Re: The True Cost of the Essentials (Implementing Peer Review)

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sat, 30 Mar 2002 02:12:49 +0100

> On Fri, 29 Mar 2002, Mark Doyle wrote:
>sh> I agree that it is becoming more and more apparent that off-loading
>sh> the XML mark-up to authors is the optimal solution, and will no doubt
>sh> happen, as user-friendly, windows-based XML markup tools are designed
>sh> and adopted.
> But who is working on them? It is a serious question.

I don't know. But I am sure of this: The number of people working on
developing XML authoring tools and the intensity of their work will
increase directly with the increase in self-archived content that is
openly accessible, and especially if/when that starts to affect journal
revenues. That is the direction of the causal arrow, not the
reverse (i.e., sit and wait for XML tools before archiving!).

>sh> But let us not get the causal sequence or timing mixed up because of
>sh> this. There is no immediate "problem" for which that "solution" must
>sh> first be found!
> The problem is that many smaller alternative journals or pure
> self-archiving solutions don't even address or acknowledge that a true
> electronic archive is technically sophisticated and currently
> labor-intensive to produce.

Self-archiving need not address it at all. Alternative journals (and
established ones) will have to address it eventually, but they are not
likely to do it until necessity pressures them to be inventive. The
pressure of that necessity will come from self-archiving and the open
access alternative it makes available.

> PDF files are not a true electronic archive. If literature is diverted
> from publishers who are building true archives, this is a loss to the
> community.

Self-archiving does not DIVERT literature from publishers, it DUPLICATES
it -- and makes the duplicate version open-access.

> If comparisons are made between what publishers charge and what
> low-cost archives do without explicitly examining all things that
> publishers do, then the comparisons are unfair and dangerous.

I agree completely, and I never make such comparisons (I am too busy, like
you, pointing out how misleading and irrelevant they are!). But not
because of the cost of "true" archives versus those of "home brew," but
because of the omitted cost of peer review.

> Of course not all publishers are cost effective and not all publishers
> create the same level of electronic archives. However, a real analysis
> of the costs is needed.

By all means, let us analyze; but meanwhile, even more important, let us
self-archive, and open up the access.

> My point is that $30/articles is extremely low and it doesn't represent
> a fair comparison. It gives the perception that even well-intentioned,
> not-for-profit publishers are abusing the system.

I am not sure what the true cost of true archiving is, but I am sure that
$30/article is an irrelevant figure if it is put forward by way of
contrast with what publishers are paid per article ($2000). There is the
$500 peer review cost to reckon too.

> This I think is the root of why the ALPSP response and the response
> from many society publishers hasn't been enthusiastic about the BOAI.
> We understand that there are deeper things involved than just making
> the content available for the here and now.

I would respond negatively to BOAI too if my current modus operandi and
cost-recovery system were put at risk. But it is not BOAI that has put
those at risk. It is the reality of the online age. Journal publishers'
current modera operandi, products, costs, and means of cost-recovery are
dependent completely on access-tolls, exactly as in the paper era. Yet,
unlike most of the literature, this special literature (peer-reviewed
research) is and always has been an author give-away. The online era has
at last made it possible for authors to bypass the access-tolls and truly
give away what they have always wanted to give away.

This is clearly not journal publishers' objective (why should it be?). So
authors have to take matters into their own hands. And this will not make
publishers happy, but it has to be. It is open access, hence what is
optimal for research itself, that is at stake.

Society publishers will adapt to the new reality, as they feel its direct
pressures. But they cannot be allowed to hold it at arm's length in order
to preserve the impossible status quo any longer.

I have answered ideologically. But your point was that ALPSP and others
have not been "enthusiastic" about BOAI: Why would they be? BOAI is
hastening a hard transitional time for them, a transition that is both
inevitable and optimal, but undeniably a hardship for publishers.

It cannot be held at bay, however, by dramatizing the complexities of
"true" archiving -- an online function, by the way, that journal publishers
themselves are still relatively new to too. Archiving is evolving, and
will continue to do so, especially under pressure from the new demands
of open access.

>sh> Priority #1, by far, is opening access to this (peer-reviewed)
>sh> literature right now (yesterday!). There is absolutely no excuse for
>sh> blocking its access or impact for a microsecond longer.
> Of course we are in agreement that authors should self-archive their work
> in a way that makes it available to as wide an audience as possible.

But that is the only issue (otherwise known as "open access")!

