Re: PostGutenberg Copyrights and Wrongs for Give-Away Research

From: Arthur Smith <apsmith_at_APS.ORG>
Date: Tue, 24 Jul 2001 14:09:07 -0400

Stevan, I never know when some of the things you say are actually what
you believe, or merely intended as the statements of a social scientist
trying to provoke controversy and discussion. I'm going to assume the
former, but suspect I've been dragged into this debate again via the

Stevan Harnad wrote:
> On Mon, 23 Jul 2001, Sally Morris wrote:
> > [...] The journal is a kind of
> > 'envelope' in which readers can be reasonably confident of finding content
> > on a particular subject, possibly with a particular editorial slant or
> > article type, and of a certain general quality standard.
> [...]
> So whereas it is indeed the journal's quality tag, certifying the
> quality level of its contents, that authors and users need, the two
> critical, substantive components on which it is based -- the research
> report itself, and the referee reports on it -- are always provided
> gratis by researchers. [...]

First of all, Sally Morris suggested a few other things than just
"quality" as important journal characteristics: subject, editorial
slant, and confinement to particular article types were also on her
list. Is there some reason these are not on yours? Is it perhaps that
evaluating according to these criteria is NOT necessarily provided free?
Furthermore, the "quality tag" for a manuscript, as we have explained
here repeatedly in the past, is not simply a matter of "processing"
referee reports, but involves subtle human judgments by the editorial
staff. Now you'll argue that we are an unusual and exceptional case in
actually paying our editors, but the process itself is complex and
requires even without the editorial effort, considerable human effort in
reading, tracking and correlating bits of correspondence that arrive
concerning a manuscript, spread at times over months or years.

That is why I find so offensive your claim that:
> [...] The peer
> review accounts for only 10% of the cost,

where did that number come from? From previous discussions I've seen you
always seem to cut in 1/2 or 1/3 the reasonable estimates from others
who are advocating open archives. Do you just pick these numbers out of
thin air? As we've repeatedly stated, our current peer review costs are
much higher than that, and not likely to be cut very significantly even
with all the fancy electronic tools becoming available.

Whether or not Open Archives actually succeed in forming a way of easily
getting at the literature free (I see there are now some 250,000
articles available) there is a fundamental need within the sciences for
the kind of forum a journal provides, an "envelope" as Sally Morris
suggests, where the new concepts and ideas of a particular researcher
are accepted as potential valuable contributions to the furthering of a
particular discipline. An author-controlled distribution system is
simply fundamentally incapable of providing that 3rd party acceptance
function. And commercial journal publishers (in particular Elsevier,
which continues its hegemonic acquisitions and 40% profit margins), even
in high energy physics which is basically 100% covered by the ArXiv,
seem to have very little to fear from all the noise in the corner.

That is why, if you really want to make radical changes, we HAVE to
address the question of the editorial functions in much more detail.
Which you refuse to do, referring to the sacrosanct "peer review"
system, whose invisible hand is vitally important, but to whom you
refuse to allocate sufficient funding to keep it going. There are other
models out there - think about the rating and review system at, for example. Can the sciences adopt something along those
lines? That could cut costs... but if we don't look at other models
we'll all just keep doing what we're doing, and it's always going to
cost about the same, and libraries or institutions or whoever foots the
bill will just have to keep it up. And Open Archives will continue to be
basically irrelevant.

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

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