Re: A Note of Caution About "Reforming the System"

From: Jim Till <till_at_UHNRES.UTORONTO.CA>
Date: Sat, 17 Feb 2001 12:55:18 -0500

On Sat, 17 Feb 2001, Stevan Harnad wrote:

>[sh] Here is a prediction: If researchers really did stop submitting
>[sh] their findings for peer review, the quality of the literature would
>[sh] decline until peer review had to be re-invented. (For the record: I
>[sh] mean quasi-classical, a-priori peer review, not post-hoc "peer"
>[sh] commentary on an unfiltered, unanswerable raw literature of
>[sh] indeterminate navigability).

What if there's no consensus about a definition of the research
'literature' in the future? Various research 'literatures' might be
defined, based mainly on which particular search engine one is using (and,
of course, on the stability and accessibility of those archives that the
search engine does detect).

An example: when I tried out the Digital Integrity search engine demo
(, I used as my source of key words the entire
abstract of my article, 'Predecessors of preprint servers' [Learned
Publishing 2001(January); 14(1): 7-13]; HTML version available via and PDF version accessible via

An article that matched a few of the key words was one authored by Julie
M. Hurd of the University of Illinois at Chicago (I believe that she's the
head of the Science Library there), entitled 'Information Technology:
Catalyst for Change in Scientific Communication'.

This article was last edited on 5 February 1998 [and was from the 1996
IATUL conference, 24-28 June 1996, 'Networks, Networking and Evaluations
for Digital Libraries']:

When I did a search of JSTOR, I wasn't able to find anything by this
author. However, knowing that the article did exist online, I was easily
able to find it again, using the Google search engine and a few
appropriate key words.

In the article, she compares some models of scientific communication,
including more traditional ones (based on the refereed article and the
peer-reviewed journal as the basic units of distribution), and less
traditional ones (including one where the e-print is the basic unit of
distribution, and one that uses data as the basic unit of distribution).

This is (IMHO) clearly a scholarly article. I don't know whether or not
it's (subsequently?) been peer-reviewed, but I did find it interesting.

My point here isn't to be an advocate in favor (or against) any of the
models summarized by Julie M. Hurd. My point is simply that the model
that provides the main focus for this Forum is one based on self-archived
e-prints and peer-reviewed journals as the basic units of distribution.
It represents one model for opening up access to (the traditional
peer-reviewed) research 'literature'. But, of course, it's not the only
model for an 'open literature' of the future.

My own perspective? There isn't (and won't be) any 'scholarly consensus'
about the exact boundaries of the research 'literature'.

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

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