Re: PostGutenberg Copyrights and Wrongs for Give-Away Research

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Wed, 25 Jul 2001 00:20:01 +0100

On Tue, 24 Jul 2001, Arthur Smith wrote:

> 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?

They're on my list but seem to me too trivial to mention -- and
certainly not a reason for raising the estimate of the cost of the
essential quality-control service to higher than the 10% of current
collective global outlay per article ($2000 on average) in the form of
(institutional) Subscription, License, and Pay-per-view (S/L/P) by those
institutions that can afford it.

> Is it perhaps that evaluating according to these criteria is NOT
> necessarily provided free?

The journal's subject matter and slant are a (trivial) part of
the peer-review costs.

> 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.

I agree.

> 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.

Arthur's employer, the American Physical Society (APS), publishes the
most prestigious and highest quality journals in physics, their
copyright policy is the most progressive of all publishers to date, and
a model for them all. But I think even the APS cannot make a realistic
estimate of what it would cost them if the ONLY service they provided
were peer-review (no paper, no PDF). It would be very instructive to
find out on what line-items an estimate for more than about $200 per
accepted article was based. I am ready to believe it is higher, but we
need to see the figures, and make sure they are only for the essential
service in question, and not for any of the add-ons that APS (and all
other publishers) still provide (and should, as long as there is a
market for them).

> 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.

Our 1/3 debates of yesteryear (never 1/2!) were based on the publisher's
continuing to produce an online PRODUCT (the text PDF), not just the
peer-review service (leaving all the rest to the Archives). With the
possibility of ubiquitous, interoperable distributed OAI-compliant
Institution-based Archiving now a realistic option, all that arithmetic
needs to be redone. I am guided in part by Andrew Odlyzko's estimates

    Odlyzko, A.M. (1998) The economics of electronic journals. In:
    Ekman R. and Quandt, R. (Eds) Technology and Scholarly
    Communication. Univ. Calif. Press, 1998.

    Odlyzko, A.M. (1999a) Competition and cooperation: Libraries and
    publishers in the transition to electronic scholarly journals, A.
    M. Odlyzko. Journal of Electronic Publishing 4(4)

    Odlyzko, A.M. (1999b) The rapid evolution of scholarly
    communication," to appear in the proceedings of the 1999 PEAK

> 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.

I couldn't follow the causal connections in what you said above,
Arthur. Why is a journal's peer-review imprimatur not enough to provide
all the above for a self-archived article?

Moreover, I have no particular beef with Elsevier. Authors should
simply self-archive all their refereed research, thereby freeing it. If
there continues to be a market for the add-ons, there is no need to
worry about downsizing to the 10% essentials. The Harvards will
continue footing the S/L/P bills but the Have-Nots (including Harvard,
for what it cannot afford) will have full free online access to the
entire annual corpus of 20,000+ journals and 2 million+ articles.

As I have repeatedly indicated very explicitly, the scenario for
freeing the refereed literature is certain, whereas the sequel
(including the 10% estimate) is only hypothetical, and nothing we can
and should do now depends on it:

> 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.

Arthur, all I advocate is ubiquitous author/institution self-archiving,
now. Whether the actual figure for peer review turns out to be 10% or
30% does not matter very much. If and when S/L/P should shrink to where
it no longer covers that cost, the windfall S/L/P savings will be there
to do so instead.

> 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...

I think you know that I am opposed to such systems (as untested and
unlikely to be able to maintain current quality levels). But again the
causality eludes me: I am for peer review and its essentials costs,
whether its true price is 10% or 30%!

> 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.

Alas I could not follow the logic of that. Self-Archiving can and
should free the refereed literature now. How to cover the essential
peer review costs if and when S/L/P can no longer do so is a bridge we
can cross when we get to it. Even at 30% there would be plenty to cover
it. So what are we disagreeing about? And how does it follow that S/L/P
continues to have to be paid at current levels, and that self-archiving
is irrelevant?

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):

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

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