Re: No Such Thing As "Provostial Publishing"

From: Stevan Harnad <amsciforum_at_GMAIL.COM>
Date: Tue, 3 Jun 2008 19:09:39 -0400

RE: Provostial Publishing: a return to circa 1920

On Mon, 2 Jun 2008, Sandy Thatcher wrote:

> > SH: OA IRs provide free supplemental copies of published, refereed
> > journal articles. The best and most likely way to find and access them
> > is via a harvester/indexer that links to the item, not by directly
> > searching the IR itself. (Direct searching of the IR is more relevant
> > for (1) institution-internal record-keeping, (2) performance assessment,
> > (3) CV-generation, (4) grant application/fulfillment, and perhaps also
> > some window-shopping by prospective (5) faculty, (6) researchers or (7)
> > students.)
> >
> > The main purpose of depositing refereed journal articles is (8) to
> > maximize their accessibility, so they are accessible to all would-be
> > users, not just those whose institutions happen to have a subscription
> > to the journal in which they were published. That way (9) the usage and
> > impact of the institutional research output is maximized (and so is (10)
> > overall research progress).
> ST: I question whether many, or even most, of these alleged benefits of
> IRs really are such. Why is an IR needed for any individual performance
> assessment?

It's not urgently needed (as research impact is) but it is definitely a
bonus too. You asked what the institution gains, and I gave a list of 10
things, some primary, some secondary.

> A faculty member simply submits relevant publications for the P&T
> committee to review; having them on an IR doesn't seem much of a benefit
> here.

The IR provides them in digital form, in a standard way, and along with
rich performance metrics:

> And why would anyone need to go to an IR to generate a CV?

They don't *need* to, but it sure makes it easier, especially as CVs are
increasingly online and standardized. It also helps to have the links to
the full texts and metrics.

> And window shopping? I submit that faculty, grad students, and researchers
> will go look for the work of the specialists in the areas they are most
> interested in,

Where? How? And how do they know what work by whom at the institution to
seek, where? That's precisely what IR window-shopping is for.

Sandy, you seem stuck somewhere back in the Gutenberg era (and are
thinking mainly of books, not journal articles)...

> not canvass a wide swathe of an institution's publications, and then rely
> on more or less "objective" indicators of prestige ranking of departments
> by various bodies that conduct regular assessments.

No? Even in today's world of Google ranking? I think your views may be a
tad phase-lagged, Sandy.

> Who is going to try using an IR to measure "the usage and impact of the
> institutional research output" overall?

Well, the UK's Research Assessment Exercise, now converted to metrics,
and the Australian RQF are examples, and this will only grow.

And of course individuals will increasingly rely on metrics too. (And
it's worth making the metrics reliable, valid, standardized ones,
otherwise people will continue to rely on US News and World Report's
College rankings...)

> As we all know, usage statistics are only one small part of an assessment
> exercise, and they do not even exist for large parts of a university's
> output outside the sciences.

Usage stats in particular, and metrics in general, are a part, but a
growing part, of assessment, in all fields. Book metrics are on the way
for book-based fields. As data-archiving grows, data-usage metrics will
be developed too. None of this will (or should) go away. IRs and OA are
the natural complements and conduits for this.

> How does an IR help measure the success of an arts and architecture
> school, for instance?

Patience. We're talking about peer-reviewed research in the first
instance. Insofar as any discipline publishes in refereed journals at
all, the very same principle applies to them. Books are next. And metrics
for other forms of research output will be developed soon enough.

But don't forget that OA is first and foremost about refereed journal
articles. That's primarily what OA IRs and OA self-archiving mandates
are about. If it were true that arts/architecture publish no refereed
journal articles, then OA IRs and OA self-archiving mandates simply
would not apply to them (for the time being).

In other words, you are invoking non sequiturs and wishful thinking,
Sandy, in order to prop up an obsolescent system -- obsolescent with or
without OA and IRs, I might add).

