Re: Financial Times Article on Self-Archiving: 23 July 2001

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Wed, 1 Aug 2001 13:25:41 +0100

On Tue, 31 Jul 2001, George Lundberg wrote:

> Question to Stevan regarding the expected actual functioning of the
> scientific literature in your "self-archiving world".
> i know from long editorial experience, as i am sure you do also,
> that the majority of papers in the biomedical sciences submitted to the
> journals of the authors' first choice are rejected for a wide variety of
> reasons. No one knows how many of the rejected manuscripts are ultimately
> published in some form in "lesser" journals and how many simply never are
> published anywhere. And those that are published in either the journal of
> first choice or some later choice have almost always been altered
> substantially by the peer review process, revision, and editing.
> Thus, in your world of self-archiving, how is the reader of a
> self-archived article(or for that matter a "regularly published" article) to
> know whether that article has or has not been published(archived) somewhere
> and where and when, and what differences there are(or are not) between the
> self-archived article and the one in some journal? In your proposed
> system, whose job is it to note to all readers of each version of an article
> what is different or the same. And for those papers that never get formally
> published by some recognized journal for whatever reason, such as faulty
> methodology, author tedium, conclusions not justified by the data,
> fabrication, plagiarism, redundancy, or whatever, how would the reader of
> the self-archived article be informed of that fact of "non-publication for
> cause"?

To begin with, the Eprint Archives will only have the following
functions. There are obviously more possibilities, but I will not
speculate about them now:

(1) Drafts will only be those that are self-archived by their authors.

(2) It will be only the author, not some other authority, who implies
that the draft is what it states it is (e.g., an unrefereed preprint, a
refereed postprint, or a revised update).

(3) It will be possible for the author to archive successive drafts
and updates, with tags and comments specifying what they are (unrefereed
preprint, revised preprint, published final draft, postpublication
revision). The Archive automatically provides the latest draft, and
links to prior drafts. An archived prior draft will also forward-link
to the latest draft. See:

(4) No guarantee will be given (nor is one needed, for now) regarding
whether the author is telling the truth, or being conscientious, in
tagging his archived drafts. That is not the function of self-archiving
in OAI-compliant Eprint Archives. The function is to provide free
access to all refereed research online. (As a bonus, there is also free
access to unrefereed research.)

(5) For authentication and the guaranteed authoritative version (of
refereed publications), the refereed journal's proprietary version
remains the locus classicus. It is a misunderstanding of the objectives
of freeing the refereed literature online through self-archiving to
suppose that the archive is meant to provide the essential functions of
the refereed journal (quality-control, certification). The archive
merely provides a free author-supplied online eprint for any would-be

(6) Nor is it the archive's function to indicate that a paper has not
been accepted by journals, or to say why. That seems to me to be
privileged information that the author may or may not wish to

> In my opinion, for noone to inform the reader of known material
> differences or recognized flaws between versions would be outrageous
> scientific misconduct, and very likely litigatable liability if harm
> resulted from this failure to inform. And to set up a system that would
> inform the reader regularly and in a timely and trustworthy manner of the
> status of the various publication processes at work in parallel and attempt
> to draw interpretive understanding from likely divergence of substance
> between competing versions of the same manuscript would be a compliance
> nightmare, would require audit oversight by some authority(?some "world
> scientific literature truth czar") and beastly expensive(who would pay?).

I cannot follow any of this. It seems to me based on a conflation
between publication (quality control and certification) and the
author's distribution of his own work (be it published or
unpublished). We are not talking here about publishing (or
self-publishing) but about online repositories for self-archiving
published and unpublished work.

> There are many real barriers betwixt a concept intended to make
> right a wrong (no matter how intriguing) and successful implementation in
> the public interest.

Please see the list of Zeno's FAQs. The worries you raise are all based
on misunderstanding the function of self-archiving.

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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