Re: Research Reports as Advertisements: An Allegory

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sat, 3 Mar 2007 21:52:24 +0000

On Sat, 3 Mar 2007, Jan Velterop wrote:

> I like Stevan's advertisement analogy. I should have thought of it
> myself. (Come to think of it, I did:
> 00003896/01/Food_or_Thought.pdf).

This is not rocket science but raincoat science, so we certainly won't ensure
our paths to Nobel glory by vying for priority on the advertiser analogy. -- But, for
the pedants, I've got Jan's 2003 published reference beat in published works at least
a half dozen years earlier (1997) -- still earlier if we count postings:

> It makes the idea so much more
> understandable, too, that the author - as advertiser - pays.

Yes, but not while the users are still paying for it all via subscriptions. (Jan can't
seem to resist counting, indeed double-counting, his chickens before they're hatched!)

> But the
> way he explains the analogy has more than a few oddities, at least if
> he meant to make an analogy with how advertising actually works. He
> may have meant that, but what he describes is a fantasy world of
> advertising and has little to do with reality.

As I said very (I think) clearly: Mine is a contrived analogy, indeed an allegory, not
a real-life advertiser analogy. (Real-life ads are neither peer-reviewed, nor do do
you have to pay to access them; and they are selling another product, rather than
trying to get the findings they report used, applied and built upon!)

> The analogy with real advertising works much better.
> The main oddity is perhaps his remark that "In the case of peer-
> reviewed publishing, the "ad" is the research paper itself: there is
> no other product it is trying to promote and sell."
> He is mistaken here. Authors are not trying to sell their papers.

I didn't say they were trying to sell them! They are trying to get them
read, and to get their contents used, applied and built upon, for the
sake of research progress as well as for their careers. That is why a
price-tag between their writings and their would-be users is anathema
for researchers (whether or not they are as yet aware of it!)

> What the author is trying to 'sell' (note the inverted commas,
> please), his 'product' if you wish, is his scientific prowess, his
> ideas, and when he is successful, he is able to 'sell' those for
> citations, the currency of science.

Well, crass as it is and sounds, that's quite true (if I were not saying it myself,
for at least 13 years now!):

But Jan and I agree on all this, and on the following paragraph too:

> His adage in the scientific ego-
> system is "I am cited, therefore I am". Top scientists are typically
> better able to 'sell' their ideas and themselves, and get 'paid' in
> citations, than more 'pedestrian' scientists. The article itself
> conveys information about the researcher (the way he's done the
> research, for instance) and his 'product' (the ideas, the research
> results). The analogy with an advertisement is clear. PNAS used to
> have a line at the bottom of the first page of an article that said
> "This is an advertisement". I don't know if they still do, but how
> right they were.
> I will interleave a few other comments in Stevan's text, just in case
> one might think his description of advertising reflects reality.

Jan is still avoiding the substance of what I was pointing out: Green OA
mandates will deliver 100% OA: How can a publisher call itself an OA publisher
while opposing (or failing to support) Green OA mandates?

And what about the double-billing issue: Why should publication be paid
for twice, when it is still being fully paid for by subscriptions? If/when
Green OA mandates should ever make subscriptions unsustainable,
the *resulting* subscription cancellation funds can pay for Gold OA
publication, Not before. And certainly not before OA!

> On 3 Mar 2007, at 14:30, Stevan Harnad wrote:
> > SH:
> > Suppose that advertising services traditionally made their money from
> > *selling* ads (to readers) on paper.
> JV: One can suppose that, of course, but if 'advertising services'
> are magazines or newspapers, what they typically do is selling *ad
> space*.

Jan, you are missing the point completely. My (contrived, counterfactual,
fictional) analogy is based on readers (or their institutions) having
to pay to read the ads. Not to read the magazine that happens to run
the ads: To pay to read the ads. That's the situation with trying to
read articles in journals your institution can't afford to subscribe to.
The analogy is: article = ads, not ads piggy-backing on articles.

