested peer review that is currently practised by refereed
journals, rather than about untested hypothetical alternatives.

For peer review is indeed an essential service. Without it, there is no
peer-reviewed literature to free. Hence we do need to know its true
costs, separated from all the add-on costs of printing and distributing
in paper, or even producing PDF page images: Just the essentials please.
Referees, we know, referee for free; the author does the research,
writes the paper, and revises it for free. What is the true cost of
implementing the peer review, for that will always have to be paid by
someone, even when the papers are available to everyone for free.

(If it turns out, as most think it will, that implementing peer review
costs much less than what is currently being paid per paper in the form
of Subscription/Site-License/Pay-Per-View [S/L/P], then the outcome is
fairly clear: Institutions should pay their researchers' annual
peer-review/certification costs out of the annual institutional
S/L/P savings.)

> _ How can archives of non peer-reviewed material be technically
> integrated with a certification system?

A red herring again. Apart from a few exceptions (none of the
OAI-compliant yet) there are no "archives of non peer-reviewed
material." There are Eprint Archives, containing pre-peer-reviewed
material and post-peer-reviewed material. The way to "integrate" them is
to label them as such! (Refereed/Unrefereed. Journal-Name, etc. just as
the Eprints Archives already do:

> _ Are the answers to the above questions discipline-dependent?

Most of the above questions are irrelevant to freeing the refereed
literature through Eprint Archiving. The details of peer review
implementation may turn out to vary somewhat from discipline to
discipline, but they are a separate issue, unrelated to the eprint
archiving. And what IS pertinent to eprint archiving (namely, that all
disciplines will benefit from having their respective refereed
literatures freed online) is true discipline-independently.

> Agenda for the meeting
> The program will be composed of short topical introductions and working
> sessions with group discussions. The following topics should be
> covered:
> _ General introduction to the technical framework of the OAI
> _ The role of peer review in scholarly communication

I hope there will be experienced experts in this, otherwise it will be
the blind leading the blind...

> _ Technical implementation and management of a preprint archive

There are a few archives that, for economic reasons, only archive
preprints. I hope they will not be taken as the models for eprint
archiving in general!

> _ Presentation of existing archives that implemented the OAI framework
> _ Technical implementation and management of peer review systems

Again, the relevant experts on this are the ones with expertise in
implementing classical peer review, such as Journal of High Energy
Physics <>, not those who have been experimenting
briefly (for the testing has not been going on long) with putative

> _ The role of certification in scholarly communication
> _ Envisioning new implementations of the certification function;
> _ Technical implementation and management of certification systems
> _ Integrating an e-print archive network with certification systems;

These all sound like a preconceived scenario leading down a garden path
toward untested peer-review reforms rather than a freed peer-reviewed

> _ Sustainable economical models.

Sustainable economic models for what? Distributed Eprint Archives are
highly sustainable. But what's all the rest of this stuff?

> _ Prototyping
> Logistics
> The meeting will be held at CERN, the European research centre for
> nuclear and high-energy physics at Geneva, which over the past years
> acquired a considerable expertise with respect to preprint archives.

The relevant CERN expertise insofar as peer review is concerned is not
in its "preprint" archives (which are not, and never were, for
preprints only, but for both preprints and postprints); the relevant
CERN expertise is in its peer-reviewed journal, JHEP:

They will be able to give expert guidance on both peer review and its
true cost, shorn of the inessential add-ons.

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):

You may join the list at the site above.

Discussion can be posted to:
Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Dec 10 2010 - 19:45:54 GMT