Re: The Six Roads to Liberating the Refereed Literature

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sat, 2 Jun 2001 16:39:54 +0100

Although it may sound tedious to those who have already made up their
minds, or feel they have it all sorted out already, I think the
airing of these friendly differences about the optimal road to a free
refereed research literature is instructive, and just might inspire
more people into action, sooner.

So if you agree that the objective is an important one, please read
the following carefully:

On Fri, 1 Jun 2001, Thomas J. Walker wrote:

> The first-listed of Stevan's six roads can be described as authors paying
> publishers to permanently and immediately give toll-free access to at least
> the PDF version of their articles.
> These are the three "minuses" he notes for that road.
> (1) Most journals don't offer it.
> Now that ESA has shown that it is popular and profit-making, other
> society-published journals should soon offer it. After all, members
> (ultimately) govern their scientific societies, and most members will
> surely want their societies to offer the service.

    "[O]the society-published journals should soon offer it."

This is unfortunately not a reply at all. It is a statement in
subjunctive mood. The fact is that, today, as we speak, out of the
20,000+ refereed journals published annually, virtually 0% of them
offer o-prints. Are we to take Thomas's hope as grounds for waiting,
instead of self-archiving?

(Moreover, note that Thomas said "society-published" journals: What
percentage of the 20,000 is even society-published? And what about
the rest?)

No. O-prints are fine, now, for the journals that offer them now, and
the authors who can and wish to pay for them now. But self-archiving
is the only viable option for all the rest.

> (2) There will always be authors who can't afford it.
> There will always be researchers who don't have as much money as they need
> to do the research they would like to do.

That is, of course, completely irrelevant. We are not talking here
about freeing research that researchers could not afford to do
(research funding is another crusade). We are talking about freeing the
research that they could afford to do, and did, and that they published
in a refereed journal, but that most (sic) potential users worldwide
cannot afford to access.

> The current costs of journal publication are minor compared to other
> costs of research.

Correct, but irrelevant. The goal here was not to find more things to
pay for with any loose change researchers may or may not have,
but to free access to the refereed research that there is.

Moreover, the current 100% costs of journal publication include 10%
for an essential SERVICE (implementing peer review) and 90% for what
should only be optional PRODUCTS (on-paper version, publisher's PDF) --
to which the essentials should no longer be held hostage. (The
o-print fee for the PDF product simply continues the unjustified
Gutenberg tradition of holding the essentials [refereeing] hostage to
the incidentals [paper, PDF].)

The natural way to pay for that essential 10% (once the voluntary
market for the 90% options becomes too small to cover it, because of
journal cancellations) is out of the 100% savings from the
cancellations, in the form of author/institution outgoing per-paper
peer-review fees in place of reader/institution incoming
subscription/license/pay-view access fees.

> In the all-e future, the cost of refereed publication will be lower
> still.

The refereed literature needs to be freed NOW. Should we instead
continue to sit and wait for it to become all-e (when?)? And then see
whether the o-print purchase option (if/when it is offered -- when?) is
affordable to enough researchers?

Instead of self-archiving it all, now?

> Furthermore, societies sometimes subsidize the publication of articles
> by members who have no institutional support, and they may choose to
> continue this practice.

True. But what percentage of the 20,000 annual refereed journals is
published by societies, and what percentage of those is ready to do
this, and when?

(There may indeed eventually be a case for such subsidies to cover the
essential refereeing costs of institutionally unaffiliated authors, or
poorer institutions, once the refereed literature is all free, and our
only remaining worry is about such minority cases. But right now, there
is no reason whatever to construe this as grounds for not
self-archiving all current refereed research, today.)

> (3) Self-archiving their own eprints accomplishes the same outcome,
> immediately for everyone, at no expense to authors.
> NOT the same outcome: Except in physics and some related disciplines,
> researchers seldom search e-print archives to keep current with the journal
> literature (too few papers are currently archived).

