Re: ELSSS Proposal: reply to Harnad

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 13 Mar 2001 13:51:03 +0000

Manfredi La Manna (MLM) -- whose efforts with ELSSS I wish every
success -- has not understood the points I made. I will quote/comment
below. The misunderstanding is easily summarised:

MLM thinks that if authors self-archived their refereed papers this
would lead to the "collapse of the refereed journal system." This is
pure speculation on MLM's part, and not only does all the existing
evidence go against this speculation, but so does the logic of the explicit
transition scenario I have many times described. MLM has missed that logic
and completely skipped over the transition scenario. I will try to make
it even more explicit for him below.

On Tue, 13 Mar 2001, Manfredi M.A. La Manna wrote:

sh> Here is a summary of the problems with the ELSSS efforts:

sh> (1) They are aimed only at LOWERING journal prices, which
sh> is better than nothing, but not nearly enough. There is no
sh> price that is low enough so that all refereed research can
sh> be accessed by all researchers worldwide, as it should be.
sh> Yet this refereed research is all GIVEN AWAY by its
sh> authors, and always has been; they seek and receive no
sh> royalty or fee for it: All they want is research impact,
sh> hence readers. So there is no longer any justification for
sh> any impact/access-blocking price-barrier whatsoever, no
sh> matter how low, in the PostGutenberg era of online
sh> Eprint-archiving that makes it no longer necessary.

mlm> ***MLM's comment: I cannot generalise to other disciplines, but
mlm> Harnad's proposal is fundamentally flawed as far as economics is
mlm> concerned. This is why. As far as I understand him, Harnad appears
mlm> to have no qualms with the refereed journal system, his main
mlm> concern being that after the article has been quality-certified by
mlm> the refereeing and editing system of refereed journals, it should
mlm> be made available for free to all researchers. What Harnad does not
mlm> seem to appreciate fully is the difference between free access to
mlm> unrefereed and refereed material. Whereas, of course, there is no
mlm> reason why unrefereed material should not be freely accessible (and
mlm> this is largely already the case in economics - see the large
mlm> number of archives with working papers, etc.), refereed articles
mlm> are another kettle of fish altogether. It is not obvious to me why,
mlm> in the current state of affairs, authors ought to have the
mlm> automatic right to give away some else's work (the referees' and
mlm> editors').

They are not giving away someone else's work; they are giving away their
own work.

In most disciplines referees are not paid at all, and in economics, as
MLM concedes below, they are paid a "nominal" amount. The only cost and
service to speak about here is the true cost of implementing
quality-control, the peer-review process. Let us call the true cost of
that service to the author, QC cost.

At the present time the QC cost amounts to about 10% of what the planet
(by which I mean all institutions and individuals who are paying
subscription, site-license, or pay-per-view [S/L/P] access-tolls) is
paying for whatever access currently exists (on-paper or on-line) to any
given paper.

The Self-Archiving Initiative has always been predicated on the
necessity of QC, hence the necessity of paying the true cost of QC.
Currently, QC costs are bundled into S/L/P costs and paid for at the
reader-institution end. (I will speak only of institutional S/L/P
because those are what refereed journal economics are based on; for most
refereed journals the individual subscriber base is negligible.)

All current self-archiving (including its most substantial instance, the
Physics Archive, which self-archives over 30K papers annually) is
parasitic on the payment of QC costs via S/L/P. There is nothing
whatsoever wrong with this. As long as S/L/P does pay for the QC, there
is no reason authors should not free their final draft online.

(I pause for a reply: IS there any reason not to do so, as long as S/L/P
is paying for the QC?)

But what if the availability of the free version begins to take a toll
on S/L/P revenues? It has not begun to do so at all yet, in Physics,
for example, but let us suppose it eventually does begin to do so. What
happens then?

As S/L/P revenues shrink, institutional S/L/P savings grow. Now note
that the only essential commodity at issue here is QC, which is a
SERVICE, to the author-institution, not a PRODUCT. The product, in
contrast, is the on-paper version, the on-line PDF page-images, and any
further enhancements the publisher provides for the QC draft.

Now note that these products are all ADD-ONS. Often they are described
using the rhetoric of "value-added", but the only ESSENTIAL value is the
QC. All the rest is just options, and can and should be treated and
marketed as such. At the moment, the essential QC draft is effectively
being held hostage to these optional add-ons!

