Re: Reasons for freeing the primary research literature

From: Jim Till <till_at_UHNRES.UTORONTO.CA>
Date: Fri, 17 Aug 2001 13:21:49 -0400

On Thu, 16 Aug 2001, Arthur Smith wrote [in part]:

[jt (1d)]> - Academic freedom: Censorship based on cost rather than
[jt]> quality can't be justified.

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

My proposed four main reasons why the primary research literature should
be freed were, in brief:

(1a) Information gap; (1b) Library crisis; (1c) Public property; and,
(1d) Academic freedom.

Re (1d): please bear in mind that a definition of the verb "censor" is
"make deletions or changes in".

I can think of a number of researcher-side (and also of end-user-side)
examples of cost barriers to the dissemination of the (high-quality)
primary research literature. Here's one example of such a scenario,
within the context of the "author-give-away" literature. That is, the
author doesn't want to make a profit. The author simply wants to give a
publication away.

Scenario: The top brand-name journal in the field (one that has, as it's
explicitly-stated primary role, the advancement of a particular research
discipline), has peer-reviewed a preprint and finds it acceptable for
publication as it is. But, the journal doesn't have (for reasons of
cost/revenue) an electronic version that's freely available online. And
(again, for reasons of cost/revenue) this same journal won't accept the
preprint for publication if it's already been self-archived by the author.
Also (for the same cost/revenue reasons), it won't permit post-publication
self-archiving in any open archive. And, when asked to do so, it refuses
to modify it's current "licence to publish" agreement, one which forbids
post-publication self-archiving by the author.

And: the author's own peers and host institution regard anything not
published in this particular top brand-name journal as second-rate in
quality (even if, in the view of that same journal's own peer-reviewers,
the preprint is actually first-rate).

What should the author do, in order to avoid this (cost/revenue-based)
dissemination barrier? Some possible options: (i) Thank the journal for
peer-reviewing the preprint, and simply self-archive it in an open
archive, together with a comment that it was considered to be acceptable
for publication by the brand-name journal (how to validate such a claim?).
(ii) Self-archive the preprint, but not inform the brand-name journal
(requires deception). (iii) Withdraw the submitted preprint, and re-submit
it to a lower-impact journal that either has a version that's
freely-available online, or permits open self-archiving of preprints
and/or postprints.

The third alternative (which is the one that I'd personally prefer)
results, I'll argue, in a form of censorship. First, the article has been
deleted from (because it didn't enter into) the "top-quality" brand of
primary research literature, for reasons based on cost/revenue, not
quality. Second, it's dissemination has been significantly delayed, again
simply for reasons of cost/revenue, not quality. Perhaps these particular
consequences won't be regarded as serious enough to justify use of the
word "censorship"? Is there another word that might be more appropriate?
"Blockage"? "Interference"?

> > 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
> problems...

Please note that my "should" reasons preceded my "can" reasons. Problems
that should be solved, and can be solved (I'll argue) merit inclusion in
an "A-level" category, distinct from those problems that: B) should be
solved, but can't, and, C) can be solved, but shouldn't.

Jim Till
University of Toronto
Received on Wed Jan 03 2001 - 19:17:43 GMT

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