Re: The True Cost of the Essentials (Implementing Peer Review)

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Thu, 26 Jul 2001 17:17:15 +0100

> Arthur Smith <> wrote:
> sh> I see the problem as that of awakening researchers to the benefits (in
> sh> terms of visibility, accessibility, and hence potential impact) of
> sh> freeing access to their research online through self-archiving. In
> sh> other words, the problem is getting the 20M up there, along with the
> sh> 50K.
> Actually I thought you said it was 2 million, not 20 million

You're right: 2M. My typo (probably lax because I know it could be an
underestimate by as much as an order of magnitude!).

> at what point can author self-archiving declare victory?

When most or all of the 2M is up there, online and free.

> One would think it could several
> years ago in high energy physics, with virtually 100% coverage. You seem
> to be implying coverage has to be complete in ALL areas of science (or
> all areas of scholarly publishing, even?) before we can expect to see
> S/L/P cancellations. Maybe the answer is somewhere in between?

This is all speculative, but here are some likely factors:

(1) Libraries won't cancel journals till their faculty say they don't
need them any more (or that they need this less than that).

(2) Faculty won't recommend cancellation till all their refereed
journal needs are available free online.

(3) Libraries won't cancel while only one subfield recommend it.

(4) Faculty will be slow to realize it is safe to cancel.

(5) Libraries will be slow to realize it is safe to cancel.

(6) Libraries and faculty will never cancel journals, even if/when the
entire literature (2M) is available online for free. (That's fine with

To repeat, the goal of the Self-Archiving Initiative is to make sure
that all refereed research (2M) is available online for free. Its goal is
NOT to precipitate journal cancellations. Freeing online access to the
refereed literature is an end in itself, not a means to an end.

(Nevertheless, if I were a publisher of journals in High Energy
Physics, I wouldn't want to place TOO much faith in the failure of the
arxiv to precipitate cancellations so far: Would you?)

> But my suspicion is that author self-archiving is really only addressing
> part of the problem. Yes it is providing free access to people, that's
> great. But the problem seems to be the fact that it is under author
> control, and a medium controlled by the authors is not sufficiently
> trustworthy for science and scholarly institutions to abandon their
> established communications media - the scholarly journals.

That may well be the case, and yet another reason why there have been
no cancellations in HEP or elsewhere. All I can repeat is that for the
Self-Archiving Initiative, if the HEP effect could be generalized to
the entire 2M corpus, our work would be done. The goal was to make it
all accessible online to all potential users everywhere for free. That
was all. (But that's still a tall order!)

(By the way, lack of confidence in "author control" may be one of the
reasons self-archiving is growing so slowly. That is why I hope that
institutional Eprint archives will inspire more confidence, and hence
elicit more content (that institution's own subset of the annual 2M).
Both researchers and their institutions share a stake in maximizing the
visibility, accessibility, uptake and impact of their research in
perpetuo. OAI-interoperability and harvesting services generating
global "virtual archives" from the distributed and mirrored institutional
archives should go some way toward allaying authors' possible fears
about management and preservation, especially with the institutions'
digital libraries actively involved.)

> So the need
> really is for a new medium, NOT controlled by authors, but perhaps
> controlled by researchers and their disciplines in some larger sense.

A discipline is alas a nebulous entity, with no real coherent interest
or clout. A researcher's university, in contrast, has the same interest
in research impact as its researchers (that's why "publish or perish"
has became the driver, supplemented by impact factors), and has
has the clout to do whatever it takes to maximize it. With OAI
interoperability, distributed institutional eprint archiving (and
overlaid harvesting services) may just turn out to be that requisite
medium which succeeds in making it all happen at last.

> Perhaps it will be the journals themselves in some new guise - or
> perhaps it will be something new, based on the author self-archives.

Anything is possible as long as the bottom line is that all of the
refereed literature is accessible online for free.

> Stevan, feel free to continue promoting author self-archiving, and I
> wish you well in reaching the 2 million or 20 million figure. But I
> think we've reached a point where it's clear this isn't a full solution
> at least to the problem of serials costs to libraries, which is, if not
> the only goal, one major goal this forum has been trying to address.

I believe that if self-archiving succeeds in reaching critical mass, a
spinoff will be a solution to the serials crisis; but even if it is
not, it will have solved all the problems I, for one, am fighting to
solve! I do think that it is simply slowing the optimal and inevitable
to focus on institutional serials budgets directly, rather than on
freeing the literature those budgets currently pay for, by
self-archiving it in institutional eprint archives.

> Somewhat along those lines, this forum may be interested in continuing
> fallout from the Public Library of Science effort:
> -- it sounds like they may actually try starting up their own new
> "journals" based around the public library distribution medium. And they
> have a very close impending deadline! Could be interesting...

I wish them every success -- but I doubt they will succeed, for reasons
I have described in comparing the 6 current strategies for freeing the
refereed literature: Boycotts ask authors to give up their established
journals of choice (along with their imprimatur, authorship, quality,
and impact factor) in favor of new, unestablished journals, simply in
order to free their refereed papers. Although there's no
second-guessing human nature, it is not at all clear to me why rational
researchers would prefer making that risky and untested sacrifice, when
they can have their cake (their established journals of choice) and eat
it too (though self-archiving) with with no risk or sacrifice at all.

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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