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

From: Professor L.W. Hurtado <hurtadol_at_DIV.ED.AC.UK>
Date: Mon, 26 Apr 1999 10:29:38 +000

As a participant in the Caltech Conference (with Stevan Harnad,
Ann Okerson, and others), and as someone who has advocated a
scholarly consortium to promote and give academic respectability
to internet refereed journal publication (from the First International
Conference on Refereed Electronic Journals in Winnipeg in 1993), I
have to say that I am not aware of any sinister motives at work in
the Caltech attempt to "flesh out" the idea. Stevan Harnad has
raised some interesting criticisms and the Caltech proposal is not
inacapable of being improved upon. But no sinister "gatekeeping"
by senior university administrators is at work here, to my
knowledge. In fact, senior admin people in universities have been
among the slowest to realize the importance of electronic
publication! So, perhaps we could deal with the practical matters
of how best to proceed, how to improve upon the Caltech proposal,
etc., and lay to rest X-file type paranoias about the feared ulterior
motives behind the proposal.
As a step in that direction, I applaud Harnad's proposal that
authors seek to retain the right to make their own free distribution
of their papers, and that the academic establishment (e.g., acad
societies) could/should line up in support of this practice. In a
sense, for some time journals have been doing something like this,
in the provision to authors of multiple off-prints of their published
papers. Harnad's proposal amounts to negotiating the right to
distribute *pre-publication* form(s) of the paper as well as the off-
print/post-publication form.
But I'm not so sure as he is that his "subversive proposal" will
succeed in forcing journal publishers to the net. It may, in some
fields, such as particle physics (though I can't myself say), if (1)
the pace of discovery research is very fast, (2) the people all
basically know one another and one another's work, and (3) it is
readily and quickly possible to evaluate the worth of a research
But in other fields, such as my own (origins of Christianity;
Religion) and other fields perhaps esp. in the Humanities, things
are different. I'm frankly not interested in reading unpublished
papers, except as a favor for friends, or very exceptionally, in some
question where it *is* possible to determine the immediate value of
the paper from merely reading it without re-tracing the research
involved. In most cases, I want the refereeing process first: to filter
out the papers not worth the time, to set the agenda of what must
be responded to, etc. And I know that a good many others in my
field feel the same way. I know because I've had people decline
interest in reading my own papers until they're published!
Moreover, unpublished material doesn't count for any career
purpose: tenure, promotion, obtaining research grants, general
credibility of a scholar, etc. So, given these factors, and esp. in
the sort of fields I've mentioned, how would the inherent value of pre-
publication archives of one's work really have much clout in bringing
about change?
In a number of Humanities fields, the problems are to get refereed
material out within a reasonable period of time (e.g., I've just had
published in April a paper I wrote in July 97, and had accepted in
Jan 98; and that's not as bad as it could be in time-lag). But it
must be *refereed* material, not the author's own pre-publication
version, that gets out a.s.a.p. Internet publication would facilitate
more rapid dissemination of refereed work.
But we need to legitimize and make fully respectable internet
refereed vehicles. How to do that? How do we get academia to
get on board? How to we get heads of depts and tenure/promotion
committees, univ. V-Ps, research grant bodies, etc., to see
publications in refereed internet vehicles as in principle and
eventually in fact as significant publication as the known paper
Larry Hurtado

L. W. Hurtado
University of Edinburgh,
New College
Mound Place
Edinburgh, Scotland EH1 2LX
Phone: 0131-650-8920
Fax: 0131-650-6579
Received on Wed Feb 10 1999 - 19:17:43 GMT

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