> > SH:
> > Merchants advertising their products
> > would reluctantly agree to the placement of an access-toll
> > (collected by
> > the advertising service from readers) between the ads for their
> > products
> > and their intended customers
> JV: Interestingly, merchants are usually more interested in placing
> an ad in a subscription media, and pay higher rates for it, than in
> free (so-called 'controlled circulation') media. At least in print
> this is so.

Perhaps true, but utterly irrelevant: You are mangling the tertium comparationis of
my (contrived) analogy: Suppose the ads were direct, print on paper, like books or
magazines -- except they were sold, instead of given away (whether as free brochures,
or mass mailings), not spattered on pages of other kinds of content people pay to read.

You are just giving us free associations about (real) advertising here; you are not
addressing the issues at hand: Articles are like ads. Their authors don't want users
to have to pay to read them. Right now, they *are* paying to read them (at least those
whose institutions can afford it are) -- via subscriptions. While all costs are still
being paid by subscriptions, there is no justification for trying to oppose (or
failing to support) authors making their ads accessible online for free, to maximise
their "customers." The only point at which payment becomes an issue is when
subscriptions are not longer paying the bill. Not now, not pre-emptively.

> > SH:
> > (for the products the merchant is selling
> > -- the ones the ad is advertising), because that was the only way to
> > cover paper production/distribution costs, and at least merchants
> > didn't
> > have to pay the advertising service for preparing their ads.
> > (Merchants
> > supply the raw copy, but the ad companies make it look professional,
> JV: This is also rarely the case. Media typically dictate the
> quality, size, and other attributes that the ad has to satisfy before
> it can be accepted for publication.

Jan, you keep talking about real ads; this is hypothetical, remember? I am describing
a fictional form of advertising in order to show the absurdity of charging for access
to ads, as well as the prematurity of asking for service-payments until and unless the
(hypothetical!) subscriptions paying for the ads are dried up by the free online

Don't think of ads in subscription magazines: Think of subscriptions paid for the
privilege of being able to read advertising flyers (and *only* advertising flyers).

And the (contrived) counterpart for peer review is ad services adding
value to the ads by making them "look professional."

> > SH:
> > and then print, distribute, and collect the tolls for accessing it.)
> >
> > Then the online medium comes along. Merchants still want some help
> > in making their ads look professional, and they don't mind their ads
> > continuing to be sold on paper, but they'd like them now to be free
> > online, to maximize readers and thereby product sales.
> JV: Merchants may put their ads up for free, on their own blogs, for
> instance, but most will pay good money to, say, Google to make sure
> they're actually seen.

Irrelevant. All I am asking you is why you are not supporting OA self-archiving
mandates. The analog for that is putting your (added-value, i.e., peer-reviewed) ads
in your Institutional Repository, that's all.

> > SH:
> > So while the ads are still selling well enough on paper to cover the
> > ad service's costs and provide a fair profit, the merchants put their
> > ads online for free -- not the raw copy, but the version made to look
> > professional by the ad service.
> JV: What is the 'ad service' here? Does he mean an agency such as
> Saatchi & Saatchi? You can be sure they will have been paid. Or the
> magazine/newspaper/web site in which the ad is being placed?

Jan, you've gotten confused between the fictional ads in the analogy, and real ads
(which readers do *not* have to pay to read!). You have missed the whole point of the
allegory, which was to show how absurd it would be either to charge to read publicity
flyers, or to pay for adding the value of making them "professional" (analog of "peer
reviewed) while reader tolls were still paying for all that.

> > SH:
> > The ad services agree to individual merchants giving away the online
> > version of their ads for free, but they oppose the merchants'
> > association
> > mandating that all merchants do it, saying it will destroy their
> > (the ad
> > service industry's) revenues and their ability to cover their costs.
> JV: The link with reality is lost here.

This was a fictional example all along. The link with reality was
lost from the moment I postulated, counterfactually (and absurdly)
that consumers would be *paying* for the privilege of reading ads --
not ads piggy-backing on magazine content: just ads!