> But we aren't in agreement when you say things like (from "Re: BBC News
> SCI-TECH Boost for research paper access"):
>sh> But which costs? The $500 for peer-review is uncontested. But it is the
>sh> only remaining essential cost in the era of online institutional
>sh> research archiving.
> These archives don't yet exist at the same level as that of most
> publishers (whether it is the APS or Elsevier). Name one free long term
> archive that has adequately addressed this issue and for which the
> costs of preparing the archive are not laundered by a publisher. (Hint:
> isn't one and neither is PubMedCentral). Anything that is a
> PDF/TeX/Word repository isn't one either. Name a university that takes
> on the responsibility for translating their author's output to a
> uniform, well designed marked up archive (this essentially means XML
> these days).

I need not name any such archive, because self-archiving is, for the time
being, a SUPPLEMENT TO and not a SUBSTITUTE FOR journal publishing.
Journals continue to implement peer review, to produce the paper "archive,"
to learn more about "true" (online) archiving, and to be paid for it
(through access tolls). As long as that is the case, the institutional and
central Eprint Archives for self-archiving need not concern themselves
overly with XML and mark-up. Their main concern is and should be CONTENT:
Getting as much of it in there as possible, as soon as possible.

If and when that content itself produces a sea-change that starts to
affect the revenues of journal publishers, then downsizing to the
essentials (including as much of mark-up as indeed is essential) will
begin in earnest.

And when I said "only remaining essential cost in the era of online
institutional research archiving" I of course meant the only essential
PUBLISHER cost. Online archiving costs will no longer be publisher costs
in the open-access era; they will be distributed institutional archiving
costs. (Online archiving has only lately become a publisher function at
all!) The same is true of markup. It will be "distributed" by being
offloaded onto authors. The tools for this, and the will and the way to do
it, will come when they are needed. They are not needed yet. The sooner the
open-access content grows, the sooner the need will begin to make itself

>sh> Meanwhile, however, journals continue as before, selling their paper
>sh> versions and their markup, and their online page-images, etc. It is
>sh> most definitely not a PRECONDITION for freeing access to this entire
>sh> literature, right now, that authors should first be able to provide
>sh> XML-marked-up drafts!

> Yes, but it is a precondition for moving to pure self-archiving and
> alternative journals to replace current publisher archives as advocated
> in the BOAI and similar places.

Nothing of the sort. The BOAI advocates open access. The means to achieve
that are two: BOAI Strategy 1 is self-archiving and BOAI Strategy 2 is
alternative-journals. The two strategies are linked. (I happen to think
Strategy 1 needs to precede Strategy 2, the latter being an end-game, when
open access from self-archiving has paved the way, but there are others in
BOAI who feel that Strategy 2 can contribute to hastening the transition
to open access earlier on too.)

But it is incorrect to speak of "replacing" publisher archives. The
direct goal is to open access to this entire literature, either by
self-archiving an open-access version in the author's institutional
Eprint archive, or by publishing it directly in an open-access journal.
If the eventual result is that the publisher's current archive is
replaced, that will be an effect rather than a cause, and it will
happen late in the game.

> You can't throw the baby out with the
> bath water. If publishers are the only ones focused on creating a true
> long term archive but their way of paying for it is undermined before a
> new economic model is in place, then there will be a loss to the
> community. My main point is that alternative journals are easy to
> start, but that they need to do things beyond peer review and
> delivering PDFs.

Mark, alas you are (ex officio) falling into the same ambivalent talk
as ALPSP's Sally Morris's. You say above (and I know you mean it) that
"of course we are in agreement that authors should self-archive their
work" -- but then you seem to imply that this thing that they SHOULD do is
"undermining" something. (What? And if it is undermining it, should they
or shouldn't they do it?)

The logic is no different with alternative-journals: In that case, instead
of taking the choice of self-archiving their established-journal papers,
authors choose to publish in open-access journals. Are these authors
undermining something in so doing? Are their journals undermining
something? (What?)

I agree, by the way, that "alternative journals are easy to start, but
that they need to do things beyond peer review and delivering PDFs."
(Especially not PDFs!)

>sh> On the contrary: It will be the availability of this whole literature
>sh> online and free that will DRIVE the downsizing of publication to the
>sh> essentials, the development of authoring tools, and the upgrading of
>sh> the author-version, as the need for that arises. The ONLY need right
>sh> now is to free this literature; and an author-supplied peer-reviewed
>sh> final draft is sufficient to do that.
> I don't agree simply for the reason that authoring tools and rich XML
> repositories aren't explicitly valued by current researchers because
> they only think in terms of delivering or receiving a PDF or HTML file.

