Re: Incentives and self-archiving

From: Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_COGPRINTS.SOTON.AC.UK>
Date: Sun, 18 Feb 2001 17:23:57 +0000

On Sun, 18 Feb 2001, Peter Singer wrote:

> Stevan Harnad wrote in:
> [Note that some journals have, apart from copyright policies, which
> are a legal matter,"embargo policies," which are merely policy
> matters (nonlegal). Invoking the "Ingelfinger (Embargo) Rule," some
> journals state that they will not referee (let alone publish)
> papers that have previously been "made public" in any way, whether
> through conferences, press releases, or on-line self-archiving. The
> Ingelfinger Rule, apart from being directly at odds with the
> interests of research and researchers and having no intrinsic
> justification whatsoever -- other than as a way of protecting
> journals' current revenue streams -- is not a legal matter, and
> unenforceable. So researchers are best advised to ignore it
> completely --
> -- exactly as the authors of the 130,000 papers in the Physics
> Archive have been doing for 10 years now. The "Ingelfinger Rule" is
> under review by journals in any case; Nature has already dropped
> it, and there are indications that Science may soon follow suit
> too.]

> Stevan's analysis is correct but his remedy is simplistic. Researchers
> will not simply "ignore it completely."

Peter certainly has a point here, but it is bigger than just the
"Ingelfinger Rule": The researchers of the world (and not just in
biomedicine) have so far been far too slow in following the lead of (a
subset) of the world's physicists and mathematicians along the
demonstrably safe and sure self-archiving road to freeing the refereed
literature online.

It is still a puzzle and a head-shaker why they are taking so long, but it
is not clear that the "incentive" factors Peter mentions are really what has been
holding them back (and if so, it is even less clear what could be done about

The "subversive proposal," the "Harnad/Oppenheim strategy," and the
10-year example of the physicists make it clear to anyone who is
paying attention that researchers CAN have their incentive cake (keep
publishing in the refereed journals of their choice) and eat it too (free
their research from all access/impact barriers online by self-archiving
it) without any trepidation. So is it really needless trepidation about
losing the right to publish in their preferred journals that has been
holding them back from self-archiving?

I think not. I think it is simply because the means of self-archiving have not
been sufficiently easy and ubiquitous. Here is an alternative hypothesis (not
mine, but I took it to heart):

    At the 2nd Open Archive Initiative (OAI) meeting in San Antonio in June
     <> a participant said:

        "Open Archiving will not get off the ground until the day I can go to a
        website, download open-archiving software, then say MAKE ARCHIVE, and
        an interoperable, OAI-compliant archive is up and running, ready to be

This is what I think may really have been holding us all back till now,
and the hope is that as more and more universities now install
OAI-compliant archives for their researchers to fill (with subsidized
help to get the first wave of self-archiving launched), that THAT
(along with the benefits for research impact from removing all access
barriers online) will provide the requisite incentive that has hitherto
been insufficient:

> researchers-- like everyone else in life -- are driven by
> incentives. At the moment, they are incentivized to publish in well
> recognized brand name journals, several of which enforce restrictive
> prepublication policies.

First, those policies are changing. Nature's has already; there are
signs Science's may soon change too. And then the others will follow
suit. I think that is a foregone conclusion. The damage that obsolete
access restrictions are causing to the potential impact and benefits of
science are simply too great.

Besides, as I said before, even now, the Ingelfinger Rule is unenforceable! I
just cannot believe that the verdict of future historians will be that it was the
Ingelfinger Rule that delayed the freeing of the refereed literature for so

    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]

    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.

> A list of some of the many journals that will not accept submissions
> that have appeared on preprint servers is available at
> Note that these
> journals include some of the top brand names in medicine including the
> New England Journal of Medicine, JAMA, and Science.

Of course they do: Franz Ingelfinger was the longtime Editor of the New England
Journal. But the rule is already a paper tiger, and the list is shrinking.

> My argument, therefore, is that the literature will never be completely
> freed until the incentives of science (or at least medicine) are
> changed to rely on the quality of the research itself rather than the
> brand name of the journal in which it is published.

The journal-tagging of quality is the current way that it is certified that
research is peer-reviewed, and at what level in the journal-quality
hierarchy. That is what makes it possible to evaluate and navigate this
literature. If you can devise AND DEMONSTRATE some alternative way to
evaluate and navigate it, without the journal-tagging (and, don't
forget, its associated rejection rates, impact factors, authorships,
and other correlates of quality), they will be welcome, but alas mere
calls to evaluate the work rather than the brand-name do not answer how
that is to be done. It's rather like saying that we should all go out
and shop for our food without the benefit of the quality-tags of
FDA, the producer or the store; or that we should ascertain what the
weather is for ourselves, without benefit of the weatherman's "tag" and
its associated correlates and predictors. (It reminds me of my father's
cinematic principle: "I will only see a movie that I have already seen,
and liked.") We need expert review and the tags to certify their
outcome in order to navigate a world of products and information that
we have neither the time nor the resources even to evaluate for
ourselves in each instance.

> This is not a call
> for reforming peer review but rather a call to realign incentives. The
> reason for the call is not some independent worthy goal of improving
> science but rather that incentive realignment is an essential tactical
> element of freeing the literature.

The trouble is that the call is too vague. Here we are, with our refereed, tagged
literature. But you are suggesting not to rely on the tag, but on something else:
But what? and how?

The reason authors aspire to be certified as having met the standards
of the highest quality journals is, first, because they aspire to that
quality level, and second, having attained it, they want that quality
level to be tagged for all, to guide their use of the literature. What sort of
incentive realignment will perform this same function?

> This argument also affects the
> self-archiving proposal, at least in medicine, as I have outlined
> above. The limiting factor will be the actions (or lack of action in
> relation to self-archiving) of the researchers themselves, based on the
> incentives they currently face. Think of this as the "incentives
> barrier" to freeing the literature.

I think the "incentive barrier" concerns the incentive to take the
actual step of self-archiving. Once the taking of that step is made
trivially easy by researchers' own institutions, I believe they will
take the step -- with maximizing the impact and accessibility of their
own work (and the accessibility to them of the work of everyone else)
as their primary incentive.

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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