Forum for problems of extending application of xxx?

From: ransdell, joseph m. <ransdell_at_DOOR.NET>
Date: Sat, 21 Nov 1998 17:08:06 -0600

As moderator Stevan has specified that the topic of the September Forum
is whether or not there is "a way to make learned serial literature
available online, free for all." And he has indicated further that the
continuing agenda -- assuming there is some continuation -- is to be on
"the road to the optimal and the inevitable for refereed journal
publication." (See the appended quote below from Stevan's earlier

There is a somewhat different topic that especially concerns me, though,
and I wonder if there is any other forum where it might be appropriately
discussed? The question I have in mind concerns the extent to which the
xxx archive, considered as a publication system, is extensible across
academia in general.

I take it for granted that the system must accommodate the function of
refereed journal publication, presumably as a part of the value-added
"overlay" on the basic database of freely submitted and freely
accessible research papers, but do not see that as especially
problematic as long as the principle of the overlay is maintained, i.e.
all "value-added" factors are accommodated in the overlay and the
policies of the base are not modified. The purpose of the forum I am
looking for would be rather to discuss the kinds of difficulties this
extension is meeting and is likely to meet as the attempt to extend it
progresses from field to field, with special concern for whether or to
what extent it is found acceptable as a form of professional practice.
The accommodation of refereed literature is only a part of the problem
to be solved, as is the problem of the cost of journals, and -- without
intending to question the importance of either of these matters -- I am
concerned myself with the larger range of problems involved in the
extension of xxx and wonder if there are others who are similarly
interested in this.

It seems likely prima facie that the success of the xxx system has been
due in part to the pre-existing and well established practice of
pre-print distribution that had developed in certain fields (such as
high energy physics), as Paul Ginsparg has himself suggested, and that
its most likely success in extension will be in other fields that also
have more or less well developed traditions of pre-print distribution.
There may, however, be other factors as yet unnoticed that will make an
important difference in this respect as well, even as regards the "hard"
sciences, and as regards the rest of academe, the safest thing to say is
that there may well be problems not usually even thought about by those
in the hard sciences. Indeed, their very "hardness" or solidity as
consistently productive research traditions may be due in large part to
the same factors that have led to their already existing commitment to
use of preprint distribution of research reports in leading edge

I am not suggesting possible difficulties in a skeptical spirit nor with
the intent of discouragement. On the contrary, I think it is of the
first importance to press for its extension everywhere in academia, and
this for the following reasons:

(1) The difficulties encountered in attempting to establishing the xxx
system will tend to reveal as nothing else could what purposes the
present publication practices in various fields actually serve.

(a) The university is a composite of a number of different intellectual
traditions which do not originate from a common source historically and
have not developed with a common understanding of the function of
professional publication. Though officially ignored, this difference in
understanding cannot have gone unnoticed by anyone who has had much
experience with the typical review processes involved in tenure and
promotion, for example, as it goes from the department level through the
various administratively more comprehensive levels, or who has had much
occasion to attend to the differing perceptions of what is
professionally appropriate and what is not as expressed by people in the
various disciplines that go to make up the university. In normal
academic life we usually and rightly downplay the differences in the
interest of workable consensus. But the differences are there, the
present situation is not a normal one, and the mere attempt to extend
the xxx archive principle could be extraordinarily enlightening about
what the university is actually like as a composite of distinct

(b) Moreover, the benefit to the various disciplines of being compelled
to reflect upon their practices in order to explain why such a system is
or is not feasible could hardly be exaggerated, and it is quite possible
that there will turn out to be a surprising number of special areas even
in the humanities where such a system would work and be welcomed.

(2) The significance of the xxx archives as an institutional innovation
and reform will doubtless be perceived somewhat differently by various
people interested in it. My own view is that, regarded by historians of
the future, it will be seen as having had three major effects,
regardless of how successful the further extension of it turns out to

(a) The first is that it has made good on the claim of science to be
essentially public and universally accessible as an activity of
discovery of how things really are, at least as regards people who are
sincerely interested in doing what is necessary to find out what is and
has been happening in science. I am not talking about scientific
popularization but about the accessibility of scientific activity in a
timely manner by those who are able to contribute to it and benefit from
it as participants in it in virtue of direct access. There are, of
course, limitations in what people can do who lack the instruments
required to participate in research on par with those on the leading
edge; but access both to retrieval and to distribution of findings in
some fields is now universally available to anyone who can access the
internet, and scientists themselves have done what is within their power
in those areas to make universal access available.