That's fine. They needn't be, yet. Remember, the goal is OPEN ACCESS
(for the contents of all 2 million annual articles in all 20,000
peer-reviewed journals). Authors need not worry about XML until they
need to, and they won't need to until journals start feeling downsizing
pressure. And journals certainly won't put downsizing pressure on
themselves! That will come from self-archiving, or competition from
alternative journals.

> However, derived benefits are valued now in terms of the searching and
> linking that researchers crave in online journals.

They will get the searching and linking they crave with the open-access
archives too, don't you worry:

Besides, I rather think that it is open-access itself that they crave most
of all -- and if they don't realize it yet, BOAI will certainly work hard
to open their eyes to it at last, by making crystal-clear the causal
connection between research access and research impact:

> Why should the
> evolution of the system be a path that first goes to bare bones
> throwing away things that we know are important rather than building a
> new system in a way that has all of the essentials in which the
> economic model recognizes the unappreciated costs in the current
> system?

Because there is no earthly reason why open access should wait any longer
than it already has.

>sh> Please let us not needlessly mix, complicate, or hamstring agendas, at
>sh> the risk of delaying this overdue benefit for research and researchers
>sh> any longer.
> It isn't needless. It should be part of the debate. There should be an
> effort to provide for authors a way to truly archive their material and
> it should be an explicit part of understanding the cost in moving to a
> new way of doing things.

Should we wait and debate, or should we self-archive (as you yourself
suggested we should do)...?

>sh> Publisher practices, as well as author tools and author practices will
>sh> evolve to adapt to the reality of open access.
> What, after they realize they are missing some key feature such as robust
> reference linking? Why not get it right to begin with?

I'm not sure what "robust" reference linking is, but I do know that there
are some pretty energetic efforts afoot in the sphere of reference linking
among nascent OAI service providers (see above).

But are you really suggesting that open access should just keep waiting
and waiting, just in case?

>sh> Open access need not
>sh> wait for anything at all at this point. Those who have already
>sh> self-archived have not waited, and there is no need for the rest of us
>sh> to wait either.
> Again, there is nothing wrong with self-archiving to increase the access
> and distribution, and it should be done by all now. However, this
> isn't the end all and there should be a broader discussion of what the
> correct end point we are working towards is. It is not just free access
> to article content.

I have no problem with continuing the discussion of the end point while
we work to make sure that self-archiving "should be done by all now"!

The trouble is when there is discussion instead of self-archiving!

>sh> Perhaps under BOAI Strategy 2 (creating and converting to open-access
>sh> journals) promoting the development of XML authoring tools would be a
>sh> money well spent. But let us not make that a brake on Strategy 1
>sh> (author/institution self-archiving, NOW), for it is not. Strategy 1 need
>sh> not and should not wait for XML authoring tools.

> We are in agreement that authors should avail themselves of the
> opportunity to self-archive now. But it is apparent that strategies 1
> and 2 will lead to different, inequivalent, end points and my concern
> is that strategy 1 is being promoted as just as good as strategy 2 for
> the long term end point.

Not at all! And certainly not by me! See:

"The transition scenario"

"4.1 Enough to free entire refereed corpus, forever, immediately"

"4.2 Hypothetical Sequel"

>sh>> [S.H.: What about the cost of implementing peer review?]
> >>
>md> The archiving cost is just as, if not more, important than the peer
>md> review cost and the fact that is it usually missing from your
>md> discussions is a major weakness. I don't think the $30/article number
>md> is generalizable to all fields of scholarly communication.
> >
>sh> I am afraid I have to disagree rather strongly here. Not only is it not
>sh> the case that markup (and its costs) is more important than peer review
>sh> (and its costs) -- what an idea!

> Peer review is a layer built upon archiving. What good is a peer review
> label if it doesn't lead to something locatable, readable, and
> persistent?

What good is a peer review label if it doesn't lead to something

> Clearly succeeds not because it provides peer
> review, but because it provides excellent short and medium term access
> to the literature.

Short and medium term? And do you think that people are preferring
toll-based access in the long term?

Archives provide open access; journals provide peer review. And the
mark-up load will be sorted out after we have open access, not before.

>sh> -- but by the time markup becomes a
>sh> salient factor at all (which will be when the literature has been freed
>sh> by self-archiving and publishers are ready to downsize to the
>sh> essentials), necessity will be the mother of invention, and the
>sh> requisite XML authoring tools will be developed.
> Markup is already a salient factor. It is why online journals provided
> by publishers have many more features than

If there are deluxe features to be sold, let them be sold as
separates, alongside open access to the self-archived peer-reviewed
draft, as long as there remains a market for them.

