Re: Scholar's Forum: A New Model For Scholarly Communication

From: Stevan Harnad (
Date: Sat May 01 1999 - 15:12:05 BST

On Fri, 30 Apr 1999, Anne Buck <> wrote:

> Stevan,
> We would like to point out some features of the Scholar's Forum that
> are being overlooked or misinterpreted.

Dear Anne and coworkers in the CalTech Proposal for the Scholars Forum:

First, let me make it explicit, as I have done before, that the CalTech
initiative is very welcome and should be supported. Let us in no way
balkanize our efforts over minor local differences. The overall idea is
excellent, timely, and should be pursued with energy and speed. The
recommendations and criticism below are made in the interest of
strengthening the Proposal by streamlining it, paring off what is not
relevant or tenable.

> 1. The Forum does not propose establishing one generic
> "journal" for all disciplines, or even a number of generic journals
> for different disciplines. It is a model for conducting scholarly
> discourse, not the name of one server somewhere. Each element of the
> Operational View flowchart stands for many such elements in practice,
> i.e. many editorial boards, panels of copy-editing technical writers,
> groups of referees, technical program committees, authors, and
> archives. The flowchart describes the relationships among various
> parts of the model. Arrows indicate communication or discussion
> channels; dotted lines indicate automated interaction with standards
> and protocols.

You have found the right word for it: "model." Models are welcome when
we are testing hypotheses. There are many hypotheses about how we might
reform the peer review system. Let them be modeled and tested. But let
us not link the fate of these models, their tests, and their outcomes,
to something that is already true, and demonstrated:

The current refereed journal literature, as it stands, is an extremely
valuable resource. It is what all future work is built upon. Perhaps a
better form of peer review could make it even better, but that is an
empirical question. What is undeniable is that the current refereed
journal literature, such as it is, is and always has been an invaluable
resource to researchers.

Currently, access to that literature is blocked by tolls for
Subscription/Site-License/Pay-Per-View (S/L/P), even though the
authors of that literature have given it away for free.

The cost of access to that literature, and the even greater cost of
LACK of access to that literature, are the reason behind initiatives
like the Scholar's Forum. The objective is to make this resource
accessible for free for all, online.

This objective has already been achieved in one particular sector of
the literature, in Physics, by the Los Alamos Eprint Archive (LANL).


The acceptance and indeed the dependence of the world physics community on
LANL today is the proof -- if proof was needed -- that a free Archive
of the journal literature is indeed what the learned community needs
and wants.

It follows that LANL is not a "model," but a proven, working principle.
The gist of my recommendation to the Scholar's Forum is that that is
the principle it should implement, not any untested model for the
future of journals or their successors. The LANL principle has face
validity, overwhelming proof in practice, and is ready for extension to
all disciplines. Why take something we KNOW works stupendously well and
weigh it down with unproven "add-ons" that could well prevent it from
getting off the ground just when it's ready to carry the other
disciplines skyward, just as it has done in Physics?

> 2. The preprint server is distinct from the archive. The
> Consortium makes a long-term commitment to transfer reviewed works
> (final versions) to permanent archives, both paper (for now) and
> electronic. It guarantees that as digital technology evolves, all
> electronic works will be converted in a timely and high quality
> manner.

No one needs to transfer anything from anywhere. If there is a robust,
reliable Pandisciplinary Archive, its ubiquity and perpetuity soundly
underpinned by Consortia, then authors can self-archive both their own
unrefereed preprints and their own refereed reprints, as they do in

In future, journals (established journals and new ones, with classical
peer review and experimental) can have "overlays" on the Forum, as they
will on LANL, in which they can officially certify the refereed papers.
But for now, author self-archiving of preprints and reprints is enough,
as it was in LANL. The rest will take care of itself, once the LANL
revolution has spread to all the disciplines.

> We are adamant in our belief that "self-archiving" to a
> single pre-print server by authors when they submit a work is not
> building an archive. Archiving involves a commitment to retain and
> maintain a work in a secure, systematic fashion beyond the foreseeable
> future. The preprint server offers an author a venue for presenting a
> work openly, without restrictions, and obviates the author's need to
> maintain a personal server for this purpose. The Consortium will
> commit to providing on-going server maintenance and further archival
> retention including making conversions to new formats as network
> technology advances.

There is a crucial misunderstanding here: Self-archiving means
archiving by the author. This is not restricted to local self-archiving
in the author's Institution's Home Server (although that is an
important component in creating a safely distributed, redundant and
mirrored storage architecture). Authors need to self-archive in local
as well as global Archives, such as LANL (and, one hopes, Scholar's
Forum), with all the consortial resources you mention, to ensure the
reliability and preservation of the global archive.

