Re: Reasons for freeing the primary research literature

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sat, 18 Aug 2001 20:39:46 +0100

On Sat, 18 Aug 2001, Greg Kuperberg wrote:

> David is exactly right that the arXiv is faster and more convenient
> than the journal system.

But Eprint Archives are still only SUPPLEMENTS to peer-reviewed
journals, not SUBSTITUTES for them. Indeed (by definition) the
self-archiving of peer-reviewed research is parasitic on the
peer-reviewing of that research (which is the essential service that is
implemented by journals).

Yes, free online access to the refereed postprint is faster and more
convenient. A fortiori, so is free online access to its earlier
embryological stage, the pre-refereeing preprint.

But to describe this uncontested benefit as a superior alternative to
the "journal system" (rather than to the journal system's method and
timetable for providing access to the refereed text) is to compare
apples and oranges.

> [This advantage] is the main reason that the recent literature
> in many areas of physics and a few areas of mathematics is free.

It is certainly true that it is the great benefits -- in speed and
access, as well as in visibility, uptake and impact -- that have
inspired physicists and mathematicians to be the first disciplines on
the planet to do the optimal and the inevitable, namely, to publicly
self-archive their research, both pre- and post-refereeing online.

Here are the preliminary results of our survey:

> The beautiful citation age graph at
> all but proves it. The citation cycle in high-energy theory is now
> shorter than the time to publication. Therefore formal publication is
> too slow to insert into the cycle; there is no putting it back.

It would be churlish of me to gainsay this. But let us not forget the
"invisible hand" of peer review behind all this -- and that
answerability to that invisible hand is ensured by the journals that
implement peer review (and not the Archives that make the work publicly
accessible, before and after peer review).

> Prestigious researchers have always been the first in the door in
> successful sections of the arXiv.

And an important strategical cue for those who who seek to spread the
practise of self-archiving to other disciplines: It is important that
the leaders in the field prominently lead the way in this regard as

> Surveys of the math arXiv reveal that there are relatively more
> submissions from the Ivy League and other prestigious universities, and
> at the other end that the most prestigious journals are overrepresented
> as venues of publication of math arXiv articles. Harvard University
> has the largest and most expensive library system of any university in
> the United States, possibly of any university in the world. Yet it is
> also the source of 262 articles in the math arXiv as of today, which is
> many multiples of the per university average:

Very valuable statistics -- and yet another line of evidence that the
benefits of freeing the pre- and post-refereeing research literature
online are not restricted to the "Have-Nots": The Harvards benefit on
both ends too: Increased access to the research output of others, and
increased visibility, uptake and impact of their own research output:

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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