> I emphasis its
> importance because recognizing this fact is important for figuring out
> how to transition existing subscription based journals to an open
> access model without undoing a lot of what we provide. In 1995
> had fair claim to saying that it provided the same (or
> better) functionality than what publishers were providing.
> It can no longer do that. However, with real markup underlying,
> all of the features present in publishers' journals would be trivial to
> implement and this would further hasten the transformation.

I agree.

>sh> There is no problem of principle there, just one of practice, and the
>sh> current absence of demand for author XML, within the current status quo
>sh> (why should there be a demand?):
> Why shouldn't the linking and searching within be as extensive
> as that in publishers' electronic journals?

I quite agree, and we are working on it:

But meanwhile, rather than suggesting that users whose institutions cannot
afford the access tolls should eat cake, BOAI is advocating open access!

>sh> But that is exactly the status quo
>sh> that the author/institution self-archiving is meant to alter,
>sh> demonstrating the huge utility of the free peer-reviewed drafts, even
>sh> without proper mark-up.
> Only to the point of access to the basic content. Not to linking,
> searching, or being able to reformat it 20 years from now for some new media.

Linking's on the way (see above), but even without it, open access now
is infinitely better than the alternative, for those who cannot access
it otherwise. (Do you really believe there are any unsolvable preservation
problems around the corner?)

>sh> If freeing access diminishes subscription revenue, it means that this
>sh> vanilla peer reviewed version has considerable market value; if it
>sh> doesn't diminish subscription revenue, we don't need to worry about any
>sh> of this, and author XML markup can take its time coming as long as it
>sh> wishes.
> No, this is flawed. One hears increasingly about how major publisher
> platforms that cost libraries enormous amounts of money are extremely
> heavily used by end users because of the rich feature sets offered. You
> will not free up this money to pay for new models or get authors to
> move to alternative journals unless you can duplicate or compete
> against these kinds of services. Yes, people will be able to read the
> articles, but you are still giving large publishers a lock on the
> marketplace. By not looking at how to increase the features offered in
> something like or how to help smaller publishers transform to
> new economic models, you will extend the length of time needed undo the
> lock.

I don't disagree. (In fact, the issues seem to have gotten a bit out of
focus, since we agree on self-archiving.) I don't know about large or
small publishers; the goal is open access to refereed full text, now,
for all 2 million annual articles in all 20,000 refereed journals. The
BOAI should favor whatever vouchsafes that. Deluxe extras and large vs.
small publishers are side-issues.

>sh> So much for BOAI Strategy 1. Obviously BOAI Strategy 2 (open-access
>sh> startups and conversions) will want to minimize costs, and one of the
>sh> ways will be to offload XML markup on authors, and hence XML authoring
>sh> tools would be very handy to have. So by all means let us develop them.
>sh> But let us not mix up these two BOAI Strategies and their causal
>sh> interaction, describing as "a major mistake" the "wholesale replacement
>sh> of the current system [by] one based on self- or institutional- or
>sh> subject-based archiving without tackling the underlying technical
>sh> issues related to long term archiving."
>sh> No one is proposing "wholesale replacement of the current system" by
>sh> self-archiving! (And not primarily because of markup, but because of
>sh> peer review!) An agenda like that would be incoherent, like proposing
>sh> to replace all driving by hitch-hiking!
> OK, perhaps I was being too telegraphic. Perhaps I misunderstand your
> view of the transition. Currently a publisher (peer review entity) like
> the APS does several different tasks: Peer review, digital archiving,
> distribution of article content, and provision of services based on
> content. My understanding is that what is being advocated is that we
> just focus on peer review and let the rest take care of itself, that
> peer review would be a layer on top of some institutional/self/subject
> archives.

No. Let's not mix means and ends. The means are BOAI Strategy 1
(self-archiving) and/or BOAI Strategy 2 (alternative-journals). The end is
open access. There are 2 million annual articles in 20,000 annual
journals. The "focus" is on making those openly accessible to one and all
online. The means are the 2 strategies. The "layers" are just theory. And
the fact that the peer review is essential, and will remain so, is a

For the details of one (hypothetical) transition scenario to a stable
endstate, see the links above. But let's not mix facts and immediacies
with conjectures and eventualities.

> My assertions are 1) digital archiving is an extremely
> important aspect of what publishers currently do, often left out of the
> discussion,

It is irrelevant to the issue at hand, which is open access.