> > SH:
> > The merchants' association says that as long as paper ad sales are
> > still covering costs, there is no justification for opposing a mandate
> > that merchants deposit their ads free online. Only if and when paper
> > ad sales are no longer sustainable is there any cause for objection,
> > and then the objection can be met quite simply by merchants paying the
> > advertising services directly for their value-added contribution.
> >
> > To make the analogy complete, it remains only to add that the
> > *readers*
> > of the adds are the merchants themselves: Let's say that they are
> > selling
> > their products to one another; hence the ads for their products are
> > addressed to one another too.
> JV: The typical 'business-to-business' world?

No, no! It was in order to capture the property of journal articles that
they are mostly written by researchers for researchers, so the authors
and the readers are the same. hence if the readers (or their institutions)
saved money by no longer having to pay to read the ads, that saved-money
could be redirected to pay for the ad service's value-added service. But
not while the readers are still paying for it...

> > SH:
> > That means that if and when the ads are no longer selling on paper
> > (because the free online version is all that readers want and
> > need), then
> > the only thing the merchants association needs to do is to redirect
> > the
> > money saved (from no longer paying for the paper ads): The value added
> > to the online ad by the ad service is now paid out of the collective
> > savings from the access-tolls for the (now obsolete) paper ads.
> JV: Stevan is applying his theory of what should happen in the
> science world to a fairy tale about advertising, as far removed from
> reality as are the fairies themselves. To be fair, he acknowledges
> that it's a contrived allegory. What he apparently fails to see is
> that the real advertising world is a much closer analogy to science
> publishing.

Yes, the real ad world is much closer: *They do not, and never did, charge
for access to the ads!* That's the point of the fairy tale! (And so is
the point about the absurdity of double-paying for the added-value,
while the readers are still paying for access. Hence the anomaly of
opposing the prerogative of merchants to take advantage of the new online
medium to make their (value-added) ads free online and not worrying about
paying for the added value while the reader-payment is still doing so:
They can wait to pay for it out of the reader-fee savings, if/when those
ever dry up, since the readers and the authors (or rather, their institutions)
are the very same.)

> > SH:
> > Even the best of analogies, even contrived allegories like this,
> > are not
> > identities. So let me point out the three remaining flaws in this
> > analogy
> > before they are used as a counter-analogy. (This, of course, is the
> > Achilles
> > Heel of all arguments by analogy, and why they are never binding,
> > either
> > way -- but of course this applies to Peter Banks's original health-
> > care
> > analogy too!):
> >
> > (1) In the case of research publishing, the value added by the "ad
> > service" (the publisher), is peer review, not just "making the ad look
> > professional" (but the peers review for free; the publisher just
> > manages
> > the process).
> JV: I would say that successfully passing muster (peer review) is
> part of the condition before the 'ad' (the article) is acceptable for
> publication.

Yes, yes, that was part of the allegory too. (Pay attention, dear Jan!)

> > SH:
> > (2) In the case of peer-reviewed publishing, the "ad" is the research
> > paper itself: there is no other product it is trying to promote and
> > sell. Getting the "ad" read by as many users as possible is the goal,
> > and getting its findings used, applied, built upon and cited is the
> > reward, if the research is found useful and important enough.
> JV: see my comment at the beginning.

Done. It still misses the point -- completely!

> > SH:
> > (3) Merchants, unlike researchers, see quite clearly the relation
> > between
> > free consumer access to their ads, and the benefits to the uptake
> > of their
> > products, hence it is unrealistic in the extreme that merchants
> > would ever
> > need to be "mandated" to make their advertisements free online, rather
> > than toll-based. Researchers are a different breed...
> JV: Here I agree with Stevan. Merchants don't have to think twice
> about paying for ads, either.
> A flaw in the analogy with the real advertising world is that
> scientific journals do not normally operate on a 'controlled
> circulation' basis, meaning free to selected recipients. Instead,
> they take their money from subscribers, The equivalent is that one
> pays for magazines filled only and exclusively with ads. Although,
> even that is not completely unheard of outside science: have a look
> at some of the 'content-free' glossy magazines in your newsstand.

You have hopelessly mixed up real ads, trailed in magazines you pay to read, with the
fictional case I invented in order to highlight the absurdity of paying just to read

Stevan Harnad
Received on Sat Mar 03 2007 - 22:31:14 GMT

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