Conflating Gate-Keeping with Toll-Gating

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 30 Jan 2001 11:00:33 +0000

On Mon, 29 Jan 2001, Albert Henderson wrote:

> James E. Till sees science editors as the main barrier to the
> circulation of free preprints. He should understand that there is
> a good reason for editors' successful opposition, one that is not
> as well recognized by the author as by the scientific world. Put
> as succinctly as possible, the reason is that editors are responsible
> for the integrity of the scientific record...

Without endorsing James E. Till's position (I don't think Science Editors
are a barrier, nor that the real issue is primarily "preprints"), one can
immediately correct the familiar error Albert Henderson is making here:

He (and many others) are inadvertently conflating (1) refereed journal
editors' GATE-KEEPING FUNCTION (in implementing and umpiring peer
review) with (2) refereed journal publishers' TOLL-GATING FUNCTION (the
collection of Subscription/License/Pay-Per-View [S/L/P] fees as a
condition for access to the refereed paper.

These two are entirely different matters; and although they were inextricably
coupled in the Gutenberg Era, because of the necessary expenses of on-paper
dissemination, they can -- and should and will -- be decoupled in the on-line

In brief, we can now have and keep and pay for the essential
gate-keeping function (peer review) without the need to block access
with gate-tolls. So there is no longer any justification whatsoever for
attempting to put up barriers to the circulation of free eprints (sic)
in the name of protecting the "integrity of the scientific record."


< Separating (i) QC/C>

Now, having said that it is not scientific editors who are the barriers, I must
admit that some editors have allowed themselves to become spokesmen for the
specious defense of continuing to hold the refereed corpus hostage to
toll-gating in the name of gate-keeping. See the following for a full

    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]

See also:

    Harnad, S. (2000) Ingelfinger Over-Ruled: The Role of the Web in
    the Future of Refereed Medical Journal Publishing. The Lancet
    Perspectives 256 (December Supplement): s16.

But the issue is not only, nor even primarily, (unrefereed) "preprints."

What can and should and will be made free through self-archiving is EPRINTS,
which includes both unrefereed preprints and refereed postprints, and
the latter are by far the more important to free. Yet the case of
refereed postprints is the one in which it is most transparent that the
real purpose of erecting barriers to their free circulation is to
protect S/L/P toll-gate revenue streams, not to protect "the integrity
of the scientific record"...


< Distinguish unrefereed preprints>

Distinguish unrefereed preprints from refereed postprints, just as the
scientific community has been successfully doing for decades, on-paper as well
as on-line.

> No one who has not performed the task of assessing and accepting
> hundreds of manuscripts for publication can comprehend the potential
> for poorly prepared, poorly presented, careless, biased, and
> unscientific submissions.

All true, and all irrelevant. Peer review does the Quality Control and
Certification (QC/C), and self-archiving circulates the outcome for free.


< Distinguish self-publishing>

Distinguish SELF-PUBLICATION (vanity press, no QC/C) from
SELF-ARCHIVING (of both pre-QC/C and post QC/C work). And vide supra
(distinguish preprints and postprints).

> An automated preprint server would probably
> accept and publish articles that would be rejected out of hand by
> journal editors.

See again:

< Distinguish self-publishing>

Distinguish self-publication (vanity press, no QC/C) from self-archiving
(of both both pre-QC/C and post QC/C work). And vide supra (distinguish
preprints and postprints).

> As William Garvey described the
> scientists' problem more than 20 years ago, "Even if they had
> perfect retrieval systems they would be presented with so many
> items that they could not assimilate and process them."

True, and completely irrelevant. See:

< Navigation (info-glut)>

Needless toll-gating can no more be defended in the name of information-glut
than it can be in the name of gate-keeping. If the new on-line navigational
tolls are imperfect, they are still infinitely preferable to letting S/L/P
budget constraints be the determinant of what one can and cannot access.

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 & 01):

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Received on Wed Jan 03 2001 - 19:17:43 GMT

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