So what happens when S/L/P revenues shrink and institutional S/L/P
savings grow? Remember that the only thing worth keeping an eye on is
the essential and indispensable QC service, and the 10% needed to pay
for it. While it is being paid for out of S/L/P, it is wrapped into a
reader/institution-end product (the on-paper and PDF version), even
though QC is really an author/institution-end service. But as publisher
S/L/P revenues shrink and institutional S/L/P savings grow,
institutions are growing an annual windfall pot of savings, 90% of which
they can disburse as they like (buy books, for example), but 10% of
which needs to be directed into a pot to defray the annual institutional
QC costs, for each paper published in a refereed journal by a researcher
at that institution.

This is the logic of the transition scenario.

But there is no reason whatsoever for authors to occupy themselves in
any way with these speculative future-contingencies. Like the 100,000+
physicists who have done so already, they should just go ahead and
self-archive, and let the future contingencies take care of

nlm> Of course, there may be disciplines where reciprocal
mlm> refereeing may be the norm, but in the case of economics, the pool
mlm> of (able and prompt) referees is both small and overfished. If this
mlm> is accepted as a true description of the state of refereeing in
mlm> economics, then it becomes obvious why, at least in economics, the
mlm> Harnad proposal has no prospect of ever succeeding (nor it ought
mlm> to). Why should journals, associations, editors, and referees
mlm> effectively allow researchers to free-ride on their efforts.
mlm> Turning raw research material into quality-controlled
mlm> quality-graded output involves a cost, and someone has to be bear
mlm> it. There are no free lunches in academic publishing.

I hope it is clear by now what an utter non sequitur the above comment
is. The free ride for QC is anything but free. It is painfully paid for
many times over by the institutions of the world that can afford the
S/L/P. Self-archiving will not only start to give those institutions
some relief, but it will put realistic pressure on journal publishers to
scale down to providing only the essentials (QC), and treating the rest
(paper, PDF) as the options they are, rather than trying to hold it all
hostage to them.

Not only is the self-archiving of the final refereed draft morally
justified (why should the author, who, unlike all other authors, gets
and seeks no royalties from the sale of his work, be denied even one
reader-eye-ball's worth of potential research impact by S/L/P
access-barriers?), but it can also be done 100% legally, using the
ludicrously simple Harnad/Oppenheim strategy:

So what is all this about "free lunch"?

mlm> The real
mlm> question, that the Harnad proposal not only does not address but,
mlm> worse, provides a serious obstacle to overcoming, is whether
mlm> commercial publishers should continue to earn stratospheric rents
mlm> on the reputation that journals written, refereed and edited by
mlm> academics have acquired over the years. In the long run, i.e.,
mlm> when thanks to initiatives like ELSSS and SPARC, journal
mlm> subscriptions merely cover the cost of quality-control and
mlm> therefore are much more widely diffused than now, the issue of free
mlm> access to refereed material will become largely irrelevant.***

First, let us not balkanise. Both of our approaches aim to scale down
refereed journals publishing to the essentials, QC, and their true
costs. The difference is that SPARC/ELSSS is trying to pay for QC on a
continuation of the reader-institution-end PRODUCT model that is the current
status quo, whereas Self-Archiving is more likely to transform it into
a author-institution QC SERVICE model.

I suggest that not only does the logic of an author/institution-end
service model fit this anomalous, give-away literature far better than
the standard reader-product model that applies so well to all the rest
of the literature, which is uniformly NON-give-away (i.e., it is author
royalty/fee-based: books, magazine articles), but it has much more
likelihood of actually forcing a downsizing to the essentials. As long
as would-be give-away refereed research is held hostage to a product,
there will always be inessentials wrapped into that product.

Moreover -- and this is by far the most important point of all in any of
this -- there is no reason whatsoever why this author-give-away
literature should have ANY fee-based access barriers online. As long as
QC is funded on the reader/institution-end, it continues to be
toll-gated, and there continues to be access denial. This simply is not
that kind of literature. It's not what its author/researchers want.
They don't want tolls, they want impact:
This makes them unlike all other authors, and there is no longer any
reason at all why they (and research, and hence society) should not at
last have exactly what they want for this anomalous literature.

