Re: Eprint versions and removals

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sat, 7 Jun 2003 02:28:17 +0100

On Fri, 6 Jun 2003, David Goodman wrote:

> Steven, I find your position inconsistent.
> You cannot say both that
> sh> an archive is meant to be permanent.
> and
> sh> the author should have the right to remove a text if he wishes

The position is not inconsistent, it is flexible, and realistic. Your
apparent readiness to declare the (near-empty) archives' contents
unremovable by their own (near-paralyzed) authors -- even though it has
been pointed out repeatedly that these versions are merely supplements
to the (untouchable) canonical versions (the *published* versions) and
not substitutes for them -- is exactly on a par with the readiness of
others to declare to the (near-paralyzed) authors timidly contemplating
self-archiving in the (near-empty) archives that it would be imprudent
to do so until/unless the "preservation problem" is solved! (And the
PDF-conversion problem too, while we're at it!)

But if you re-read what I said, you will see that I recognise
both sides -- both the value of keeping all stages of the scholarly
record intact tomorrow and the value of not deterring but encouraging
scholars to make those stages accessible through self-archiving,
*today*! And the compromise is that withdrawing self-archived papers
is strongly discouraged, for the reasons stated, but not absolutely
forbidden - if for no other reason than that the culture of scholarly
self-archiving has not yet established itself, time is passing, potential
research impact is being lost, and beggars (and near-empty archives)
cannot be choosers.

> Surely if someone makes a document public and publicly accessible in
> an archive, then it is the responsibility of any organization claiming
> to be an "archive" to archive it. By permitting removal at all you are
> saying that it is necessary for some other organization to take the
> responsibility of archiving your archive so the record remains available.

Please don't be so swayed by the a-word here, "archive," which history may
decide in hindsight was an unfortunate descriptor to have chosen to baptise
this new species of "scholarly skywriting" of pre- and post-peer-reviewed
research. The relevant (and urgent) a-word here is *access*, of which
there is currently *none* for those whose institutions cannot afford the
access-tolls, unless authors self-*something* their writings so as to
make them accessible to the access-denied. And access will continue to be
none as long as the schmarchives remain empty!

> When Ramus writes
> >>Who are you to judge how good the reason is,
> >> what criteria would you use and why, and whatever the reason given,
> He is correct that you have no right to set criteria; you should simply
> refuse in all cases--indeed you should design the system so removal is
> physically impossible.

We don't have the right to ask for reasons, but we do have the right to
refuse to allow the author to remove his own paper? (That sounds neither
sensible nor very inviting to me!)

Besides, we don't set criteria. As I said, we discourage removal,
and we say why we discourage it, and we ask authors to have *reasons*
for removal. But we don't refuse their request to remove, if, despite
wiser counsel, reasons are adduced, and removal is insisted upon.

Having said that, once the genie is out of the bottle, it's out,
as you yourself note below. The author can remove the paper from the
mother-archive, but not from the bowels of the Net, where it has appeared
publicly, been harvested, downloaded, mirrored, and cached in countless
places since its appearance. That part is common sense (and will become
part of culture, eventually). But for now, we are simply flexible,
given that it is still a seller's market...

By the way, one of the harvesters could in principle also be an
authoritative authenticator like Probity, that date-stamps an exact
bit-for-bit record of every posting on the day it appears. (Better to
use one's forward-looking imagination in reckoning the possibilities
of this new medium, than to try to force it into the Procrustean bed
of the past.)

        "Authenticating Publicly Archived Material: Hashing/Time-Stamping"

        "Re: eprints and authentication"

        "Establishing Priority for Patents"

> and when Ramus asks
> >> how could you refuse to do what the author wants?
> he should be aware that nothing once disclosed on the internet can in
> fact be assured of being made inaccessible. The physical world will not
> do what he wants it to do.

That is indeed a fact. But is it a fact that needs urgent broadcasting at
a time when it's all we can do to get authors to understand why they
should self-archive in the first place? Surely the priority in these
near-empty archive days is on what makes open access so beneficial, not
on the many far-fetched fears that can induce yet another generation of
Zeno's Paralysis.

        "Zeno's Paradox and the Road to the Optimal/Inevitable"

Stevan Harnad
Received on Sat Jun 07 2003 - 02:28:17 BST

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