But Thomas, is it not apparent that your reply is circular? You were
giving reasons for not self-archiving (and buying o-prints instead).
The reason you give here for not self-archiving is that we are not

If researchers in all disciplines did all get around to
self-archiving, as the physicists have done, then then researchers
WOULD search eprint archives to keep current with the literature!

> NOT immediately for everyone: The most efficient way to find new
> literature is to use current awareness services, such as Current Contents
> Connect.

Not in those disciplines where self-archiving has achieved critical

(Your logic here is analogous to saying that the most efficient way to
access the refereed literature is to be at an institution that can
afford a subscription. Yes, indeed; and it is precisely to remedy this
that we are seeking to free this literature! By the same token, the
reliance on the [current] current awareness services [sic] will be
superseded by reliance on Open Archive Search engines like
or cite-base
as soon as self-archiving achieves critical mass in other disciplines.)

In other words, what is at issue is the feasibility of freeing this
literature by self-archiving immediately. You are here inadvertently
citing the fact that it is not ALREADY free as a reason for not
immediately taking the requisite steps to free it! Every researcher can
already do this (i.e., self-archive) today.

(If his institution or discipline has no eprint server yet, the
existing Eprint archives
can probably take the extra load for now; and free software for setting
up institutional ( or individual
( eprint servers is available for everyone.)

In contrast, if, to free this literature, researchers instead turned
to your o-print-purchase strategy, virtually 100% of them would be
unable to do anything at all except wait!

Note also that both publishers' PDF and current-awareness services
links to them come too late, even for those who can afford the
price-tag. Self-archiving (both the pre-refereeing preprint, and the
post-refereeing postprint, the day it is completed) makes research
universally available online much earlier in the
productivity/interactivity cycle than the current system does.

> These services will soon hotlink to articles on publishers' web
> sites.

Too late. And unnecessary if it is all self-archived in free
interoperable eprint archives -- whereas the full text on publishers'
websites is not free.

> If users of such a service can immediately access, without charge,
> the full text of some of the articles they find, the authors of those
> articles will benefit more than authors of access-restricted articles who
> have posted eprints.

Correct. And I am sympathetic to the persuasive power of such
contrasts -- but not to waiting for them to take effect, gradually
inducing more publishers to offer o-prints for purchase by those
authors who can afford them.

By all means, let those who can and wish to, purchase o-prints, now.
But let everyone else (which means virtually everybody) self-archive,

> Similarly, when PubMed Central starts indexing many articles, only the
> authors of articles that publishers have posted will benefit (according
> to present plans).

Yes indeed. And again, the impetus from the contrast effect will be
very welcome, but it will take a looooong time to make a dent.
Why on earth should we wait! Let those authors (virtually everybody)
whose articles do not happen to be in journals that happen to
give away their contents to PubMed Central now, self-archive, now...

[Thomas, I hope you will be clear in stating whether you have any
objections to these complementary strategies -- i.e., whether, and, if
so, why you favor waiting over acting immediately, by self-archiving,
where the o-print or PubMed Central options are not yet available.)

> NOT at no expense to authors: Some time and worry is involved. Time,
> because making a postprint attractive and the changes easily understood
> may require an hour or so that could otherwise be spent on more
> research.

Forget about "attractiveness." Just self-archive the final, refereed
draft! And for researchers who are too busy, tired, old, nontech, etc.:
students or librarians can self-archive the first wave for you by
proxy. Dozens of papers can be archived in an hour. The most prolific
researcher's lifetime quota takes no more than a day...

> Worry, because some authors fret about the legality of postprints.

But the fretting has no basis! Are you here endorsing abstention from
doing something positive because of worries that have been prominently
and repeatedly shown to be groundless (not only by reason, but by the
evidence of 10 years and 150,000 papers by self-archived physicists
and mathematicians without a single legal challenge)?

> Stevan's first minus is the only one of consequence. When other
> societies start to offer the service, the move toward toll-free access
> will accelerate.

But what is your rationale for not accelerating it now, without waiting
for anything, by self-archiving?

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

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