MLM is an economist. He should try to rethink this anomalous, give-away
literature on the QC service model, instead of continuing to force it
into the Procrustean S/L/P product model that applies to all the rest of
the literature. No matter how low the S/L/P tolls, toll-based access
means access denial, which in turn means impact denial, which is a very
bad thing for the progress of research (and the careers of

sh> (2) But even as an attempt to lower prices, I do not
sh> believe the ELSSS efforts will succeed (although I hope
sh> they will). The reason is that the efforts are predicated
sh> on authors giving up their current established journals and
sh> submitting their work instead to new, unestablished
sh> journals. New journals are always a risk for an author
sh> (and reader): They have no track record, they have no
sh> citation impact factor, the rigor of their peer review,
sh> hence the level of quality that they certify, has not been
sh> established; their future is uncertain.

mlm> ***MLM's comment: as far as economics is concerned, most, if not
mlm> all, of Harnad's assumptions are either incorrect or, at best,
mlm> untested. Can Harnad cite a case when a large proportion of leading
mlm> researchers in any discipline have committed themselves to
mlm> submitting and refereeing papers in a yet-to-be-launched journal?


mlm> Can he not see that ELSSS provides a mechanism for both creating
mlm> "instant reputation" for new journals and for diluting the (abused)
mlm> reputation of high-price ones?


mlm> Does he know of any other case where
mlm> a yet-to-be-launched journal, in addition to advertising a
mlm> world-class list of editorial board members, has produced a list of
mlm> top referees, in advance of publication?***


(This is all hype. All well and good, but we will have to await the
results -- which I am more than ready to applaud if they are successful.
But the problem of freeing refereed research of access- and impact-barriers
online is a profound and urgent one, and cannot wait to see whether this
hype proves to be justified. Self-archiving now is a sure solution to
freeing the refereed literature now. No hype, no hypothesis, no
speculation, no wait-and-see. As soon as we do it, it is done. If we sit
waiting to see whether switching to new journals brings down prices low
enough, we may have a very long wait. Whereas the optimal and
inevitable is within reach, through self-archiving, and could be
attained virtually overnight if we just go ahead and Do it!)

sh> Hence submitting to a new journal instead of an established
sh> journal risks that one's work will not be adequately
sh> quality-controlled and will not be read (because readers
sh> are as uncertain of the quality of new journals as are
sh> authors). This can all be remedied, journal by journal,
sh> across years of establishing a track record. But it cannot
sh> be done en masse, it takes time, and it is not guaranteed
sh> of success. New journals tend to succeed only if there is a
sh> vacant subject-matter niche that they manage to fill. Here,
sh> we have the established journals of quality already filling
sh> all the niches. So at best, the process of successfully
sh> taking over the niche would be a long and hard one, and at
sh> worst, it would never succeed.

mlm> ***MLM's comment: Again, most of Harnad's statements are either
mlm> untested or contradicted by the evidence. Can he point to any
mlm> previous attempt to target a range of high-priced journals by
mlm> providing credible alternatives? Even one-journal attempt can be
mlm> successful, as Theory and Practice of Logic Programming and
mlm> Evolutionary Ecology Research have proved conclusively.***

MLM's predictions are as untested as my counterpredictions are. The
rest is just hype. It might be a good idea to weigh the reasoning, pro
and con, too.

sh> I don't think it will succeed, for the simple reason that
sh> sacrificing the practise of submitting to the highest
sh> quality/impact established journals in favor of new
sh> untested ones simply for the sake of making one's work
sh> available at a lower cost does not pose a strong enough
sh> incentive -- but especially when there is ALREADY a
sh> prominent way to achieve the same goal, and still more,
sh> namely, to make one's refereed research available to
sh> everyone for free, and not just at a lower price, without
sh> having to give up one's established journals at all! All
sh> that is needed is to self-archive the refereed final drafts
sh> in OAI-compliant Eprint Archives.

mlm> ***MLM's comment: in addition to the misunderstandings already
mlm> explained above, here Harnad makes another statement that, again
mlm> for the case of economics, is patently incorrect: economists do
mlm> want to give up high-price journals . They just need a credible
mlm> alternative to enable them to do so. ***

Wrong way to frame the question. Everyone (authors, readers) wants
lower-priced journals. (Does anyone NOT want zero-priced journals, with
QC paid for as a service, out of the 10% of the savings?)

Besides, MLM is mixing up authors' wishes and readers' wishes. Do
authors want lower-priced journals badly enough to give up SUBMITTING
to their established high-quality journals in favour or new journals?
(Please don't reply "yes" until you have the evidence. The evidence
requires several years and volumes, not start-ups with impressive
editorial boards and promising initial author-commitments. There is
still a long road ahead. To treat it as if it had already been
successfully traversed is just hype.)

sh> So just as ELSSS is unlikely to be able to entice authors
sh> away from their established journals, it is unlikely to
sh> induce other publishers to lower their prices in
sh> competition.

