Re: UK Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) review

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 3 Dec 2002 00:20:47 +0000

On Fri, 29 Nov 2002, Linda Humphreys wrote:

> At the University of Bath, academic staff are well aware of
> the costs and barriers to access of traditional journals,
> and I think the same would be true of most similar
> institutions. Budgets for journals have been tight for
> years, and we librarians liaise very closely with academic
> staff over cancellations, and the purchase of electronic
> subscriptions.

Researchers know their libraries have serials budget problems.
But they definitely do not know the causal connection between
access and impact and what can be done about it, otherwise they
would most definitely be doing that something.

On the contrary, your survey confirms how under-informed and
ill-informed researchers really are -- hence how important will be BOAI's
efforts to inform them about the benefits of open access, the means of
attaining them, and the costs of not attaining them.

> We carried out a survey earlier this year of academic staff
> views of e-prints. Only 74 replied - perhaps that is par
> for the course, or perhaps it backs up Jan's assertion that
> they are largely ignorant of open access/e-print issues?

I would say that 74 responses from all of the University of Bath
is evidence that researchers don't know what is at issue (nor why
they should be filling out surveys about it!).

(Here's another survey: ).

> The majority of replies were from scientists. You might be
> interested in a few results?
> Out of the 74 respondents:
> - 11 had posted articles on personal or departmental web
> pages
> - 3 had posted to an e-print server
> - 11 had used an e-print server for research and/or teaching

It would be interesting to do the test in reverse. For example, found 53 computer science papers
on the Web from University of Bath...

> They appeared to be generally well-informed of the problems
> surrounding self-archiving:
> - 62 expressed concern that if they posted a pre-print they
> would not be able to get the work published in their chosen
> journal

Well-informed? But the above is precisely the uninformed concern
that most researchers have been reflexively voicing without even having
thought about it, let alone having sought the actual data, for at least
a decade now:

> - 60 said that copyright issues would be an important
> factor in any decision not to self-archive post-prints

Again, in weighing whether this is evidence of being well-informed or
ill-informed, it might be a good idea that the above two worries have
been voiced uninterruptedly for more than 10 years -- often enough to
have made their way into the self-archiving FAQ -- but with no sign
of those who expressed the worry having any awareness of the replies
to the worry, or to the fact that things have been changing, rapidly,
across the years:

> - 59 were concerned about quality and peer review issues

I regret that these surveys of uninformed opinion lead only to the blind
leading the blind!

> - 60 were concerned about plagiarism

Another popular item on the longstanding worry list (there are
at least 23 more!):

> There seem to be several issues surrounding quality and
> peer review, including the common misconception about
> self-archiving being an alternative to self-publishing,

Indeed. But is the fact that so many of those who were surveyed
give evidence of subscribing to this common misconception again
evidence that they are well-informed?

Is it not rather evidence of the fact that despite all that has been
said and written by those who are somewhat better informed about
such matters, an open-access information campaign still has its
work cut out for it, and might be the one thing we need most right
now, if open access is to be ushered in while we are still compos
mentis and in a position to benefit from it?

> and impact factors (which have been discussed at length on this
> list).

That is the most ironic symptom of well-informedness of all! For
maximizing research impact is precisely what open access is about.
Yet the usual self-archiving/self-publishing conflation allows these
respondents to keep believing that open access means giving up
publishing in their high impact-factor journals -- rather than what
it really means: keeping their (high-impact-journal) cake and eating it too
(by topping up that impact with perhaps an order of magnitude more
from opening access to the very same article).

> Also, a number of staff have commented that they
> would not wish to include their work in an archive which
> contained non-refereed material (pre-prints), the
> perception being that any inclusion of poor-quality papers
> reflects badly on the whole Institution.

Ah me! Perhaps they don't want to put their published articles on the
same institutional desks as their unpublished drafts either, because
that might undermine their credibility too!

It is a fact that researchers must be much more cautious in using
research that has not yet been peer reviewed. But that is precisely
what the journal name, reputation and peer review is for! To clearly
tag what has and what has not been peer-reviewed. What would bring
shame on an institution would be false tagging. But admitting that the
pre-peer-review draft always precedes the peer-reviewed one (and may even
sometimes be useful for research progress!) is hardly a value judgment
on an institution one way or the other. (It's just the usual conflation
of self-archiving with self-publishing!)

> The concerns about plagiarism baffle me somewhat -

Enough to be construed, perhaps, as evidence for ill-informedness rather
than well-informedness?

> presumably it is just as easy to plagiarise an electronic
> article on a toll-access publisher site as an e-print!

But at least that restricts the risk to plagiarizers whose institutions
can afford the access-tolls...

> I wonder if this is really about who will protect the
> author's rights in the event of plagiarism from a pre-print
> on an e-print server?

See the plagiarism FAQ above, as well as the priority FAQ:

This is also an example of the conflation of the two independent
functions of copyright -- protection for theft-of-text (which give-away
authors don't want) versus protection from theft-of-text-authorship
(which all authors want, and for which dated public evidence of having
first placed the work in the public eye, with a copyright notice, is
a much more useful asset than restricting access to it to those whose
institutions can afford the tolls!).

(By the way, your publisher will go after someone who tries to sell
copies of your copyrighted text, but not after someone who merely claims
to have written it, or (in his own words) to have done the research and
made the findings himself.)

> Regarding copyright, I was interested to note the Springer
> Verlag copyright transfer form, which begins:
> "The copyright to the contribution identified above is
> transferred to Springer-Verlag ..(for U.S. government
> employees: to the extent transferable)."
> Presumably the U.S. government is retaining at
> least some degree of copyright in work which is funded by
> the taxpayer - does anyone have more information about
> that? Is anyone (JISC? SCONUL?) lobbying the British
> government and/or Universities to do likewise?

Alas, this is all also very, very old hat! Yes, government employees
have long been exempt from signing copyright transfer agreements, but
that's neither here nor there...

And there's no need to worry about copyright at all. That is *not" the
problem. The problem is informing the researchers about the cause-effect
connection between access and impact, and what can be done to maximize
it, and how.

Stevan Harnad
Received on Tue Dec 03 2002 - 00:20:47 GMT

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