Re: Copyright, Embargo, and the Ingelfinger Rule

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 5 Jun 2001 17:27:55 +0100

On Mon, 4 Jun 2001, Albert Henderson wrote:

> With the sole goal of getting free stuff you hold open the door for
> quacks, cranks...

We are talking here about the refereed literature. It is journals'
gate-keeping (peer review) that certifies it as non-quackery, not
journals' toll-gating (subscription/license/pay-per-view).

> The general public (indeed many PhDs)
> cannot distinguish between peer-reviewed articles, serious preprints,
> and informercials made to look like research.

Is the implication that they cannot distinguish it unless it comes
with a price-tag attached? Apparently the journal-tag alone, online,
is not distinctive enough...

And what has the "general public" to do with this anyway? This
peer-reviewed journal literature is written, and needs to be freed, for
fellow-researchers (peers) worldwide, present and future, and for the
sake of research itself. It seems to me that these scholars and
scientists are perfectly capable of making the same distinctions
on-line that they have been making on-paper all these years.

Or are these papers to be kept from researchers, behind financial
firewalls, under the pretext of protecting the general public, now?

> An "archive" branded with the imprimateur [sic] of the NIH
> or a major university will inevitably be the source of trouble.

The only imprimatur that will guide researchers is exactly the same one
that has guided them all along: the name of the refereed journal in
which the paper appears. (And if/when they elect to read unrefereed
preprints, just as they have done in the past, researchers will be
guided by the name and reputation of the author and the author's
institution -- with "caveat emptor" prevailing, as it always did, for
pre-refereeing material.)

> The self-"archiving" movement apparently hasn't given public safety a
> moment's thought. More likely it does not care as the opportunity to
> end spending on libraries justifies the means.

Ah me. It never enters Albert's mind that the motivation for freeing
the refereed research literature might actually be research-driven. It
has to be driven by some library-funding conspiracy...

> INGELFINGER RULE: Enforcing the Ingelfinger rule aims to assure the
> public whatever degree of good science could be coerced by major
> journals.

Completely incorrect. It is PEER REVIEW, not the Ingelfinger Rule, that
assures (both peers and public) of the current quality levels of
refereed research. The Ingelfinger Rule is almost 100% a rationale for
safeguarding journal revenues by outlawing "scooping" of any kind.

Rather than just repeating this old, specious clarion call about
"protecting public health," it might be more constructive to face the
possibility that there could exist forms of "protection" (where
needed) other than, and indeed better than publishers' financial

    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]

Besides, the Ingelfinger Rule pertains only to pre-refereeing
preprints, and our primary focus in this Forum is on refereed
postprints. Risks to public health are only pertinent to a small subset
of the clinical biomedical literature anyway, whereas I'll wager that
this impassioned defense of the Ingelfinger Rule is meant to apply to
all 20,000 refereed journals currently published, in all disciplines...

> a major complaint of cranks and quacks is that the
> major journals and research sponsors reject their work. Moreover,
> self-publication is a prima facie "confilict of interest," so
> conflict of interest will cease to be an issue if you have your way.

The logic of all this escapes me: Who is talking about
"self-publication"? We are talking about the freeing of peer-reviewed
research online through self-archiving. Freeing it from toll-gating,
not from gate-keeping.

Researchers have no conflict of interest about their give-away refereed
research; at worst, they may be confused (because things have changed
so radically, PostGutenberg) about what is in their interest. Specious
arguments like the ones I am rebutting here capitalize on and compound
this confusion -- and there is no conflict whatsoever about what
interests they are serving. They are certainly not the interests of
research and researchers. They are the interests of the current revenue
streams of the vendors of the refereed research, that Gutenberg status
quo that the Ingelfinger Rule is designed to try to preserve for as
long as possible, under the guise or protecting public health,

> Is "free stuff" worth the potential hazard to public health? The
> long-standing complaints about the Ingelfinger rule stem from
> frustration at researchers' reticence that keep them from scooping
> the top journals with a news item. It is the same type of envy that
> spawns complaints about commercial publishers who have capitalized on
> the failures and inflexibility of association editors. These sorts of
> pettiness should have no place in science, (although they often do).
> It seems when academics are under fire, they form a circle and begin
> to shoot at each other rather than at the real enemy.