mlm> ***MLM's comments: it may be that other researchers are not as
mlm> familiar as economists are with the concept of multiple equilibria
mlm> in a coordination game and with mechanisms that facilitate the
mlm> transition from sub-optimal to superior equilibria. ELSSS can
mlm> already count on hundreds of highly respected researchers committed
mlm> to both submitting to and refereeing for ELSSS journals. As to the
mlm> effect of ELSSS journals on the pricing policies of monopolistic
mlm> publishers, this is going to be uncharted territory, as the latter
mlm> have never been exposed before to a sustained attack. Judging from
mlm> existing one-journal challenges, my prediction is that the
mlm> inevitable dilution in quality in high-priced journals will
mlm> eventually lead to price reductions. ***

But now we must wait and see whether you are right. I would rather not
wait. I'd rather researchers in all disciplines self-archived all their
refereed papers now. There would be no need to wait to see whether THAT
succeeded in lowering the access barriers! And they (unlike your
authors) would not need to sacrifice anything to do so, with the outcome

sh> Nor do I believe that paying authors and paying referees
sh> will hasten these new journals along the long, hard, and
sh> uncertain path toward becoming successfully established
sh> journals of high quality. Author payment will rather act
sh> as a deterrent, raising the spectre of vanity-press
sh> publishing in authors and readers' minds, to add to the
sh> uncertainty of the nonexistent track record. Referee
sh> payment, an untested modification of peer review, might
sh> even bias the refereeing system. (Nor is it at all clear
sh> how these extra expenses, over and above those of
sh> established journals, can help LOWER their prices!)

mlm> ***MLM's comments: again, Harnad's points may be valid for some
mlm> disciplines, but definitely not for economics. In economics,
mlm> referee payment is not a new development at all. To mention two
mlm> examples (and I could cite many more) on either side of the
mlm> Atlantic: the American Economic Review, the economics journal with
mlm> the highest citation impact and published on a not-for-profit basis
mlm> by the American Economic Association has paid referees a nominal
mlm> fee for quite some time, as has the Economic Journal, the highly
mlm> respected publication of the Royal Economic Society. So much for
mlm> "untested modification of peer review"

Having conceded that the amount is nominal, MLM has conceded that
nothing is at issue here.

mlm> As to author payment, there
mlm> is an ongoing debate amongst ELSSS supporters and the consensus
mlm> there is that, given the level of support already achieved by
mlm> ELSSS, rewarding authors is probably unnecessary (even though,
mlm> prizes for best articles can play a role here). Not a single
mlm> respondent mentioned vanity-publishing, for the good reason that
mlm> the whole emphasis of the ELSSS project is on publishing
mlm> highest-quality material, under the most stringent quality
mlm> controls.***

The issue is moot if there is to be no author payment after all. (I
think referee payment and author payment are just red herrings here.
They were floated as a way to lure authors away from their established
journals. Let's move on to matters of substance.)

   anon> Do you think that ELSSS' efforts go far enough? Why or why not?
   anon> Do you think that ELSSS subscription costs are still too high?

sh> I think ANY subscription (or site-license, or pay-per-view
sh> S/L/P) price is too high as long as it is the ONLY way to
sh> access the refereed literature. Once this literature has
sh> been freed online, the S/L/P version can continue to be
sh> sold as an option for as long as there is a market for it,
sh> but to continue to hold this author-giveaway literature
sh> hostage to these for-fee add-ons now that the day has come
sh> when it can all be given away by its authors online
sh> for-free has no justification (or future) whatsoever.

mlm> ***MLM's comments: A clarification for the anonymous questioner.
mlm> The subscription cost estimates given on the ELSSS website are very
mlm> conservative, perhaps to the extent of being misleading. The key
mlm> issue here is the principle that the real cost of refereeing,
mlm> editing, and distributing high-quality research ought to be spread
mlm> as widely as possible. ELSSS will implement pricing policies
mlm> (details of which are too commercially sensitive to be revealed in
mlm> advance) that will achieve precisely this - as well as making all
mlm> ELSSS journals available at no cost to all developing and
mlm> transition economies. Perhaps the scenarios where thousands of
mlm> libraries share the costs of quality control instead of bleeding
mlm> themselves dry by paying the sort of subscriptions charged by the
mlm> likes of Reed Elsevier may not please Harnad fully but I am pretty
mlm> sure it will make most librarians and researchers very happy
mlm> indeed.***

