Re: Self-Archiving Refereed Research vs. Self-Publishing Unrefereed Research

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sun, 12 Aug 2001 18:05:27 +0100

On Fri, 10 Aug 2001, Arthur Smith wrote:

> Actually I think the worst possible case is:
> (5) P. has an article published in a high-level journal. The title and
> abstract make ambiguous claims for a cure; the paper includes
> information on toxicity problems with the drug involved, as required by
> the journal editorial rules from which I'll quote:
> "Rules being drawn up by four of the world's most powerful medical
> journals will make it more difficult for pharmaceutical companies to
> manipulate research data on new drugs. Studies published in these
> journals are extremely influential in persuading doctors of the
> benefits and safety of new drugs. The medical journals will now
> insist on guarantees from the authors that they were given complete
> independence to publish their results, and can personally vouch for
> the integrity of the data."
> continuing case 5: the drug company implies indirectly that for
> continued funding P. should "self-archive" a version that does not
> include the toxicity information.

Arthur, I regret I have to repeat that this strikes me as a small,
nonrepresentative special case for which the remedies (many are
possible) are trivial. It provides no rationale, global or local,
against the self-archiving of all refereed research, now: none

> That's just an example of course - all of these are really an issue of
> who is taking responsibility for the integrity of the information. My
> belief is that it is important that that responsibility be transferred
> as far as it can be, from authors to more stable and identifiable
> entities, so that the end-users of that information have a source for
> whom they have a certain relationship of trust.

There is such an entity, and it is called a peer-reviewed journal,
just as it always was.

We are not talking here about new "entities" assuming new
"responsibilities." We are talking about freeing the peer-reviewed
research from fee-based access barriers online through author

> "Medscape Select" is one
> way to do it - though there it will be important to establish the
> independence and personal integrity of the editor before the outside
> community is likely to make heavy reliance on it.

Medscape Select selects from among articles in refereed journals. It does
not "authenticate" self-archived eprints as having indeed appeared in
the refereed journals, verbatim, as advertised (by the self-archiving
author). We are again conflating apples and oranges here.

> Note also that "context" can be much more than a table of contents in a
> journal. An article in Science will sometimes have preceding editorial
> commentary that may clarify exactly why this article was accepted, and
> with what caveats it should be read. That sort of thing is almost
> inevitably lost in an author self-archived database. Even with just a
> Table of Contents, neighboring articles will often shed other
> conflicting or supporting light on an interesting new discovery.

Are these microscopic quibbles really intended seriously? Were Science
editorials appended to author-mailed on-paper reprints in the Gutenberg
Era? Were we fretting about that then? What proportion of people read
adjacent articles, anyway? And if so, why can't that be done digitally
too (as all articles can be self-archived, and the journal-name and
volume-page tags will pick out adjacent or co-appearing papers if one
wishes)? Not to mention that conscientious authors can always embed
relevant links. And conscientious Editors can self-archive (and link)
editorials that are important to public health...

To repeat, the free self-archived version is a supplement to, not a
substitute for, on-paper/on-line publication in the refereed journal it
appeared in.

I regret that I cannot even pretend to take any of these strained
examples seriously as anything but special pleading in favor of the
status quo, which is to continue to hold refereed research hostage to
access-tolls, under any and every conceivable pretext!

> As I've said before - author self-archives are missing these two
> elements: a transfer of responsibility, and presentation in a particular
> context for which the journal seems to be more appropriate. At least in
> many scholarly fields.

Missing them, and in no need of them. What is needed is the freeing of
all refereed research from online access tolls, immediately.

> > Self-archived eprints can be designed to carry "health warnings" that
> > are as shrill as we like a priori (or, more sensibly, a posteriori,
> > once we get an idea of the size of the bogus paper problem -- if there
> > is any).
> With medicine we are talking about lives that can be lost; I don't think
> a posteriori is good enough if we're seriously hoping that self-archives
> will be an appropriate means of distributing information to the final
> practitioners. And if it ISN'T an appropriate means of distributing the
> information, and the final end-users of the information ignore it in
> favor of traditional distribution of articles through journals, then
> where is the motivation for the authors to self-archive (i.e. if they
> are not reaching any more readers than they otherwise would)?

The motivation for freeing refereed research is the impact of that
research, on research and researchers, and access to that research, for
researchers, and for research. Let us not allow the tail to wag the
dog: If practitioners ignore the self-archived corpus, so what? Then
your health worries are moot, and not just red herrings. And if they do
use it, that's a bonus, but not the main motivation (just as access to
unrefereed preprints is a bonus, but not the main motivation). The main
motivation, to repeat, is to free refereed research online.

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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