Re: The Ultimate Danger of SkyReading/Writing

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 27 Nov 2001 12:41:46 +0000

On Mon, 26 Nov 2001 Albert Henderson <> wrote:

> The confusion comes in the link between the 'freeing' of the
> scientific record and the [1] debasement of libraries, the
> [2] demolition of journals, and the [3] shifting of costs
> from institutions to individuals.

I regret I have nothing to say about debasement and demolition, but I
can definitely say that I have never said anything about shifting
costs from institutions to individuals! I have suggested redirecting a
small portion (10-30%) of INSTITUTIONAL annual windfall savings from
subscription/license cancellations for incoming research to
INSTITUTIONAL annual peer-review costs for outgoing research:

> The confusion comes when 'liberation' as a utopian goal results in
> 'anarchy' with all evils permitted in lawlessness.

I regret I have nothing to say about anarchy and lawlessness...

> Peer review, if any, will operate differently in Harnad's 'sky'
> than it does currently.

That would be odd, as it is the peer-reviewed articles to which online
access is freed by self-archiving them. (Does the act of self-archiving,
one wonders, produce some remarkable transformation in those texts?)

> The freedom of self-archiving informal communications together with
> formal publications will admit any paper from any author without
> consultation of editors and referees.

Admit to what? The sky? But there's plenty of stuff up in the sky
already. There's plenty of room, and users will be just as capable of
reading labels on-line (such as "Journal of ...") as they were on-paper.
(Or does free on-line access produce some remarkable degradation of
these powers of discrimination?)

> Any refereeing of informal communications is done publicly or, more
> usually, not at all.

And your point is...?

(Meanwhile, most self-archived pre-refereeing preprints are also
submitted to journals and undergoing peer review, until the final,
refereed draft is ready to be self-archived with the label "Journal of

> The absence of criticism may leave the impression that errors,
> duplications, omissions, and rhetoric represent the norms of
> research.

Absence of criticism of what? Unrefereed preprints are unrefereed
preprints. Refereed postprints are refereed postprints. Both are up
there, the latter prominently tagged with the journal name. Both will
no doubt elicit some commentary. But what is the point?

> A great deal of research is poorly prepared, as most editors will
> affirm. Self-publishing will sully the record.

Albert, no matter how many times he is reminded that we are talking
about the self-ARCHIVING of refereed research, not about
self-PUBLISHING of unrefereed research, will keep on making this dreary

"1.4. Distinguish self-publishing (vanity press) from self-archiving
(of published, refereed research)"

> Informal interaction will have little value. My impression is that
> most researchers would rather present better supported claims than
> attack someone else's work in print.

Those who wish to restrict their reading and writing to the refereed
literature can and will, even when it is on-line and free (why can't

And as to whether others will choose to interact more (about both
unrefereed and refereed research), why speculate? Why not just look
at the data (e.g.,

"Comments in Journals"

"Open source tool for online peer review commentary"

> Clearly, under Harnad's proposals, the burdens of judgment,
> together with library costs, are shifted from the community to the
> individual.

Vide supra. (Peer review is unchanged, and institutional costs
are largely saved, partly redirected. Nothing is shifted to the
individual except free access to the refereed research.)

> This would be the unfortunate reversal of policy going back to the
> beginning of history -- the policy that has supported libraries as
> the disseminators of free information.

No comment (but it does seem a bit tortured to cast this thinly
disguised defense of journal publishers' revenue streams as
support for libraries and free information...).

> Who has the capacity to plow through all the unrefined
> self-published claims and comments? No one.

And no one needs to. That's what peer review and journal names
are for...

> This, the challenge of dissemination and not the exhaustion of
> ideas (predicted by Holton, Horgan and others), will be the end of
> science.

Albert is sounding more and more apocalyptic. Could it be that he has
finally realized that his blinkered defense of the indefensible is
utterly unavailing?

Stevan Harnad

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 amsci site.

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Received on Tue Nov 27 2001 - 12:41:58 GMT

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