Re: Workshop on Open Archives Initiative in Europe

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 31 Oct 2000 12:41:29 +0000

On Mon, 30 Oct 2000, David Goodman wrote:

> Instead of saying, as you do, that
>sh> Implementing peer review is not the province of archivists, nor of
>sh> universities, research institutions nor libraries. And when Learned
>sh> Societies do it, they do it in their capacity as Publishers.
> one could instead say that:
>dg> Implementing peer review is not the province of archivists, libraries,
>dg> or publishers, but that of the scholars themselves, possibly as
>dg> organized into universities, research institutions, learned societies,
>dg> or otherwise into less formal groups such as open forums.
> What do publishers have to do with peer review, except for the
> historical accident of having in the print era a limited number of
> pages they can afford to print, and thus wanting the best of the
> available material to put in those pages?
> If we freed peer review from the publishers, then this would almost
> immediately free the distribution of the material from them as well.

Your points are well-taken, but I think they contain one incorrect (or
perhaps merely unexamined) assumption:

What, in essence, IS a (refereed) journal publisher? What is the
essential service a journal publisher performs, medium-independently,
and independently of the cost-recovery model?

A journal publisher is not a printer or a type-setter (if we are speaking
medium-independently); nor is a publisher a marketer or a fulfiller
(independently of the cost-recovery model).

I think you will find that the only ESSENTIAL function that a refereed
journal publisher performs (medium-independently) is quality-control
and certification [QC/C]. That is, the journal IMPLEMENTS peer review
(the peers themselves review for free), i.e. administers the soliciting
of the expert feedback and the application of the feedback to the
revision) and then CERTIFIES the accepted, revised final draft as
appearing in the Journal (volume, issue, page, date).

That is the essential function of journal publication, and it must be
preserved, independently of both medium (on-paper or on-line) and
cost-recovery model (Subscription/License-Pay-Per-View [S/L/P] tolls to
the reader-institution for a PRODUCT or Quality-Control/Certification
[QC/C] fees to the author-institution for a SERVICE).

QC/C is what distinguishes refereed-journal publication from
vanity-press self-publication. Let us call the former "publication" for
short, to distinguish it from the latter.

So what do publishers have to do with peer review? Whether or not by
historical accident, they are the ones, and the only ones, who have
the track record in implementing it.

Now, we are talking about freeing that refereed literature online. That
is freeing it from the access/impact barriers of S/L/P. We agree that
this does not mean freeing the literature from QC/C, because that is
essential (otherwise it is just vanity-press). Does it then mean
freeing the literature from QC/C-provision by the only ones who have
experience and expertise in implementing it?


I could understand contemplating something like that if there were no
alternative: Referees, after all, and editorial boards, are free to
migrate to other publishers (and have done so), and from old publishers
to new publishers. But until and unless there is reason for them to do
so, why should they do so? And, even more important, why on earth should
freeing this literature, which is already within reach (through
self-archiving), wait for them to do so?

It is already ironic that the self-archiving solution has not yet taken
us all to the optimal and inevitable, given that it is completely
feasible and even easy. Let us hope that with the release of the software this will at last happen, and quickly. But if we
are to wait instead for the defection or co-option of the editorial
boards and referees of the established journals, the wait will be a
long (and needless) one.

> This is in some ways the opposite of the direction you have been
> proposing, but I wonder whether it might be a more practical route to
> accomplish the same goal. I am sure the progress to open archives in
> most fields has been disappointingly slow to you as it has been to all
> of us who are engaged in it, and it might now be appropriate to try
> some additional pathways.

It has been disappointingly slow, but with no good reason (and the free
and immediate availability of the software for creating
institutional, interoperable Eprint Archives for self-archiving may at
last get it up to speed). In contrast, waiting now for the defection of
editorial boards and referees would provide a "good" reason for a much
longer delay.

> Certainly I agree we should immediately proceed to
>sh> freeing the peer-reviewed literature, such as it is, now. The online
>sh> medium makes that immediately attainable WITH NO NEED TO FIRST WAIT TO
> But if we don't succeed in freeing the peer-reviewed literature right
> away, and surely we haven't succeeded so far, I for one am ready to
> entertain other approaches. Perhaps after all we should first reform
> peer review, and then reform publishing. Even though you and I think
> it makes more sense the other way round, maybe we are wrong. We're
> scientists, not prophets, and should be prepared to test other theories
> than just our own.

As I said, I hope will now provide the missing momentum for
the self-archiving solution. Parallel approaches are of course welcome
-- as long as they really are likely to hasten rather than retard the
process. The current and future literature could be completely freed by
self-archiving almost overnight. Peer-review reform awaits testing,
demonstrated success and feasibility, and then implementation. That's a
long empirical research programme. Journal migration is another long
path, and it's not clear there are significant numbers ready, willing
or able to embark on either of these paths now; more important, it's

Moreover, any armchair endorsement of the hypothetical, long-term
reform/migration route amounts to yet another rationale for not taking
the immediate self-archiving route (i.e., yet another basis for what I
have called "Zeno's Paralysis" -- or should it be called Buridan's
Delay -- in getting the research cavalry to drink from the waters of

Let 1000 flowers bloom -- as long as they don't block one another's

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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