Re: Self-archiving vs. Self-Publishing

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Mon, 8 Dec 2003 13:53:24 +0000

On Wed, 3 Dec 2003, John Unsworth wrote:

> OK, I appreciate the distinctions you're emphasizing. Would the first
> be clearer if it simply said "made it possible for peer-reviewed
> journals to distribute their contents" etc.? and would that second be
> clearer if it simply dropped "self-publishing and" ?

Hi John,

Yes, in both cases simply dropping mention of self-publishing altogether
will do the trick. Since the only two open-access matters at issue are (1)
self-archiving of peer-reviewed journal articles and (2) the creation of
open-access journals, it is not clear why the spectre of "self-publishing"
(and its deterrent vanity-press associations) is evoked at all.

As I re-read your piece, however, a couple of other related problem passages
recurred to me:

    "the things that university presses [can] contribute... [include]
    administering an online authoring and peer-review environment that
    encourages authors to produce content in forms that lower library
    costs for collection and preservation"

I know you just mean software for reducing the cost of peer review, hence
publication. But I know from experience that this will be misconstrued as
universities peer-reviewing their own output. That interpretation needs to
be blocked. There is also a slight crossing here of another pair of wires:
*All* publishers need to lower (and most of them are lowering) peer-review
costs with online processing software. Singling out university presses
here again sounds like take-over plans for what are currently independent
journals. This implication should be avoided, and also not mixed with
the separate open-access strategy of creating new open-access journals:

The number of new-journal niches is small (this has not changed), so
the prospect of achieving open access solely by creating new, competing
open-access journals (PLOS- and BMC-style) and trying to win away the
authors of the established toll-access journals (23,400 of them!) is
extremely uncertain and certainly extremely slow. The self-archiving
road needs to be clearly differentiated from the open-access journal
road. Subsuming them both under a university function only encourages
their conflation (while again evoking the spectre of vanity press

You also wrote:

   "we should conduct peer review independent of a decision to publish."

Who are "we" (the university? the author?). It should be "they" (the
23,400 journals). *We* decide which journal to submit to (and, we hope,
publish in), *they* conduct peer review.

And here is an important one: What needs to be separated is
(1) peer-review provision and certification
(2) access-provision and
archiving, *not* peer-review from publication. PostGutenberg peer review
*is* publication (for our "publish or perish" academic economy, where
a publication means a peer-reviewed publication, at least for articles,
if not books).

Hence journals are and will remain (autonomous) peer-review
providers/certifiers, and to be certified as having successfully met
a particular established set of peer-review quality standards *is*
what it means to be published. Hence there is no dissociating publishing
from peer review! There is only dissociation of *access-provision* from
peer review. And even that cannot be done now, when 23,400 journals
are toll-based access-providers. All an author can do is *supplement*
the toll access to his own work by self-archiving it, thereby making it
open-access. This too is not a case of making peer review independent
of a decision to publish, but merely (merely!) making access-provision
independent of peer-reviewed publication!

    "peer-reviewed information would be freely available *soon after* its

This "soon after" also occurs repeatedly in your proposal, and I would
suggest removing it, because otherwise it is quite easily misconstrued
as not being about open-access at all, but only about the journal's
willingness to allow free access after an interval (from 6 months to 2
years or more) has elapsed after which toll-revenues become negligible

This is not how research progresses, and not what open access is for
or about! Open access means *immediate* open access. It in fact starts
*before* refereeing, with the preprint (optional), and continues,
unbroken, to the moment when the accepted, peer-reviewed final draft
(the "postprint") exists, which is immediately self-archived too.

Surely with this "soon after" you don't want to reduce open access to
Dave Shulenburger's now old and inadequate "NEAR" proposal of
providing free online access only after an agreed embargo period!
So Near and yet So Far! Dave's proposal had its historical role
in raising consciousness about the possibility and desirability of open
access, but it certainly is not what we need and want now:

    Harnad, S. (2001) AAAS's Response: Too Little, Too Late. Science
    dEbates [online] 2 April 2001.

And the last problem passage is:

    "self-archiving and open-access journals, by themselves, do not
    guarantee 'permanent open access'."

This raises the red herring of preservation in a place where it harms
rather than helps: Of course digital contents need to be preserved
permanantly. But in the special case of the peer-reviewed journals,
the preservation problem is squarely on the shoulders of the 23,400
journals and the libraries that subscribe to them at this time. That
is all toll access. Self-archiving (for now) provides a *supplement*
to that, and not a *substitute* for it. (One day it may also provide a
substitute, but let's not count our chickens before they hatch, lest we
count instead of laying and incubating -- i.e., self-archiving!)

In other words, the library's (and publisher's) current preservation
problem for sold-and-bought toll-access journal contents -- the
locus classicus of the peer-reviewed corpus right now and for the
foreseeable future -- should not be conflated with the supplementary
self-archived versions of that same corpus, provided by their own
authors and institutions in order to make them openly accessible, right
now! (Besides, the self-archived physics corpus, doing this since 1991,
is all still with us today; we would have been a quarter of a million
open-access supplements poorer today if we had raised preservation
worries in 1991!)

Cheers, Stevan

Stevan Harnad

> John
> On Dec 3, 2003, at 9:48 PM, Stevan Harnad wrote:
> >> I don't disagree on Stevan's point about peer review, below, and
> >> Stevan, I'd be grateful if you'd point out to me, offline, exactly
> >> where the conflation appears, so I can correct it.
> >
> > Hi John:
> >
> > Here are the 2 ambiguous passages:
> >
> > the internet has made it possible for scholars to self-publish,
> > and for peer-reviewed journals to distribute their contents widely
> > and quickly--in other words, to make high-quality, peer-reviewed
> > information freely available soon after its creation.
> >
> > Self-publishing and self-archiving would moot many of the things on
> > that list (for example, the claim to "make available to the broader
> > public the full range and value of research generated by university
> > faculty")
> >
> > You do say "and," but for most readers, who will have no clear idea of
> > the difference between self-publishing (vanity press) and
> > self-archiving
> > (of refereed publication), they will be read as synonyms or close
> > variants,
> > whereas in fact they are opposites.
> >
> > It needs to be made clear that open online access does not mean
> > self-publishing!
> > It means providing open online access to what one has published
> > (elsewhere).
> >
> > A distinction also has to be made between publishing in an open-access
> > journal
> > (such as PostModern Culture or Psycoloquy), of which there are still
> > very few
> > (about 600 to date according to ) and
> > self-archiving
> > one's toll-access publications (23,400 journals) as the latter
> > represents
> > over 95% of the literature in question, the one we are trying to
> > provide open
> > access to!
> >
> > It's probably clear in your mind but, believe me, everyone else's mind
> > is far
> > from clear -- on this and many other matters pertaining to open access!
> >
> > But your proposal to the provosts is a very welcome and timely one.
> > Let's
> > hope it will set them in motion. (Nothing much has happened since that
> > last
> > meeting at CalTech, at the provost level, in any case!).
> >
> > Cheers, Stevan
Received on Mon Dec 08 2003 - 13:53:24 GMT

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