Re: The Urgent Need to Plan a Stable Transition

From: Arthur Smith <apsmith_at_APS.ORG>
Date: Fri, 4 Sep 1998 13:56:16 -0400

So I find myself in the unexpected position of agreeing somewhat more with
Bloom (who I've argued with in the past) than Blume (who I work for). Such
is life...

Harnad's first quote (on goals and motivations in comparison with "professional
authors") we have discussed previously - in brief I believe the "professional
authors" comparison is a straw man argument, and the vast majority of
so-called trade authors have motivations quite similar to scholarly authors,
although there is in truth a wide spectrum for both.

My major complaint with the "Transition from Paper" working group
article, however, is the scant mention it makes of the importance
of the peer review process. This, the actual main intellectual
work of a scholarly publisher, around which any change in copyright policy
should be focused, is discussed only in a caveat paragraph:

    The precise form of this publication policy will require careful crafting, because it is important to preserve the rights of
    publishers to protect the value-added journals they create and to make them available as they wish. These journals, after
    all, require expert editing and are themselves intellectual achievements, in no way simple "sweat-of-the-brow"
    compilations. Journals will continue engaging referees, and can require authors to cite references to publications as a
    condition for publishing; this not only advertises the journal but ensures the integrity of the text. At the same time, open
    commentary of the sort now common on the Los Alamos "xxx" e-print server ( will provide a new,
    added form of critical discussion.

And I don't know where they got that last statement from - the only form of
commentary on the Los Alamos e-print server that I've ever seen is the
same form any scholarly journal has: new articles (that may or may not
be called "comments") referring to older ones. And "xxx" doesn't even interlink
these very well (except in the High Energy areas where it can make use of the
SLAC citations database). Did Science actually have referees go over
this paper?

As Floyd Bloom points out, there are two possible clear intellectual owners
of a scholarly work; the author who writes it (or the author's employer)
and the editor (employed by a journal, owned by a publisher) who evaluates,
places, and in many cases helps shape it. The contributions of both are
inextricably intertwined in the final product. The publisher spends
up to $1000 on the editing process for each scholarly article published -
this is in many cases more than the author has spent in time on the actual
article, although the research reported in the article could have cost
tens, hundreds, or thousands of times more. Ideally both publisher
and author (or author's employer) should share in copyright ownership -
is this possible, and would this be a useful middle ground? Right
now, either through current schemes or the proposal under discussion,
sharing is done by ownership on one side and licensing without ownership
on the other. The fact that the license in the proposal is nonexclusive
is potentially very damaging to the publishers' rights. Is it a revocable
license? Could publishers be forced to pay authors for continued use
of a license? (Oops that would make scientific authors paid for their words...)

On Fri, 4 Sep 1998 16:15:13 +0100, Stevan Harnad <> wrote:

>(2) Is the only choice really that between free papers, with no quality control,
>versus quality-controlled papers in exchange for copyright transfer and
> "...A paper submitted to Science will undergo extensive review and,
> upon acceptance, extensive revision for clarity, accuracy, and
> solidity. A paper published in Science will be seen throughout the
> world by our 160,000 paid subscribers and perhaps two or three
> times more readers as issues are shared. More than 30,000 readers
> will be alerted to the new reports within hours of the appearance
> each week of Science Online...."
>(3) How many journals reach 160K subscribers (or even 1/100 % of that)?
>(4) Free posting on the Web can reach all 160K (and 100 times that).

Science magazine is an extreme case, but with cheap internet
distribution every journal publisher should be shooting for at least
10's of thousands of subscribers. That's the incentive they have
BECAUSE they are paid through subscriptions (S/SL/PPV). Free posting on
the web could reach 16 million people, sure - but why would even 16
people have any reason to think it's worth reading? That's Bloom's argument,
and mine iterated here earlier as well.

> [...]
>(6) Do we need this degree of investment? Is it worth the consequences
>(S/SL/PPV, fire-walls)?

Let's be clear: $1000 per article means several billion dollars a year,
worldwide. This is a lot of money. It is definitely a good question to ask if
it is worth it - and if the answer is no, we want to cut that in half,
or by a factor of 10, then scholarly publishing will have to be radically
changed. The most likely consequence will be a situation such as in some of
the humanities, where only 10 percent of articles are accepted for journal
publication. The rest could certainly be distributed free on the internet with
no quality checking - is this what we want? If so choose it, but choose
it consciously, not by following blindly arguments such as those put
forth by the "Transition from Paper" working group.
Received on Tue Aug 25 1998 - 19:17:43 BST

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