Re: The Green Road to Open Access: A Leveraged Transition

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 30 Mar 2004 01:11:59 +0100

Ebs Hilf provides a good summary of the 4 forms of self-archiving
and their growth, but he betrays his biasses when he keeps talking
about *preprint* self-archiving, and relegates journals to performing
an optional, post-hoc service on preprints.

Peer-review is certainly a service that is performed on preprints,
but it certainly is not optional! Physicists have drawn entirely the
wrong conclusion from having been (among the) first to do self-archiving
in earnest. They have (by my lights completely incorrectly) concluded
that *preprints* are where the real action is, that self-archiving has
proved that the rest -- peer-review, journals -- are mere optional
add-ons to the real stuff, which is unrefereed preprints.

We should be long past this prima facie hunch, which proved wrong from
virtually the first day it was mooted: about 8-12 months after the
unrefereed preprint comes the refereed postprint (after peer review,
revision and acceptance have taken place). There is no reason under the
sun why authors should only self-archive their unrefereed preprints! And
they don't only self-archive their unrefereed preprints!

>From the very beginning, authors (including physicists) have also
self-archived their refereed postprints. It's just that the postprints
always come (8-12 months) after the preprints! Sometimes the change is not
important enough to bother updating the preprint. Tim Brody had some
early estimates of how often this happens in the case of papers in the
Physics Arxiv (maybe he has some updates?):

But the point is that authors, including physicists, self-archive both
the preprint and the postprint, and there are other disciplines in which
authors self-archive *only* the postprint.

So whereas Ebs's speculation at the end of his posting -- about the
direction that peer-reviewed journal publishing might take in the future
-- qualifies to be considered among the many other speculations that
have been made on this question, it should be recognized for what it is:
pure speculation.

The fact is that authors self-archive both preprints and postprints,
and why wouldn't they? Who would want to provide open access *only* to the
unrefereed version if his findings? If the purpose of providing open
access is -- as Ebs agrees -- so as to enhance the visibility, usage
and impact of one's articles, then it hardly makes sense to enhance
these only for the unrefereed version!

Ebs has a hypothesis about a useful division of labour that might
eventually evolve, and I might even share that hypothesis. But that
division of labour (with journal publishers providing peer review and
the institutional archives providing access and storage) will only
happen (if it ever happens at all) *after* open access prevails. And
open access will prevail only if authors want the enhanced visibility
and impact now. What is certain is that what they want that enhanced
visibility and impact *for* is their refereed postprints, and not just
for their unrefereed preprints.

And their actual self-archiving behavior bears this out. If Ebs had not
just surveyed what kinds of self-archiving there is today, but also *what*
is being self-archived, he would have found that it is -- and always
has been -- both preprints and postprints.

Some comments:

On Mon, 29 Mar 2004, Eberhard R. Hilf wrote:

> 1. AUTHOR SELF-ARCHIVED, UNTAGGED PAPERS. The largest space of documents
> is raw, untagged preprints and scientific reports self-archived by
> their authors on their institution's webserver (e.g. on their research
> group's website).

Ebs begins right here with an invalid premise: The largest space of
self-archived documents is raw untagged preprints, scientific reports (?)
*and* postprints!

> Costs may be larger (because library employees' salaries are involved).

Authors are perfectly capable of doing OAI-compliant self-archiving for
themselves (though help from librarians is certainly welcome,
especially to get the ball rolling):

> Since the refereeing normally takes place (and so it should) *after* the
> preprint is self-archived on the web in one of the above ways, refereeing
> can be much improved and diversified and can take its time...
> Subscribing to a journal is thereby decoupled from gaining access
> to the information content of the raw document, and money is spent only
> on the refereeing and polishing, as well as the archiving of the document.

Self-archiving preprints is certainly a way to provide open access to the
information content of a raw document, but what researcher would want
to provide open access only to his raw documents? Why?

> Such a process of publicly self-archiving a document first and getting
> it refereed afterward would save money with which institutional libraries
> could subscribe to journals and would allow those publishers to flourish
> who add real value.

That may or may not eventually happen, but is Ebs suggesting that
authors would self-archive their raw preprint and refrain from
self-archiving the corrected draft after peer review so as to change
the course of journal publishing?

I would suggest that authors' reasons for self-archiving, and the
benefits of self-archiving (enhanced research impact) have nothing
whatsoever to do with speculations about or plans for the possible future
course of journal publishing!

> The expert would gain the desired document directly
> from the author's website or elsewhere using search engines. Small
> departments in remote countries would be able to get the unrefereed
> information without having to pay, but they would miss the real
> added-value services.

This part I cannot follow at all: Are there not experts in both nearby
and remote countries? And don't they all want access to the correct
refereed version? And is that not the version that authors want them to
have access to? And isn't open access about providing access to those who
cannot afford the toll-access version? And is that not the toll-access
version of the refereed postprint (since there is no toll-access version
of the unrefereed preprint)?

Stevan Harnad

NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing open
access to the peer-reviewed research literature online (1998-2004)
is available at the American Scientist Open Access Forum:
        To join the Forum:
        Post discussion to:
        Hypermail Archive:

Unified Dual Open-Access-Provision Policy:
    BOAI-2 ("gold"): Publish your article in a suitable open-access
            journal whenever one exists.
    BOAI-1 ("green"): Otherwise, publish your article in a suitable
            toll-access journal and also self-archive it.
Received on Tue Mar 30 2004 - 01:11:59 BST

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