Re: PostGutenberg Copyrights and Wrongs for Give-Away Research

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Wed, 25 Jul 2001 15:11:35 +0100

On Tue, 24 Jul 2001, Albert Henderson wrote:

> sh> whereas it is indeed the journal's quality tag, certifying the
> sh> quality level of its contents, that authors and users need, the two
> sh> critical, substantive components on which it is based -- the research
> sh> report itself, and the referee reports on it -- are always provided
> sh> gratis by researchers. The journal merely implements this peer review
> sh> process (processes the manuscript, selects the referees, processes
> sh> their reports) -- an essential service, but a highly circumscribed
> sh> one.
> Referees don't review for free. They get something
> of greater value than money. Behind the scenes, each
> journal organizes activities which are as vital to
> the development of top scientists as publication.
> Closely related, often under the aegis of the publisher,
> are conferences, meetings, seminars, and other
> volunteer participation.

So could you run that by me again, Albert? When I am asked by a journal
to referee a paper, in what sense am I not giving my time for free?

And what are all these activities that are worth more than money?
Because I'll settle, as an author, for peer review and free and full
access to my research for all its potential users. (How much of that
potential impact should I be prepared to sacrifice for, say, lowered
meeting fees? Might I not prefer that meetings and other "good works"
finance themselves on their own merits, rather than my research

And what has this to do with the time I spend refereeing?

Albert, the causal picture you try to paint here is a confused jumble
of non-sequiturs and arbitrary associations, with neither causality nor
necessity working in its favor or even making sense of it. It is a
hopeless attempt to defend an indefensible status quo merely on the
grounds that that's the way it has been until now, and that's the way
it ought to be.

The truth is that referees do referee for free; and there is no causal
dependency whatsoever between that and the independent "good works" of
learned societies that are funded from (part of) their publication

In contrast, the causal dependency between the access-tolls that
fund those independent "good works" and the lost potential impact of
authors (who likewise give away their research reports for free) is
real enough, but negative: The "good works" are purchased at the
expense of researchers' potential research impact. Authors have not yet
realized this, but once they see it directly, do you have any doubt as
to what their reply will be?

For example, can you imagine a copyright transfer statement that ran
like this:

    Authors, please check one:

    (1) I hereby surrender my right to self-archive my paper online, so
    as to allow the Society to sell it instead in order to fund its
    other good works (activities, meetings, etc.).


    (2) I retain my right to self-archive my paper online; let the
    Society find other ways to fund its good works.

Fortunately, authors need not wait until their publishers offer them
this explicit choice. They can already have their (peer-reviewed) cake
and eat it (free the access to it online) too, by using the preprint +
corrigenda strategy when the copyright transfer policy is too

> Moreover, each journal brings order out of chaos
> by selecting, vetting, and rejecting. It supplies
> a coherent flow of information related by its aim,
> scope and point of view. A specialized reader will
> find not only reports of primary research but meeting
> notices, comments, reviews, abstracts of papers and
> other items of particular interest.

The "selective, vetting, and rejecting" is called peer review. That
costs 10% of what is now being paid for collectively in annual
access-tolls for their incoming refereed research by those institutions
that can afford to pay those tolls. If they all got that money back, the
peer-review for their outgoing research could easily be covered by 10%
of their 100% windfall savings, and the refereed research would be free
for all.

Should publishers immediately downsize to providing only that 10%
service right now? Of course not. They should continue to sell the
add-ons (on-paper, PDF, online enhancements) via access-tolls as long
as there is still a market for them.

But should researchers meanwhile wait for the freeing of their
research from all access/impact barriers online? Of course not. They
should self-archive it all now.

Or should they wait because of those "meeting notices, comments,
reviews, abstracts of papers and other items of particular interest"?

I don't think so. Let them be put in a newsletter and sold for whatever
the market will bear, but let them not be used as a pretext for holding
the primary refereed research hostage for one minute longer.

(By the way, self-archiving includes abstracts, and except when they
are royalty- or fee-based, it is not clear to me why the authors of
comments and reviews would not want to self-archive their give-away
papers too...)

Now let the reader assess for himself what is left of Albert's
cost/benefit defense of the status quo.

> The chaos proposed by 'self-archiving' serves no one
> well but the university manager obsessed with
> profitability.

Where did the notion of CHAOS come in? Sample some of the free Open
Archives Service Providers that search across archives and see whether
there is anything but the COST that distinguishes them from their
firewalled "competitors". (Not only are the full-text articles behind
financial firewalls, but so are most of the secondary searching
services, in the "non-chaotic" sector...)

There is one other difference between the for-free and the for-fee
services, other than the cost, and it is another "c" word, but it is
not chaos: It is CONTENT. Currently, only a minute portion of the
annual 2,000,000+ papers in the world's 20,000+ refereed journals is
available online for free.

Who is to blame? Only the researchers who have not yet realized that
self-archiving is within their reach. But do not bank on this
sluggishness too long. The optimal is not only attainable, but
inevitable. The token will drop, at last. And I rather hope that the
free OAI-compliant institutional self-archiving software provided by plus a concerted start-up policy by universities
will bring order at last into the arbitrary (if not chaotic) network
of access-barriers that currently separate the planet's give-away
research from its researchers and its potential impact and uptake.

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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