(b) It has provided an extraordinarily lucid model (yet to be
analytically explicated from a logical point of view, as far as I know)
for understanding what the essential role of publication actually is in
primary research activity, speaking generally, and thus made it possible
to isolate its immediate research function from other functions which
publication practices can and do serve, such as those served by critical
review processes (including "peer" review), which are various and by no
means reducible to some simple "certification" or "validation" or
"qualitative ranking" function.

(c) The success of the xxx archive, as a system of publication playing
the role alluded to above, provides a kind of existence proof for the
proposition that, in its pure form as cooperative inquiry aiming at
finding out how things are, science is essentially egalitarian in its
social structure. This truth is one that has largely been forgotten
during the course of this century, though it was understood by American
philosophers in particular prior to the First World War, who thought of
the primary benefit of science not in terms of its technological
applications (which are morally ambivalent) but in terms rather of its
role as a suggestive model in the development of democratic life and

These implications of the success of the xxx archive will, I believe,
show themselves historically as of the first importance as regards the
aim of increasing the intelligence and effectiveness of reform movements
both in academia and in the world in general. Or perhaps I should
express these as hopes rather than beliefs of mine, but my estimation of
its value is the same in either case.

Thus -- to repeat -- I am concerned to promote and to understand the
problems that are involved in promoting the extension of the xxx archive
principle throughout academia generally, and am wondering if there is
any forum available for discussing freely the problems that are or may
turn out to be involved in this -- and, of course, I am wondering as
well to what extent there actually is a desire to engage in such ongoing
and exploratory discussion, the chief aim of which would be to keep the
xxx archive movement alive by providing it with the sort of ongoing
critical intelligence that only an open forum with the diverse
constituency of the present forum, devoted specifically to that task,
can provide. I do not conceive such a forum as having any ax to grind
other than as just described. It's aim should be informational and
investigatory rather than persuasional.

I would like to suggest also that, if there is such a forum, it would be
desirable to try to include input not only from the constituency of the
present forum but also from a broader range of representation of faculty
across the academic spectrum. I should stress, though, that I do NOT
mean by this that one should seek official delegates of the presently
influential faculty, chosen for their present prestige and status, but
rather people from various fields who understand what networking is, who
are honestly interested in the potentialities of it, and who have an
experientially informed and realistic view of what academia is actually
like, as seen from their special perspective, regardless of their
present status and prestige -- bearing in mind that status and prestige
is as likely to be a disability as it is to be an asset when it comes to
the intelligent discussion of things of possible radical import. The
point is that judgment should be used: those who know of interested
people in various fields should simply invite them ad hoc rather than
trying to get some sort of "official" representation, which latter could
be deadly.


Stevan Harnad said, on 17 Oct 1998 (9:55), in response to an earlier
message of mine:

-----QUOTE HARNAD--------
The issue here is quite simple: There currently exists a learned serial
literature; it is largely in paper now, and costly. Is there a way to
make that literature available online, free for all?

I believe that the answer is yes, and that this outcome can be attained
without first having to solve the problems of academic inequity or to
correct the imperfections of peer review as it is currently practiced,
worthy as is the goal of doing so. Indeed, I think it is both
short-sighted and defeatist to suppose that the one is contingent on the
other two.

So I am determined not to let worthy but irrelevant causes obstruct or
obscure the road to the optimal and the inevitable for refereed journal
--------END HARNAD QUOTE--------

Stevan evidently misunderstood me as urging a solution to the problems
he mentions. My concern is only with problems in extending the xxx
archive model. But I think it is clear that even with this
misunderstanding cleared up, we still have different agendas, and the
present forum is not suitable for what I have in mind.

P.S.: For what it is worth, I have a paper on-line which is a
modification of an occasional paper given several years ago at a local
meeting of the APS, entitled "Sciences as Communicational Communities",
which will indicate the basis of my professional interest in these
matters. The special relevance of the xxx publication system will
perhaps be obvious in it though there is no explicit reference to it
since I was not yet aware of its existence when I first wrote the

Joseph Ransdell


 Department of Philosophy, Texas Tech University, Lubbock TX 79409
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Received on Sat Nov 21 1998 - 19:17:43 GMT

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