Re: Distinguishing the Essentials from the Optional Add-Ons

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 31 Jul 2001 15:59:04 +0100

On Tue, 31 Jul 2001, Fytton Rowland wrote:

> If OAI-compliant
> archives don't put the journals out of business, the "journals pricing
> crisis" is unsolved; the finacial problems for academic libraries remain.
> But if the journals do go out of business (because academics access the
> free versions of papers, don't use their library to access journals any
> more, and consequently no longer support library purchases of journals),
> then the catastrophic drop in income to the publishers will lead to a new,
> but short-term, problem: a new form of financial support for the
> quality-control activity will have to be agreed rather quickly. Ideas have
> been floating around for a while -- for example, those of John W.T. Smith
> -- but we will need not just bright ideas, but an international consensus
> among academics, which might not be attainable quickly enough.

It is always good to plan ahead, but I think it would be a tremendous
mistake to hold back for one more microsecond (with the long-overdue
freeing of the refereed research literature through self-archiving)
in order to wait for an "international consensus" of any sort.

The only consensus that is needed is on the need to eliminate the
access barriers to refereed research online as soon as possible in this
PostGutenberg era in which they have lost all their necessity, and
hence their justification.

Self-archiving can usher in the optimal and inevitable as quickly as
the world's researchers can get around to doing it.

No one knows what eventual side-effects freeing the refereed research
literature online may have on demand for the publisher's for-fee
version. So far, there have been none. As a growing portion of the
annual 2M+ refereed articles in the world's 20K+ refereed journals
becomes available online free for all, a more likely outcome than a
sudden catastrophic drop would be that

    (1) demand for the publisher's for-fee version (on-paper and/or
    on-line) diminishes gradually, allowing publishers time to downsize
    to providing only the essentials (peer review) and allowing
    research institutions the time to redirect their windfall library
    serials savings toward covering the essential peer-review costs for
    their own outgoing research instead of everyone's incoming

It is even possible that

    (2) demand for the publisher's for-fee version (on-paper and/or
    on-line) will continue unabated or not significantly decreased for
    many years (perhaps forever) after the self-archived version is
    accessible for free. In that case, nothing changes and there is no
    need to make any transition plans. The only thing that will have
    changed is that those researchers who had not been able to access
    all or part of the annual 2M+ before will now be able to do so.

Yes, planning for and agreeing upon a stable transition in the event of
a sudden catastrophic drop in demand, if it ever occurs, is a good
idea, but right now it's not only like counting your chickens before
they're hatched, but like abstaining from egg-laying altogether, or
turning off the incubator, lest the sudden growth in the number of eggs
cause a catastrophic surge in triglycerides. Surely there are more
sensible ways to handle that possibility than remaining anovulatory (on
an undernourished planet).

Let the planning for the possibility of an abrupt, catastrophic decline
in demand be done in parallel, not in advance, and certainly not as an
advance precondition for proceeding vigorously with self-archiving, now
that it is within reach.

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):

You may join the list at the site above.

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

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