I leave it to the reader to try to sort out the convoluted logic of
that one...

> Self-archiving is not making science information free. It is already
> free in libraries!

Ah me! A world-view worthy of Marie Antoinette...

> In contrast to free-in-libraries, free-on-the-Internet lowers the
> threshhold to esoteric and sometimes potentially dangerous materials,
> putting them in the hands of an uninformed and trusting public.

This is getting a bit repetitious. Translation: "Trust the brand-name
as your guide if it has to be paid for, but don't trust the same
brand-name if it's available free for all..."

> Obviously the reason the Ingelfinger question never materialized with
> the LANL/XXX server is that differential equations, common in physics
> and math, alienate most readers.

It is of course inconceivable, isn't it, that the true reason might be
that physicists are simply too smart to be taken in by this sort of

> STOCKHOLM SYNDROME: the Stockholm syndrome applies better to the
> godfather of the physics family, the US Department of Energy. The
> major US physics publishing group, AIP, feeds at the same trough as
> many of its authors. It dares not oppose the undermining of its
> copyrights by the LANL preprint server which now calls itself an
> "archive." AIP was not so kind to Texaco.

I think I will stay away from this conspiratorial trough...

> LANL could easily have made its preprint server an AIP project.
> Instead it fostered a taxpayer-financed devaluation of private
> enterprise. This appears to me to be contrary to long-standing policies
> supported by both major parties. Considering the huge government
> spending on sponsored R&D and its contribution to indirect
> expenditures, it is shocking. There is a very good chance that
> Congress and/or the Administration will tell the Dept of Energy to
> drop it -- as they should have done when it spread beyond the
> Arpanet. Having demonstrated the technology, there is no more
> reason for the government to proceed further. After all, much as we
> would all like free energy, the U.S. government will never generate
> free power for the public. Nor should it do so with information,
> particularly when the consumers of science information are a small
> wealthy community.

Ah me. I quoted extensively above to allow nature to take its course.
Still confused the PostGutenberg scholars and scientists may still
be, but not so confused as to be susceptible to this sort of thing.

I might add that those who dream that self-archiving is piggy-backing
on some government subsidy that some well-lubricated lobbying could
pull out from under it are profoundly mistaken about the nature of the
net, the web, distributed storage, and interoperability. This is the
PostGutenberg Galaxy and Albert has not yet updated...

> Like a Mississippi flood, the rising tide of information threatens
> quality.

I could have replied to most of Albert's posting with well-worn
FAQs, e.g.:

> Government science agencies have a responsibility to address
> this problem. They contribute to the flood by sponsoring academic R&D.

Fie on those over-generous funding agencies! Let the researchers get
the money for their research the honest way (what was that, again? By
hiring out to industry? or playing the market? or hitting the streets?
or should they just confine themselves to teaching? Enough knowledge,

> Their programs also consume information and may lose productivity
> thanks to poor quality ingredients.

> Science will never achieve top productivity until it addresses
> dissemination in its spending and includes science libraries in its
> budgets.

This is Albert's universal (and countlessly rebutted) fix, the
hobby-horse that he always rolls out sooner or later (until I have

> The motives that support "free literature" movement include getting rid
> of library spending.

Conspiracy theories are the last refuge of untenable hypotheses. I
hereby declare that I have no interest whatsoever in the above
scurrilous undertaking...

> Automation will never substitute for knowledgable editors.

Straw-man argument. Editors are part of the essential service of peer
review (and its true cost).

> My impression is that university managers don't care about quality.


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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