Re: Reasons for freeing the primary research literature

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Fri, 17 Aug 2001 18:14:00 +0100

On Thu, 16 Aug 2001, Albert Henderson wrote:

> Instead of scientific studies to support
> the misnamed "self-archiving" argument, we are abused
> with the rhetoric and nonsense such as attempts to
> justify the phrase "virtually all" while citing a
> source that provides the statistic "36.87%."

I patiently repeat that the "virtually all" refers to the proportion of
self-archived preprints in the Physics Archive that are submitted to
refereed journals. The respective acceptance rates of those journals
are a separate (and completely irrelevant!) matter.

The 36% referred to the number of authors that updated their reference
at that time: this is another irrelevant statistic (for Albert's
purposes), about which the author, Tim Brody, has already posted a
response to this Forum.

> Support for "self-archiving" is made more foolish by
> the fact that, as even its most ardent supports in this
> forum have pointed out, authors are notoriously difficult
> to regulate. Whatever is made public outside peer-reviewed
> journals cannot be trusted as a general rule. Moreover,
> no one can guarantee that charlatans will not insert
> counterfeit claims of research to support their private
> commercial interests.

Albert predictably keeps speaking of self-archiving as if it were the
self-archiving of unrefereed research, whereas this is all about the
self-archiving of refereed (= peer-reviewed), published papers. The
pre-refereeing preprints are merely a bonus, over and above the
refereed postprints.

I think it would be useful if Albert reviewed the logic of
conditional probabilities: From the fact that many papers are first
self-archived at their pre-refereeing preprint stage (in Physics)
it does not follow that the later (refereed) stage (1) does not take
place or (2) is not self-archived!

Please note:

    (1) It is indeed true that virtually every preprint in the Physics
    Archive goes on to be submitted to a refereed journal (exactly as I

    (2) The proportion of those submitted papers that is eventually
    accepted by a given journal no doubt matches the acceptance rate of
    that particular journal -- rates vary from about 20% to 80%).

    (3) Rejected papers are then presumably submitted to other refereed
    journals, with lower refereeing standards and higher acceptance

    (4) In biomedicine in the 1980's, Stephen Locke reported that
    virtually every paper eventually gets published somewhere. (I don't
    know how true this was then, nor whether it is still true now, nor
    whether it is also true of physics, but again, that is irrelevant.)

    Harnad, S. (1986) Policing the Paper Chase. (Review of S. Lock, A
    difficult balance: Peer review in biomedical publication.) Nature
    322: 24 - 5.

    (5) The right conditional probability to look at is: What is the
    probability that a published, refereed paper in one of the subareas
    of Physics that is doing substantial self-archiving in the Physics
    Archive (e.g., High Energy Physics) appears in the Archive. And the
    answer there is: very high!

    (6) THAT (5) is the relevant statistic to consider in evaluating
    the causal inferences Albert is trying to make. It will be found
    that there is no logical basis whatsoever for Albert's conclusions.

And if that is not enough to show that we are talking about the
self-archiving of peer-reviewed, published research (and not some other
"unregulated" gray matter, as Albert keeps implying) then look at
CogPrints most of whose authors archive
ONLY the published draft, and don't even bother with the preprint.

The "regulation" of "charlatans" in the "gray matter" (the subset that
is never submitted to or accepted by a peer-reviewed journal) is merely
a red herring and a distraction from the substantive matter at hand.

Ignore the unrefereed sector, if you like. Focus on the refereed
papers, because that what this is all about!

> Thus, the self-archiving movement not only promises
> to eliminate considerable library spending. It promises
> a sort of chaos that will undermine peer review and
> authorship.

Utter nonsense. How can the self-archiving of peer-reviewed research by
the authors of that research undermine either peer review or
authorship? All it does is to free it from access-tolls online!

(And if that should happen to save libraries some spending money, is
that something to grieve about?)

> It will slow scientific progress and justify
> perpetual renewals of grants for promising research.

A complete non sequitur, like much of the rest... I pass over the
still shriller and increasingly far-fetched rants in silence.

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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