Cost-sharing for a give-away literature is not adequate. The product,
the refereed draft, needs to be freed of all cost-barriers. Only the QC
service needs to be paid for, and that is a service to the
author/institution, for which it will have ample resources to pay out of
its annual S/L/P savings. It makes no sense to keep wrapping that charge
into a reader-end product, at the cost of access-barriers. (And subsidies
to "all developing and transition economies" are a laudable goal, but
don't sound like an autonomous economic model; there are, by the way,
plenty of have-not institutions in the US and the developed world too.
See )

sh> The only substantive question is how to accelerate the
sh> online liberation of the entire refereed corpus. Lowering
sh> prices is merely a partial holding pattern, to try to tide
sh> libraries over in the mounting serials crisis. Much more
sh> fundamental steps have to be taken in order to reach the
sh> optimal and inevitable, and these can be taken, easily and
sh> immediately, through author/institution self-archiving.

mlm> ***MLM's comments: I am not sure that Harnad's world would be
mlm> optimal and I am definitely certain that it is by no means
mlm> inevitable. The simple fact is that self/institution self-archiving
mlm> of refereed material is either inherently self-contradictory in so
mlm> far as it would lead to the collapse of the refereed journal system
mlm> (without providing any viable alternative to it) or doomed to
mlm> failure in those disciplines that do not regard the collapse of the
mlm> refereed journal system as an optimal, or even desirable state of
mlm> affairs.

MLM concludes from this exactly what he has put into it: "the collapse
of the refereed journal system." Self-archiving is an actuality (30-40%
advanced already in Physics) and there are no signs of "collapse."
Moreover, downsizing to providing only the essential QC service does not
sound like a doomsday scenario either, but rather the natural evolution
of this anomalous, give-away literature, now that the PostGutenberg
(online) medium has at last made it possible. Freeing the literature is
indeed optimal (and inevitable); "collapse" is hypothetical (and
eminently evitable).

   anon> What do you think of ELSSS' decision to pay authors and
   anon> referees?

sh> See above. Authors don't want pennies for their papers,
sh> they want IMPACT. That means readers, citations,
sh> researchers building on their work. That's what gets them
sh> the real rewards (promotion, tenure, grants, prizes).
sh> Paying authors just adds to the cost of the journals.
sh> Adding to the cost of the journals adds to the
sh> access-barriers, hence to the income-barriers. So it would
sh> be a foolish author who was tempted by receiving some
sh> pennies for his paper at the cost of access and impact down
sh> the line. ELSSS is proposing this as a way of hastening the
sh> build-up of their new journals' reputations; I think it
sh> will be seen as having a vanity-press flavor and will
sh> actually act as a deterrent to submission, especially to
sh> authors of quality and to junior faculty anxious for
sh> certification by an established criterion.

mlm> ***MLM's comments: see above.***

Moot, given ELSSS's subsequent concessions on this score.

sh> Paying referees is even more problematic. Referees steal
sh> time from their research to do refereeing for various
sh> reasons (civic duty, golden rule, superstition). How much
sh> would they have to be paid to make it worth their while?
sh> Who has that kind of money? And might it not bias their
sh> reviewing? (Would this not have to be carefully tested in
sh> advance?) And how could spending more money on that lower
sh> journal access prices?

mlm> ***MLM's comments: in addition to my previous comments, perhaps I
mlm> can share with the list the debate amongst ELSSS supporters on the
mlm> issue of paying referees. Again, I do not wish to fall into the
mlm> trap of generalising about all academic disciplines, so please
mlm> remember that I am talking about ECONOMICS (where, for example,
mlm> lags between submission and first referees' reports can be anything
mlm> between 4 to 12 months - a lag that researchers in other
mlm> disciplines would regard as totally unacceptable). The consensus
mlm> among ELSSS supporters is that, whereas most economists will
mlm> referee out of academic duty, a payment contingent on prompt return
mlm> of a full report will be beneficial to the profession.

Moot, as the referee payment scheme has apparently been dropped.

mlm> Is it not
mlm> strange that the Harnad proposal has nothing to say about the
mlm> current practice of referees working for free (or for derisory
mlm> fees) for commercial publishers who charge extortionate
mlm> subscription prices?

