Re: Information Exchange Groups (IEGs)

From: Jim Till <till_at_UHNRES.UTORONTO.CA>
Date: Tue, 30 Jan 2001 09:40:32 -0500

On Tue, 30 Jan 2001, Stevan Harnad wrote (on the subject:
Re: Conflating Gate-Keeping with Toll-Gating):

> 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:

[remainder snipped]

Whoa! In my article ('Predecessors of preprint servers'), the concluding
paragraph of the section about IEGs (which were terminated in 1967) is:

"One of the conclusions reached by Green was that it was not the failure
of the IEG experiment, but its success, that finally spelled its doom. He
commented on the costs of the experiment, and argued that the cost of his
IEG (No. 1) was miniscule, relative to the dividends received by the
members and to the total costs of their research.[ref 20] He suggested
that opposition from scientific journals had a crucial influence on the
decision to terminate the IEGs. He noted that the editors of Nature [ref
27] 'spilled the beans prematurely' about a meeting in Vienna, on 10 and
11 September 1966, of the editors of several major biochemically oriented
journals. Five of the editors voted to propose to their editorial boards
not to accept articles or other communications previously circulated
through IEGs.[refs 28,29] Also, papers could not be submitted
simultaneously to a journal and an IEG, nor could papers already accepted
for publication in a journal be released through an IEG.[ref 28] This
policy, which, in effect, banned the inclusion of preprints into the
scholarly literature, was soon adopted by several major biomedical
journals.[ref 28,29] It was probably one of three major barriers to the
further development of a 'preprint culture' in these sciences. The second
was the termination, by NIH, of support for the IEGs, in part because of
the costs that would be involved in any continuation or expansion of the
IEGs. The third was the continuing opposition, by many respected and
senior biomedical scientists, to the distribution of unrefereed papers."

So, the 'position' referred to by Albert Henderson is that of David E.
Green, who chaired IEG No. 1 (which was focused on the related fields of
electron transfer, oxidative and photosynthetic phosphorylation, ion
transport, and membrane structure and function; Green was a respected
senior contributor to these fields). My own 'position' is that there were
three major barriers to the further development (immediately after 1967)
of a 'preprint culture' in the biomedical sciences. These three barriers
are summarized in the last sentence of the paragraph quoted above.

The 'Concluding comment' in my article is:

"Will a new revolution in scientific publishing, in which journals come to
be regarded as an overlay on preprint databases, now overtake the
biomedical sciences, following the lead of HEP?[refs 14,37] The most
prudent prediction probably is: much more quickly in some areas of
research than in others. The issues involved continue to be actively
debated, on (for example) an online forum sponsored by Sigma Xi.[ref 41]".

So, this final paragraph summarizes my overall 'position' (it doesn't seem
to me to be a very controversial one!). I can only suggest that those who
are interested in an historical perspective on the IEGs, and on the
origins of a 'preprint culture' in high-energy physics (HEP), should read
the article themselves, and not rely only on a highly-condensed
interpretation provided by someone else.

Another link to a PDF version of my article is:

BTW, the article is freely available, and I've retained copyright.

Jim Till
University of Toronto
Received on Wed Jan 03 2001 - 19:17:43 GMT

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