Once the literature is indeed all being self-archived, the Online
medium itself will offer a wealth of resources for safely storing it,
upgrading it with new technology, preserving it, and so on. The hurdle
to cross is creating a LANL-style Archive in which authors are indeed
motivated to self-archive all their papers in the first place. That's
the hard part. The rest is implementational details. But if you
needlessly overstructure the simple target -- a LANL-style Archive in
which all authors place their preprints and reprints -- weighing it
down with further, unproved structures, instead of basing it on the
tested and proven structures of LANL, you are needlessly jeopardizing
the prospects of getting the literature online and free, as it has
become in LANL.

If something has worked so well, why not extend it as is, instead of
trying to "fix" it first, especially when all the "fixes" are
controversial (and some of them incoherent), and hence likely to
inspire needless opposition?

> 3. The purpose of the Forum is not to put established
> publishers out of business, nor to generate a parallel universe to
> what already exists. We agree that scholars do not need duplicative
> journals.

It is not clear what "duplicative journals" means; and no one wants to
put publishers out of business. The objective is only to free the
refereed journal literature, online.

> The Forum establishes a mechanism by which a society,
> group, conference committee, etc. may process and post their collected
> works without having to develop an infrastructure of their own. Once
> a standards and protocols platform is developed, it will be tested
> with people who have no established journals of their own before it is
> opened to general use.

Societies, conferences, journals, etc. already have standards and
protocols, and these are not uniform, nor should they be; nor is there
any reason for them to want to submit their standards and protocols to
any other body: This is not where the problem lies! Let standards and
protocols take care of themselves -- or establish a second, parallel
initiative for the reform of standards and protocols (call it
"Scholar's Quorum")

But for the present initiative, focus on the proven formula for freeing
the literature, such as it is, standards and all!

(Nor is founding new online journals a particularly useful goal. Let new
journals form as they are needed, as they have always done. The goal
here is to get the EXISTING journal literature online and for free.)

> There is no reason the Forum cannot entertain proposals
> from established journals to move their electronic collections onto
> Forum servers under the following important conditions:
> a.) The Consortium will not support any S/L/P terms
> from anyone for access to the materials on the Consortium servers.

A worthy and desirable outcome, but COMPLETELY unrealistic under these
conditions: Suppose I am publishing a successful paper journal now. I
am interested in producing an online version of it too. What should I
do? Set one up myself (as most journals are indeed doing) and continue
to sell it, like the paper version, for S/L/P, or should I give it to
the Scholar's Forum for free, so they can in turn give it away for

There is absolutely no incentive at all for a publisher to seek or
accept such a "service"! But with just one slight parametric variation,
almost exactly the same thing DOES make sense: if it is AUTHORS who are
offered the free server, in which they can make their papers accessible
for free for all. Journal authors already give their intellectual
property to their publishers for free, to sell via S/L/P; they can in
addition put it in the Scholar's Forum, where it can be accessed online
by anyone without any barriers from S/L/P.

(If I SELL the online version of my journal to Scholar's Forum to give
away to everyone for free, then Scholar's Forum just becomes a global
site-licensee for the online version of all journals. Are you likely to
find the resources for that? Site-Licenses are simply the "L" in the
S/L/P troika from which we are trying to free the literature!)

> b.) To use a Forum server as its electronic
> distribution source, the publisher must freely accept the terms agreed
> to by all parties to the Consortium.

Vide supra. Why on earth should a publisher want to accept this? It is
AUTHORS who can and will.

> c.) Authors or their institutions retain copyright per
> the terms established by the Consortium (see the Model text).

Agreed. Extremely important for their right to self-archive!

> 4. The journal as a finite aggregation of vetted works will
> fade away. In its place, the Forum offers a strong set of value-added
> alternatives:

Yes, this will indeed happen, but only if the self-archiving
(subversive) route is taken, as in LANL. If it awaits prior
acquiescence by publishers, it has a long wait! (If it hopes to entice
authors away from its proven, prestigious, high-impact journals to new
journals or whatever, it has an even longer wait!)


And stay away from the rhetoric of "value-added"!

That is a code-word for something that publishers are hoping will
sustain a market for their published papers online (even in the face of
a free online archive). There is nothing whatsoever wrong with that,
and one should wish publishers every success in this, for the goal of
holding onto the S/L/P market with add-ons is in no way at
cross-purposes with our goal of providing a free version, free of their

For if peer-review is inextricably wrapped into the published version
(using copyright transfer as a glue), then the refereed literature can
never be freed, by definition, for refereeing would be a proprietary
add-on, available only if you pay for access via S/L/P. (That is why I
am fairly sure that the end-game will be that peer-review is paid for
separately up-front.)

But there is no need for us to get involved in the value-added game:
The archive should be there for authors to self-archive their
unrefereed preprints as well as their refereed reprints. Providing that
for free is a value orders of magnitude greater than any further
frills, and should be clearly portrayed as such, so the benefits of
self-archiving can be seen for precisely what they are.