> 2) peer review is tied to some kind of an archive, whether
> it is external or internal to the peer review entity,

Peer review is accorded to a document and often involves revisions. The
accepted final draft is the certified output of that process. That is
the draft to which BOAI seeks to open access at last, online. The rest
is (hypothetical) implementational detail.

> 3) that researchers rely now on services built on top of current proper
> electronic archives. This leads me to conclude that peer review cannot
> simply transition to being a layer upon an external archive until the
> external archive is of the same quality as our internal archive.

Perhaps. But the transition being proposed is open access, not the
implementational (and speculative) details we are discussing now.

> Given that both the peer review and archive components are somewhat costly, a
> new economic model must take both into account so that existing
> journals can become free. Any alternative journals have to face the
> same issues or not offer the same benefits to researchers.

No doubt. What is uncertain yet is what features (over and above peer
review) will prove essential, and how costly, if and when a new economic
model prevails.

>sh> Self-archiving is a means to an end, and that end is open access, now!
>sh> As the "system" adjusts to open access, many things may happen. The
>sh> demand for the old products might continue, and continue to pay the
>sh> bills, in which case no further adjustment will be necessary, apart from
>sh> the normal drive to minimize costs. But if the old demand flags because
>sh> of open access, then cost-cutting will become more urgent, and the
>sh> transition, which I think is likely, to author-institution-end payment
>sh> for peer review as well author-end mark-up, will take place in
>sh> earnest.
> My objection is based on the "serialization" you are imposing. The way
> you phrase it here advocates the fastest possible path to
> self-archiving and then seeing what comes of it.

And I thought we were agreed about that...

> You predict that
> author markup will be discovered to be important after all and then
> there will be another transition (perhaps now without publishers) in
> which the repositories are enhanced to bring them up to the level of
> what is part of electronic journals today. What I would like to see is
> that this occur in parallel with institutions and others who take on
> the tasks of building the infrastructure also look deeper and tackle
> all issues at the same time. The sooner work is started on
> addressing the complete problem, then the sooner the final transition
> can take place.

I have no problem with this, as long as it occurs in parallel with
opening access to the full 20,000, rather than continuing to be taken as
one of the many nonproblems to be solved beforehand!

> Also, by being explicit about what is important, one
> can create a sound basis for a new model in which current publishers
> can go through a safe transition to open access. But if peer review is
> the only focus for the first step of some staged transition, then it
> will be much harder, if not impossible, for a publisher like the APS to
> continue to do what we think is important for the long term viability
> of the literature we review.

The trouble with insisting on any other essential than peer review in
advance is that it is completely unclear what the further essentials are,
and how much they cost (and how we could even know in advance that they
were essential). Downsizing pressure will be a better arbiter than
pre-emptive bets, heavily influenced as they are likely to be by the
status quo.

>sh> But right now, it is just another excuse for lingering longer in the
>sh> status quo.
> Not at all. The focus needs to be broadened so that the status quo
> can change without imperiling the benefits of the status quo.

I am inclined to agree, cautiously. When I hear such suggestions from
other publishers, I have an immediate sense (and it is usually right) that
it is just a ploy to filibuster immediate open access via self-archiving.
But in the case of the APS I know this is not the case. So I am inclined
to ask: In what way are BOAI Strategy 1 or 2 imperiling the benefits of
the status quo?

>sh> Now I know this is not what Mark means to encourage, so I am unwrapping
>sh> these causal and temporal factors here simply to make it more
>sh> transparent here that he is inadvertently mixing apples with oranges.
> Thanks, but that mischaracterizes what I am I saying. The apples and
> oranges are linked together (they always have been - we printed (and
> thus archived) what was peer reviewed in the past and now we
> electronically publish and archive what we peer review).

Not quite. In the paper era, serials published and libraries archived...
Publisher "self-archiving" is quite new (certainly nowhere near even
the 20-year mark mentioned earlier). So if this is not exactly a case of
the blind leading the blind, it is certainly all of us fumbling with new
digital challenges...

> Yes, the
> economics have changed because raw dissemination as demonstrated by
> is so low, and thus it should be possible to separate them
> further, but they will still remain linked. Both are important to the
> long term health of the scholarly literature. Without care, you are
> going to end up with a basket of apples and a craving for orange
> juice.

What I have in the forefront of my mind right now are those to whom
access to any fruit at all is forbidden by access-tolls their
institutions cannot afford to pay.

> Mark Doyle
> Manager, Product Development
> The American Physical Society

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):
Discussion can be posted to:

See also the Budapest Open Access Initiative:
Received on Sat Mar 30 2002 - 02:14:50 GMT

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