But self-archiving does indeed have something to say about that. It is
appalling. So let us free this literature and make it worthwhile.

mlm> Again not a single ELSSS respondent has
mlm> mentioned the possibility that paying referees may bias the
mlm> reviewing, for the simple reason that double-blind refereeing and
mlm> the payment being contingent on speed of response (and not on the
mlm> outcome of the refereeing) provide sufficient safeguard against any
mlm> bias. Moreover, and this is another crucial point not grasped by
mlm> Harnad, paying referees for prompt and full reports is also an
mlm> indirect means for weakening the stranglehold of high-priced
mlm> journals on the market. As he may (or may not) be aware, in
mlm> economics some leading economists have attempted to organize a
mlm> "refereeing boycott" of high-priced journals, which has not been
mlm> terribly successful because so far there has been no credible
mlm> alternative to the high-priced specialist journals. ELSSS provides
mlm> such an alternative: on receiving two papers to review, most
mlm> economists would referee first the paper submitted to ELSSS and
mlm> only later, if at all, the one submitted to a high-price
mlm> journal.***

Moot, as referee payment has been abandoned.

   anon> Do you think ELSSS will present a viable alternative for
   anon> non-tenured faculty who might publish their work in established
   anon> commercial journals? Are there already too many competing
   anon> journals for ELSSS to have a significant impact?

sh> No I don't. It is critically important for the careers of
sh> junior faculty to publish in journals of known high quality
sh> and impact. That is how their work is weighed, not only by
sh> prospective readers, but by promotion and tenure
sh> committees.

mlm> ***MLM's comment: Then, how would Harnad explain the fact that a
mlm> large proportion of ELSSS supporters are junior faculty?***

It is easy to get SOME a priori commitment to a new journal (some
junior faculty see new journals as an easy, high-profile outlet); it is
another thing to sustain such a niche, as many new start-up journals
discover, when they fail after a few years.

sh> Now, if there were no alternative, a (weak, not very
sh> promising) case could be made for trying to persuade junior
sh> faculty that as it is IMPACT on which their careers, and
sh> their performance indicators, depend, and since journal
sh> prices are access-barriers, and hence impact-barriers, they
sh> should submit to lower-priced journals. But this would be a
sh> hollow appeal to researchers whose career time is NOW
sh> (whereas submitting to new lower-priced journals of
sh> unestablished or lower quality would be a risky investment
sh> in some remote and uncertain future).

mlm> ***MLM's comment: The key feature of ELSSS journals is not so much
mlm> that they will be significantly cheaper than the
mlm> commercially-produced journals they will be competing with (which
mlm> only shows how extortionately priced the latter are), but that the
mlm> revenues generated will be shared by the academic community. Or to
mlm> put it differently, that the real cost of refereeing and editing
mlm> will be shared more equitably.

This "shared revenue" rhetoric also strikes me, alas, as mere hype. In
practice, what does it amount to (especially now that we've dropped
referee payment and author payment)? Lower priced journals. So what else
is new?

mlm> So referring to ELSSS journals as
mlm> "lower-priced" is irrelevant in this context. Referring to them as
mlm> "journals of unestablished or lower quality" is downright
mlm> inaccurate.

Let us not quibble over this. We will know what their quality is once
they have had a few years to establish themselves.

mlm> Perhaps Harnad can ask the opinion of his colleagues
mlm> in the Economics department at Southampton (some of whom are ELSSS
mlm> supporters, btw) on the quality of the ELSSS supporters as
mlm> publicised on the ELSSS website
mlm> ( They include current or
mlm> past editors of the most prestigious journals, presidents and
mlm> eminent members of leading learned societies, etc. So much for
mlm> "lower quality". The questioner is absolutely right in pointing out
mlm> that there may be too many journals already. The aim of the ELSSS
mlm> initiative is to weaken and eventually dislodge the high-priced
mlm> journals.***

This is the standard brave face of start-up journals. All one knows now
is what the editorial board and first few issues look like. No one can
say more.

What follows below is a long, detailed passage which MLM does not appear
to have read, though it addresses most of his concerns about the
"collapse of journals."

sh> But there IS an alternative, one calling for no sacrifice
sh> whatsoever from junior faculty, and that is to continue to
sh> publish in the established journals AND to self-archive the
sh> refereed final drafts online in institutional Eprint
sh> Archives. That way, junior faculty can have their cake and
sh> eat it too.

   anon> Do you think that subscriptions could be abolished altogether if
   anon> authors self-archive their research online under the Open
   anon> Archives Initiative? Is this a more viable alternative?

sh> Yes, but it is not quite as simple as you describe. There
sh> are some successive stages to go through, and some branch
sh> points, depending on which way the demand and the market
sh> will go:

sh> I have spelled this out elsewhere. See
sh> for
sh> the full story, but it is easy to summarise the relevant
sh> bits:

sh> (1) Authors continue submitting all research to refereed
sh> journals.

sh> (2) But, they also self-archive it online in their
sh> Institutional Eprint Archives, thereby removing all the
sh> access and impact barriers (online).

