Re: Distinguishing the Essentials from the Optional Add-Ons

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Mon, 20 Nov 2006 17:20:28 +0000

    Prior AmSci Topic Thread:
    "Distinguishing the Essentials from the Optional Add-Ons"
On Mon, 20 Nov 2006, Armbruster, Chris wrote:

> ArXiv is not the only case. SSRN and RePEc are similar cases. This
> is important because it clarifies that ArXiv is not an outlier, but an
> early innovator (or 'role model'). That said, ArXiv has been set up to
> be compatible with conventional subscription journal publishing because
> it defines itself as a pre-print server and thus leaves journals to
> 'add value'.

Arxiv does not define itself as anything but a Repository in which authors
can self-archive either their pre-peer-review preprints or their peer-reviewed
postprints (accepted for publication by the journal that peer-reviewed them).

Neither Arxiv, nor SSRN nor RePEc nor any of the at least a thousand Institutional
Repositories in universities worldwide is a journal or a publisher. They are
access-providers, providing access to both published and unpublished content.

> This helps to people to believe that ArXiv does not replace
> journals (including librarians and universities). Nevertheless, I would
> venture that substitution is already occurring - we would need to survey
> not the US an European research libraries but universities and readers
> in Brazil, Russia and China: Do they subscribe? Or do they rely on ArXiv?

The relevant ones to survey are not users but authors: As long as they keep publishing
their papers -- as long as all those preprints keep turning into postprints -- journals
stay, and Arxiv is merely an access-provider. For the users (not authors) who rely on
Arxiv, it is because they cannot afford the journal and because Arxiv either Arxiv
contains the postprint, or they feel the preprint is better than nothing.

> Substitution of OA repositories for conventional (expensive) journal
> subscriptions would seem to be dependent on three conditions: > -
> The quality of the alternative; > - The quantity available in the
> alternative service ('critical mass'); > - Any additional services
> provided.

It depends on one condition, and one condition only: That someone keeps providing the
peer review service, reliably, and answerably. Journals continue to do this today,
exactly as they did before. The only difference is that authors can maximize the access
to their published articles by self-archiving them (and can get earlier feedback to
their pre-preprints too, by self-archiving them).

> Here it is important to study the evolution of SSRN, RePEc and
> Arxiv. While not offering peer review, these services are working hard to
> provide all kinds of quality indicators. All of them are now in service
> over a decade and have accumulated a certain depth and breadth. The
> crucial question would be if they may begin to provide alternative
> (better) overlay services that allow for citation tracking and text
> mining. If yes, then the moment at which the scales will begin to tip
> should not be too far away.

That surely is not the crucial question. The crucial question is: who provides the peer
review? And the answer continues to be: the journals.

> Sociologists are always on the lookout for 'crescent' change that will
> turn into 'enacted' change. Scholarly publishing and communication is a
> clear case of 'crescent' change. Several scenarios of 'enacted' change are
> feasible and these include, as an OA worst case scenario. an orchestrated
> legal backlash by publishers against any and all OA archiving on the
> basis of the 'transfer of copyright' and the illegality of having not
> only identical but also essentially similar (pre-print) copies on the
> web. The best case OA scenario is a full transition to OA deposition of
> all research articles in the first instance with a subsequent improvement
> and development of all kinds of overlay services that serve readers and
> authors much better than Oldenbourg's now cumbersome, antiquated and
> inadequate model does.

Instead of hypothesizing, it might be more useful to look at what is actually
happening: 69% of journals have already endorsed immediate postprint self-archiving,
25% more have so far only endorsed preprint self-archiving, but funder and
institutional self-archiving mandates are on the way which will induce universal
self-archiving with or without publisher endorsement. The outcome is already a
foregone conclusion. And repositories have the individual EMAIL EPRINT REQUEST
button to tide over any user needs until then.

> What is worrying is that publishers seem bent on perpetuating
> Oldenbourg's model and are now developing a lobbying machine to defend
> their antiquated publishing model. It is not clear to me whether they
> consider their sunk costs so large that innovation and transition to
> new publishing models is not feasible - or they are simply lazy and lack
> the capacity to innovate. On the other hand, the OA movement is strong
> and there are many working to provide better services to readers and
> authors. These efforts need to be galvanised to create an incentive
> structure for OA. That requires, as mentioned above, simultaneous
> attention to quality, quantity and additional services.

What publishers do is completely irrelevant. This is a matter that is entirely
in the hands of researchers, their institutions, their funders, and the tax-paying
public that funds the funders. Publishers will adapt.

> Finally: OA supporters should not be concerned to preserve or aid the
> present business interests of publishers. If the present incumbents are
> incapable of innovating beyond some sort of 'open choice' then they
> deserve to go out of business - and they will.

Publishers will adapt. Researchers should be concerned with self-archiving
and mandating self-archiving, so we can reach 100% -- already long overdue -- at long


Stevan Harnad
Received on Mon Nov 20 2006 - 17:45:25 GMT

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