Science Article (Roberts et al.) and Science Editorial

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 27 Mar 2001 09:42:30 +0000

On Tue, 27 Mar 2001, Thomas Krichel wrote:

> interesting article in the Chronicle of HE
> "Scholars Urge a Boycott of Journals That
> Won't Release Articles to Free Archives"

See the original Roberts et al. article on which it is based, in
this week's Science:

and also "Science's Response" by the Editors:

Roberts et al. are comrades-at-arms, so it is regrettable that I have to
express some pessimism about the likelihood of success of their
proposal. My own response to it is appended below. But much more
important is rebutting the Science Editors' Rebuttal to Roberts et al.
in their editorial response (in which they offer a compromise -- freeing
Science's contents on-line 12 months after they are published -- and
suggesting "Government" do the rest). I am preparing a critique entitled
"Too Little, Too Late". Stay tuned. Meanwhile, the comment on Roberts et
al. -- SH



                   Stevan Harnad

Roberts et al., in "Building A "GenBank" of the Published Literature"
<> argue
compellingly for the following three pleas to publishers and authors:

It is imperative to free the refereed literature online. To achieve this
goal, the following should be done:

    (1) Established journal publishers should give away their
    journal contents online for free.

    (2) Authors should submit preferentially to journals that give
    their contents away online for free.

    (3) In place of established journals that do not give away their
    contents online for free, new journals (e.g., BioMed Central
    <>) should be established that do.

The goal of freeing the refereed literature online is completely valid,
optimal for science and scholarship, attainable, inevitable, and indeed
already overdue. But these proposed means alas do not look like the
fastest or surest way of attaining that goal, particularly as there is a
tested and proven alternative means that will attain the very same goal
without asking journals to do anything, and without asking authors to
give up anything:

    (i) There is no reason journals should pre-emptively agree to give
    away their own contents online at this time. If researchers wait
    until many or most journals find a reason for doing so, it will be a
    very, very long wait.

    (ii) Asking authors to choose which journal to submit their
    research to on the basis of whether or not the journal agrees to give
    away its contents online for free rather than on the basis authors
    currently use -- journal quality, reputation, impact factor -- is
    again an unreasonable thing to ask, and will result in a long, long
    wait. More important, it is an unnecessary thing to ask, as there
    is already a means for authors to achieve precisely the same goal
    immediately without having to give up anything at all: by
    self-archiving their refereed articles themselves, in
    interoperable, University Eprint Archives

    (iii) Creating new journals, without track-records, to draw away
    submissions from the noncompliant established journals, is another
    long uphill path, and again it is not at all clear why authors
    should prefer to take that path, renouncing their preferred
    established journals, when they can have their cake and eat it too
    (through self-archiving).

The details of the self-archiving alternative (including questions of
copyright and embargo) are fully described in "For Whom the Gate
Tolls? How and Why to Free the Refereed Research Literature Online
Through Author/Institution Self-Archiving, Now."

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.

Discussion can be posted to:
Received on Wed Jan 03 2001 - 19:17:43 GMT

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