> Given the widely disparate nature of materials that would be contained in
> any university-wide IR, I can't see how anyone could readily come up with
> an overall measure of a university's contribution to research and
> scholarship. This is pie-in-the-sky thinking, in my opinion.

Patience. For the time being, settle for the existing and evolving
metrics of refereed journal article output. The rest will come, but is
not yet at issue, so there is no point invoking it by way of trying to
stave off the former.

> ...the peer-reviewed versions of articles you are talking about being
> deposited have not undergone any copyediting, and my guess is that most of
> what gets posted will be versions that have not had copyediting done on
> them. I keep beating this drum, but I need to remind people that unedited
> faculty prose is often not something they would want to have exposed to
> the wider world. You mentioned that high energy physics hasn't seem to
> have suffered any from its exposure on arXiv, but then how many people
> beyond specialists actually read anything on this site?

(1) We are talking about refereed journal articles, not books.

(2) Refereed journal articles undergo minimal copy-editing in any case
(unlike [some] books).

(3) If you think the minimal copy-editing that journal articles undergo
is really that important, try telling that to the would-be users who are
denied access to the journal version because of toll-access barriers:
"Don't seek or use the author's draft, because it lacks copy-editing!"

(4) Refereed research is conducted and published for the use of
specialists (peer to peer), for the most part. That is the primary raison
d'etre of OA IRs!

> Harvard, on the other hand, is mandating deposit of the writings of its
> faculty in the humanities and social sciences, which at least in principle
> could be of interest and accessible to a nonspecialist public. My
> contention is that Harvard will more likely be embarrassed by the unedited
> writing of some of its faculty than gain anything in prestige from it.

We'll see whether there is any embarrassment at Harvard. (We've had no
embarrassment at Southampton ECS 'lo these half dozen years since we
adopted the first of the planet's OA self-archiving mandates.) But let me
correct the misapprehension that has partly been created by the ATA's
otherwise commendable and successful lobbying on behalf of the NIH
mandate: The rationale and urgency of OA is *not* a desperate need of
access to refereed research on the part of the lay tax-paying public
(other than in health-related fields). It is peer to peer access for
the sake of research progress and applications for the benefit of the
lay tax-paying public (in all fields).

Hence public access is not the primary motivation for the Harvard
mandate. I did not even mention it in my list of 10 IR benefits.

Public access (and its benefits, such as they are) does, however, come
with the OA territory, even though the main motivation for OA is peer to

> Indeed, I can see some bloggers starting to award annual prizes to the
> worst writing on Harvard's site, along the lines of the Congressional
> "golden fleece" awards or the "razzies" that are given out each year to
> the worst movies.

Sounds like fun. The golden fleece was mostly a fleece, but occasionally
it did manage to expose research nonsense, and in that case, more power
to it.

But if the real worth of ventures were answerable primarily or
exclusively to blob blather, we'd all have come to a fine funk...

> Really, believe me when I say, Stevan, that excellent scholars are not
> always, or even often, the best writers; many a reputation has been saved
> by the good work of unheralded copyeditors working behind the scenes. To
> protect its reputation, Harvard might find itself having to hire
> copyeditors itself to spruce up the articles before they get posted, or at
> least proofreaders who could remove the most egregious errors and typos.

I really believe this when it comes to book drafts, Sandy, but book
drafts are not the target of OA or OA IRs, or Green OA Self-Archiving
Mandates. The target is peer-reviewed, accepted research journal

Stevan Harnad

If you have adopted or plan to adopt a policy of providing Open Access
to your own research article output, please describe your policy at:

    BOAI-1 ("Green"): Publish your article in a suitable toll-access journal
    BOAI-2 ("Gold"): Publish your article in an open-access journal if/when
    a suitable one exists.
    in BOTH cases self-archive a supplementary version of your article
    in your own institutional repository.
Received on Wed Jun 04 2008 - 00:18:49 BST

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