sh> (3) It is then an empirical question whether there will
sh> continue to be a market for the S/L/P
sh> (Subscription/License/Pay-Per-View) version of the journal,
sh> paid for by enough institutions and individuals, so that
sh> things can continue exactly as they do now (with S/L/P
sh> paying the piper, but all the refereed research freely
sh> accessible online) -- OR the S/L/P demand shrinks
sh> drastically.

sh> (4) If the institutional S/L/P demand, hence expenditure,
sh> shrinks drastically, this means the institutional S/L/P
sh> savings grow drastically.

sh> (5) The true cost of implementing peer review -- the
sh> essential service that refereed journals will always
sh> continue to provide, even if it turns out to be their ONLY
sh> remaining service -- has been variously estimated as
sh> accounting for about 10% of the total amount that the
sh> institutions of the world are currently paying through
sh> S/L/P, per paper. (Referees of course referee for free.)
sh> See the Odlyzko references in "For Whom the Gate Tolls?

sh> (6) The arithmetic then is very simple: The annual 10%
sh> peer-review costs PER PAPER (which are not really
sh> "publication charges," but quality-control/certification
sh> charges) will be paid for at the AUTHOR-INSTITUTION end out
sh> of the 100% annual institutional S/L/P savings (at the

sh> In other words, if ever the day comes when other sources of
sh> revenue for funding peer review shrink and vanish, journal
sh> peer review can always continue to be paid for out of a
sh> fraction of the savings. The rest of what journals used to
sh> provide (paper version, PDF, enhancements) will merely be
sh> optional add-ons that individuals and institutions can also
sh> continue to pay for, as long as they wish, if they do not
sh> find the self-archived refereed drafts sufficient. But
sh> meanwhile, the whole refereed corpus can be freed
sh> immediately, through author/institution self-archiving in
sh> OAI-compliant Eprint Archives

mlm> ***MLM's comments: (I am sure that other people will have expressed
mlm> comments similar to what follows. I apologise for duplicating them
mlm> here unacknowledged, but, because of time constraints, I have
mlm> decided not to invest too much time into investigating a route to
mlm> better scholarly communication that seems to me to be so obviously
mlm> flawed - at least as far as economics is concerned.) The reason why
mlm> the route described by Harnad will never be followed by economists
mlm> in any significant number is that the suggested alternative is
mlm> totally self-defeating. Who would ever be willing to subscribe to
mlm> material that is freely available? Answer: nobody, certainly not
mlm> budget-constrained libraries.

Correct. End of reader/institution-end model for paying for a paper product
out of S/L/P. Enter author/institution-end model for paying for a QC
service out of 10% of the S/L/P savings.

mlm> Therefore, contrary to Harnad's
mlm> belief, "refereed journals will" not (negation and emphasis added)
mlm> "continue to provide the essential service [of] implementing peer
mlm> review"". Economists, and perhaps others as well, can solve games
mlm> by backward induction: if a strategy leads to an undesirable
mlm> outcome (the collapse of the refereed journal system), then it will
mlm> not be adopted.

Economists are not being asked to solve anything. Authors are being
asked to self-archive. Self-archiving frees the refereed literature. If
one of the consequences is that some publishers do not wish to scale
down to becoming just providers of the essential QC-service, there are
plenty of other publishers and learned societies ready to take over
their titles and do just that. (Unlike the start-up of a new journal,
without an established editorial board, referee stable, content quality
and authorship, an established journal can take all of this and migrate
to another publisher without any loss -- proving that a refereed
journal is and always has been a "virtual entity," not an on-paper
entity or even a page-image.)

mlm> Harnad is absolutely correct when he states that
mlm> "If the institutional S/L/P demand, hence expenditure, shrinks
mlm> drastically, this means the institutional S/L/P savings grow
mlm> drastically." Indeed. They can "save" 100% of the subscription
mlm> price of refereed journals. The minor snag is that, as a result of
mlm> this "saving", there will be no refereed journals.***

And the minor omission on MLM's part is to address the rest of the
scenario: Using the 10% to pay for the QC service-provision. MLM writes
as if S/L/P for a text-product were the only way to have a QC
literature, whereas it is not only not the only way, it is the worst
way, when the literature in question is, and always has been, an anomalous
author give-away, profoundly unlike all the rest of the literature.

   anon> Some leading publishers defend their practices by saying that
   anon> they are already lowering prices and that electronic publishing
   anon> is already driving down costs of academic journals. How would
   anon> you respond to this?