> * Societies or other groups may create and disseminate coherent,
> accessible virtual collections of links selected for their pertinence
> to members' interests. Thus, a society may announce the availability
> of a work of particular interest to members but that may be outside
> their usual focus or discipline.

The possibility of easily creating powerful linking, searching and
alerting engines will be a "knock-on" effect of getting the entire
journal literature online and free. But rather than focus on these
rather obvious frills, I think it will be more effective to focus on
the huge core benefit, which is the freeing of the entire literature,
an incomparable boon even entirely frill-free. Giving the impression
that it's all for the frills risks making undecided self-archivers
miss the point completely!

> * In addition, this platform will enable individuals to establish
> their own subject profiles to create personal alerting services.

Alerting services are trivial (and can be hired for a fee); a free
literature is revolutionary (and, a fortiori, will obviously spawn
free alerting engines too).

> 5.The Forum provides flexibility to authors:
> * The Forum supports choice on how widely a work may be made
> available prior to acceptance; authors may submit works directly to
> editorial boards or to conference planners without first announcing
> their work in a preprint server.

Authors will always have the choice about whether or not to self-archive
their preprint publicly before refereeing. It is not clear why you
mention it at all. It is rather like saying that one of the virtues of
cars of horse-carts will be that you can use them when you want to and
walk when you don't want to. (But I could already do that with

> * Authors do not have to relinquish their right to submit papers
> to established journals; the Forum represents one option for authors.

Unfortunately, it is not at all clear what this "option" is, once one
tries to take a more detailed look: The Forum is just an Archive. It
will contain either unrefereed preprints or refereed reprints. But to
get from unrefereed preprint to refereed reprint one still has to
submit the paper to a journal (established or new, conventional or
experimental) for refereeing. So what is the point here?

> 6. The Forum does not propose to change the peer review
> process. Peer review will continue to be conducted within the
> disciplines by referees selected for their expertise by their peers.

If the Forum does not support any new forms of peer review (protocols?
standards?) of its own: that's very good. Then it is even clearer that
it is just an Archive (although "just" is an understatement, for a
free, global archive like LANL is just what Learned Inquiry needs).

But then why mention peer review at all? The Forum does not want to
take it over, and become a megajournal or journals: good. It
contemplates an arrangement in which publishers seek to archive their
contents in the Forum, offering them free for all. That is extremely
unrealistic for now. But AUTHORS will certainly want to do this, once
the Forum is available to them. This should be made clear and

> * Editorial Boards will continue to be established just as today
> by the scientific community, to serve the same critical needs. There
> may be an infinite number of such boards, and they may be broadly
> based or highly specialized, depending solely on their objectives and
> goals. They will continue to exercise exactly the same quality
> control function as for today's journals and they may compete in areas
> in which the scholarly community feels that competition is beneficial.

Apart from the rather profligate contemplation of infinity, this
passage is again solemnly stating the obvious: Of course peer review
will proceed apace. Why even mention it, or link it in any way with the
substantive thing the Forum is trying to do?

> 7. Copy-editing is a minor process. As Andrew Odlyzko
> recently pointed out, "The manuscripts prepared by authors have been
> improving, to the point that copy of diminished value."

I agree, but its value is still nonzero, and will be part of quality
control, along with peer review, no matter who implements it.

> * However, editorial boards may demand that any author have a work
> copy-edited to meet its quality standards. The Forum proposes that
> such copy-editing continues to be performed but that the author
> becomes responsible.

Such decrees are, I regret, not very productive! Why is the Forum
pronouncing on all these things that are not, will not be, and should
not be under its control or aegis at all? Implement a free archive and
let the user community take care of the rest, as it did with LANL!

> * The Forum proposes to eliminate the need for an editorial board
> to contract with or become a publisher to accomplish copy-editing, by
> establishing lists of approved consultants or services to whom an
> author may take a work that needs to be brought up to the board's
> standards.

Again it is unclear why any of this is even being mentioned, but if not
dropped, it will risk giving a potentially serious and substantive
proposal an air of naivete.

> * It is the prerogative of the editorial board to insist on
> receiving verification of required copy-editing from its approved list
> prior to final acceptance of a work.

Again, the Forum should focus on its unique and all-important function
and continue to leave irrelevent matters like this to the experts.

> 8. The new management of copy-editing illustrates a central
> advantage of the Forum model: production cost is shifted from the
> reader/subscriber to the author/creator. Authors are given meaningful
> incentive to improve their writing skills and to submit quality copy
> at the outset which would certainly improve the lot of referees and
> editorial boards!

I've commented on this once already: Please distinguish pre-refereeing
help in writing from post-refereeing help. The latter is called copy
editing. No one can do that entirely for himself. Your friends can't be
counted on to do it for you, for everything, always. Even a
departmental service may not meet the standards of Journal X. So it
follows that part of peer review includes some quality control
for FORM, along with the usual quality control for CONTENT.

