Re: Reasons for freeing the primary research literature

From: Arthur Smith <apsmith_at_APS.ORG>
Date: Thu, 16 Aug 2001 17:12:16 -0400

Jim Till wrote:
> But, what about reasons WHY the primary research literature should be
> freed? Here's my first attempt at a summary of some of the main reasons:
> 1. It should be done:
> - Information gap: Libraries and researchers in poor countries can't
> afford most of the journals that they need.
> - Library crisis: Libraries and researchers in rich countries can't
> afford some of the journals that they need.
> - Public property: The results of publicly-funded research should be
> publicly-available.
> - Academic freedom: Censorship based on cost rather than quality
> can't be justified.

A good start. These are likely the problems we should be addressing.
Part of the problem of this forum has been the presentation of a
solution without analysis of whether or not it is in fact addressing
substantive problems that cannot be solved by other, easier, means.

Much of what I've been trying to describe in recent messages is that
self-archiving does not solve your (1b), the library crisis, because it
still relies heavily on the current journal system, which continues to
be able to (and needs to) charge a lot to the libraries. There is no
savings to the journal publishers from author self-archiving, though
there may be some in the long run from more fully electronic processes.
But the quality of some of the things we have been receiving from
authors has actually been going down in recent years, and we at least in
some areas have more work to do, rather than less (even though we
receive much less paper). What Stevan refers to as the "inessential"
aspects of publishing may not be so inessential, though they are also a
lower fraction of the total than he usually accounts for.

The only real solution to (1b) is either Albert Henderson's (more
funding for libraries) or something like the Provost's proposal - a
radically revised form of funding for scientific publication, or else a
complete revamping of peer review itself.

The information gap problem (your 1a) is wonderfully solved by any means
of electronic distribution, assuming the receiving end has the
appropriate connectivity, which seems pretty much universal now. Many
journals have adopted policies of country-wide site licensing, or much
lower subscription rates for third world countries. Things are not free,
but certainly are becoming much more available to the less advantaged.
Author self-archiving helps, but only when it reaches a sufficient
comprehensiveness. Publisher actions to reduce prices in such cases can
make a real difference NOW.

(1c) seems an issue for legislation - if the government wants to do it,
fine. Though there is a good fraction of research that is not publicly
funded, or only partially so. And there are sectors of applied physics
research in the U.S. where the results of publicly funded research are
not only not public, they are classified to various degrees and
explicitly restricted from public distribution. So there's a wide
spectrum of issues involved in this, and I don't see a clear-cut
rationale unless government funding agencies choose to make this more

(1d) I'm afraid I don't understand - can you describe a scenario where
cost is involved in censorship somehow?

> 2. It can be done:
That's debatable (as we've been doing here for some time). But even so,
because something can be done, is that a reason it should be? I thought
you were listing problems to be solved, not solutions in search of

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

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