sh> There are 20K refereed journals on the planet. That means
sh> at least 2,000,000 refereed papers annually. Most of the
sh> papers, in most of those journals cannot be accessed by
sh> most of the researchers on the planet today, and that would
sh> continue to be true NO MATTER HOW LOW THE PRICE WENT! ZERO
sh> is the only price most researchers and research
sh> institutions can afford, if they are to be able to surf
sh> this give-away literature with no access/impact barriers at
sh> all (to the eternal benefit of research itself).

mlm> ***MLM's comment. I believe that Harnad is seriously damaging his
mlm> credibility with statements like the above or when he states that
mlm> "There is no need to single out any particular publishers, because
mlm> even if the higher ones lowered their prices to the level of the
mlm> lower ones, all refereed research would still not be accessible to
mlm> all researchers, everywhere. Only some to some. As long as this
mlm> entire give-away literature is not free to everyone everywhere,
mlm> online, research-impact is being lost". His proposal, by refusing
mlm> to face the fact that the cost of quality control (and enhancement)
mlm> has to be borne by someone, not only is not helping the fight for
mlm> fairer academic publishing but is contributing indirectly to the
mlm> perpetuation of a system where a handful of commercial publishers
mlm> exploit the entire academic community.***

I hope that by now MLM realizes that, far from ignoring the cost of QC,
the approach anticipates a rational redirection of it, from
reader-institution/product-end to author-institution/service-end.

But "anticipates" is the right word, because all of this is
hypothetical. The only immediate, actual step is one to be taken by
researchers (not economists solving backward-induction games), which is
to free their refereed papers by self-archiving them now, as the
Physicists have done. The future will take care of itself.

sh> So there is something very disingenuous about publishers
sh> speaking of lowering prices, and "opening" this literature
sh> when what they are actually trying to do is to continue to
sh> hold these author give-aways hostage to price-barriers,
sh> however low! The only fair playing field for this very
sh> special, anomalous (because author give-away) literature is
sh> one in which the publishers' essential service -- the
sh> implementation of peer review -- is paid for, and the rest
sh> (the paper, the PDF, any further "added values") are merely
sh> options, that those institutions and individuals can
sh> purchase (if they can afford it) for whom the free
sh> self-archived online version is not enough.

mlm> ***MLM's final comment. At long last something that Harnad and I
mlm> agree on: the long-term aim of any initiative for the improvement
mlm> of scholarly communication is to drive its cost to the barest
mlm> minimum - the cost of quality control and enhancement. The
mlm> substantial difference between his approach and ELSSS' is that
mlm> whereas the former, if "successful" would lead to the collapse of
mlm> the refereed journal system without offering any alternative and
mlm> therefore unwittingly bolsters the totally unsatisfactory status
mlm> quo, the latter, by challenging directly the practices of
mlm> monopolistic publishers and offering a credible alternative, makes
mlm> the long-term objective of minimum-cost scholarly communication
mlm> achievable and realistic.

I hope my reply is obvious by now. Creating and switching to new,
lower-priced journals calls for unlikely and unnecessary sacrifices
from researchers in exchange for partial benefits that are by no means
swift or sure. Self-archiving now will completely and surely free this
literature immediately, with a clear transition scenario for paying the
minimal essential QC costs out of the savings.

mlm> One final observation: Elsevier has felt
mlm> sufficiently threatened by the ELSSS initiative to be moved into
mlm> the unusual move of sending an unsolicited email to ELSSS
mlm> supporters trying (not very successfully) to defend its practices.
mlm> Is this not a sign that ELSSS is attacking monopolistic publishers
mlm> where it hurts?***

The objective is not to bait Elsevier but to free this give-away
literature at long last.

mlm> Concluding remark: I believe that much faster progress will be made
mlm> towards fairer academic publishing when contributors to the debate
mlm> realise that there is no one model that fits all disciplines. The
mlm> quest for a grand solution may at best be illusory and at worst
mlm> hamper the efforts of people trying to change things for the better
mlm> in a gradual and decentralised fashion.

The question of discipline differences is interesting. It is now a
historic fact that physicists took the road to the optimal and
inevitable first. The only relevant question about discipline
differences, however, is this:

    Is there any discipline that would not benefit from having its
    refereed literature available free online, now?

For the views of another economist of the For-Free/For-Fee issue, see:

    Harnad, S., Varian, H. & Parks, R. (2000) Academic publishing in
    the online era: What Will Be For-Fee And What Will Be For-Free?
    Culture Machine 2 (Online Journal)

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):

You may join the list at the site above.

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

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