The rest is again rather naive future-casting (and does not sound very
informed by prior editorial office experience either!) Best all

> 9. While journal publication may take time to displace or
> reconfigure, conference proceedings are expensive, limited
> publications that are difficult to access but contain many valuable
> works. They may provide an ideal arena for initial experimentation.

Yes, conference proceedings (unrefereed, or lightly refereed) were
always a problematic case, and often no publisher wanted to do them
(and no doubt many conferences never got published, for that reason).
They are a natural for Archives, but they are the easy (and small)
part. The refereed journal literature is the hard (and much larger)

> Conference organizers will have the opportunity to
> distribute abstracts or preliminary works prior to a conference
> without incurring the expense of printing and mailing, thus reducing
> the costs associated with publicizing a conference.

LANL, by the way, has already implemented this for a number of
conferences, with no fanfare, and without any implication that any new
principles are involved: The unrefereed conference literature is
virtually preprint literature anyway. Conference overlays, to add
weight to such preprints in the form of another kind of certification
tag on which users can search (unrefereed conference proceedings,
refereed conference proceedings), will be a useful feature.

> The Forum also provides a mechanism for conference
> organizers to announce programs and create indexes of submitted works.
> Full papers, reviewed or not, may be made available at a later time
> with links to the original program and possibly with added commentary
> from the conference itself. Refereed papers would be included in the
> archive, and could include links to standing editorial boards in
> addition to the conference links.

If you the proposal continues to be vague about Journals, the hard
case, and detailed about conferences, the easy case, there is a risk of
turning the Forum into a conference server, and delaying still further
the freeing of the all-important journal literature.

Commentaries, as I said in my first set of comments (sic), are yet
another matter -- interesting, important, but nothing the Forum needs
to make any explicit commitments about. Comments -- both refereed and
unrefereed -- are among the many items that authors might self-archive
in the Forum (along with revised updates, corrigenda, and other
potentially linked material).

> 10. The Forum proposes to develop a dynamic alternative to
> deadening email discourse surrounding works in servers. By providing
> a hierarchical "threaded" discourse platform, comments may be linked
> in a coherent and logical manner. Readers will have access to the
> full discussion rather than to edited email commentary.

This has already been done, via software, in the form of the many
Variants of Hypermail Archives that are in growing use today. Such
threaded, linked comments and responses are again candidate items for
deposit in the Archive. But this is all irrelevant; please drop it.

> * All prior comments will be available to each reader, in full, as
> submitted, without requiring compilation or intermediation.

Please drop.

> * To facilitate this new mode of discussion, the Forum will
> develop the mechanisms to support and retain linked commentary.

This is an worthwhile feature, but already proposed by the American
Physical Society in 1992, and as obvious a capability for an online
archive as citation-linking.


> * The author of a comment on a refereed work may also submit it
> directly to an appropriate editorial board for review and possible
> inclusion in the archival record.

Would this not be amply covered by a generic statement that the Archive,
besides containing unrefereed preprints and refereed reprints of
papers, will also contain refereed and unrefereed commentaries on those
papers, with links?

> 11. A well-designed index to the scholarly record assures
> that present and future scholars may efficiently identify relevant
> work. Since the Forum's input protocols and standards platform will
> permit the creation of a body of works that carry consistent
> identification parameters, works may be sorted and retrieved by those
> parameters. Consistent identification parameters counterbalance the
> limitations of hyperlink-only retrieval or free text-only searching.

Online search and retrieval tools are a growing research specialty.
Unless the Forum somehow wants to become, or claim to be, especially
expert or advanced in this specialty, you are best leaving it to the
experts, and focusing on the invaluable resource the Forum really IS in a
position to provide: A free online archive. Don't hitch your wagon to
any current vision of the shape that online search and retrieval will
be taking in the near future.

> We submit that the Scholar's Forum, in its alpha-to-omega vision for
> advancing scholarly communication, addresses for the first time in one
> coherent model the wide range of needs and concerns of the academic
> and research community. The Scholar's Forum provides a framework for
> experimentation to develop the next paradigm for scholar discourse.

Please, forget about models and paradigms! Apart from a few platitudes
along with a few bloopers, which should all be dropped, we have here a
powerful, viable proposal to extend the proven LANL principle to the
rest of the disciplines. Go ahead and do it! It will work, and a free,
globally accessible learned journal literature WILL produce a new
paradigm for the use of the learned literature, to the eternal benefit
of research and researchers.

Best wishes

Stevan Harnad
Professor of Cognitive Science
Department of Electronics and phone: +44 1703 592-582
Computer Science fax: +44 1703 592-865
University of Southampton
Highfield, Southampton

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