The RePEc (Economics) Model

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Wed, 19 Mar 2003 13:44:28 +0000

[Subject header changed from the Cliff Lynch paper to RePEc to reflect
the change in focus.]

On Wed, 19 Mar 2003, Thomas Krichel wrote:

> For self-archiving, abstract understanding [by academics]
> is not sufficient. You need action by academics.
> If you want to have an intermediated
> process (by means of an archive) then it will crucially depend
> on the behaviour of the intermediary, in this case of the archive
> management.

The Repec model is one in which many distributed institutions,
each having archives of multiple economics papers of
their own, have their metadata gathered together and
enriched to provide OAI-like interoperability:
Instead of using the OAI protocol, Repec uses the "Guildford" protocol -- -- but
it has been announced that Repec plans to become OAI-compliant eventually.
(Repec does *not*, as I had wrongly assumed, cover individual websites
too, as ResearchIndex/citeseer
does, only multi-paper institutional archives.)

Repec is accordingly a form of institutional self-archiving, pre-dating
the OAI, but (1) focused on one discipline only (economics), and
(2) not requiring the individual archives to be OAI-compliant (but
Guildford-compliant). It is a very activist project, "a collaborative
effort of over 100 volunteers in 30 countries to enhance the dissemination
of research in economics."

It should be noted at once that if every discipline had its own
institutional Guildford-compliant archives and volunteers, as Economics
has, then I and many others would today be promoting Institutional
Guilford-compliant repositories rather than Institutional OAI-compliant
repositories (and the free software that Southampton designed for creating
OAI-compliant institutional repositories for self-archiving would have
been Guildford-compliant software).

As it happened, it is OAI that prevailed (inspired partly by Guildford
and Repec), with Thomas Krichel as one of its co-founders, and still a
member of the OAI technical committee. What distinguished Repec is hence
not its interoperability protocol (since it plans to become OAI-compliant
anyway) but (a) its activism and (b) its discipline-specificity. If
there were a way to spread Repec's activism from economics to the other
disciplines, it would certainly be very welcome, just as it would be
very welcome if there were a way to spread ArXiv's central-archiving
tendency to the other disciplines.

Unfortunately, no such generalization of either Repec or Arxiv to the
other disciplines has taken place (Repec began in 1997, Arxiv in 1991).
It is for this reason that it is OAI-compliant institutional
self-archiving that I happen to be promoting. And this is at last
showing signs of generalizing
though still not fast enough. It is for that reason that various forms
of activism need to be promoted too, especially institutional activism:

> You have changed your mind twice on what the optimal business
> model is. You will change it again...

I have changed my mind in response to specific empirical changes that
have taken place across the years. (I would hope everyone else has
done so too.) For me, the first major change was the Internet itself,
converting me from conducting most activities on-paper to on-line: I even founded
an online-only journal (1989):

Then came Ann Okerson's suggestion that information should be free,
which I initially dismissed as unrealistic, but then realized that it
could be turned into something that made excellent sense on condition that it
was applied very specifically only to *author give-away* information
(of which the refereed research literature is the main representative),
rather than all information (or even all scholarly information):

That was what then prompted the "subversive proposal" that researchers
should self-archive their give-away research (1994):

At first, FTP sites and Web sites seemed the simplest, fastest and
most direct way for researchers to self-archive, on a distributed,
institutional basis; but then the slow progress in this, and the
success of the physicists' centralized disciplinary model suggested
that centralized, discipline-based self-archiving might be
faster, with the Physics Arxiv itself perhaps subsuming it all
(Thomas Krichel argued against central archiving, and in favor of
distributed archiving at the time, but at that time, pre-OAI, and with
Arxiv looking as if it would scale up, it was not at all clear why
distributed archiving was preferable.)

I even founded a central disciplinary archive modeled on the
Physics Arxiv, (Cogprints, designed by Matt Hemus, 1997 and later
Rob Tansley) with a view to Arxiv's eventually subsuming it:

But central archiving did not catch on (Cogprints has only reached
1500 papers in 2003) or generalize to other disciplines, and Arxiv
itself kept growing at only an unchanged linear rate from year to year:

And then came the OAI protocol in 1999, making distributed self-archiving
equivalent to central (because of interoperability)
which immediately prompted me to ask Rob Tansley to redesign
the Cogprints software to make it OAI-compliant and then turn it
into free generic OAI archive-creating software for institutions

Next came the Budapest Open Access Initiative, uniting the two roads
to open access (BOAI-1: self-archiving; BOAI-2: open-access journals)

And the self-archiving momentum has been growing ever since:

But I am still ready to change my mind if any new developments call
for it. (I hope you are too!) The momentum is still not nearly as great
as it could and should be.

> RePEc does not index arbitrary website, but archive sites.
> They have the same functionality as OAI archives, in fact
> OAI was modeled after RePEc. The whole OAI concept was
> first implemented there.

I think I now understand this. See above. Both Repec's
aggregation of institutional multi-paper archives in economics and
Citeseer/ResearchIndex's harvesting of arbitrary individual websites
in computer science are welcome interim measures for increasing the
visibility and usability of what open-access content already exists
online -- while the institutional OAI-compliant self-archiving momentum
grows. Anything that helps fast-forward us toward universal open-access
to the entire refereed research literature (2,000,000 papers per year,
across all disciplines) is welcome and should be embraced by all who are
open-minded among us, regardless of which open-access route they happen
to favor.

Stevan Harnad
Received on Wed Mar 19 2003 - 13:44:28 GMT

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