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

From: Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_COGLIT.ECS.SOTON.AC.UK>
Date: Fri, 7 May 1999 12:34:56 +0100

On Thu, 6 May 1999, Ransdell, Joseph M. wrote:

> It still is not clear why [Scholars Forum] should put as much
> weight... on the self-archiving principle as you think
> they should... it is surely well within the power of
> such a Consortium to attract as many prestigious editors with their
> journals as they can accommodate, and to keep on doing so until they
> have brought on board every journal they think worth supporting, without
> having to depend upon the much slower results of relying on the
> self-archiving principle to work its results out gradually on the basis
> of marketplace considerations.

I think you are misunderstanding my critique of those components of the
Scholars Forum proposal that I believe need to be dropped completely if
the proposal is to succeed.

Yes, a consortium of the leading universities has enormous prestige with
authors and readers. But unless it is advocating self-archiving (which
would benefit from the consortium's prestige with authors), it is
offering absolutely nothing to PUBLISHERS except the readiness to
provide facilities to give away for free what they are currently
selling. Think about it!

No, what the Forum offers is a revolutionary possibility for journal
authors, and readers, and hence for research and researchers: the
possibility of making available, for free for all, papers that they
themselves have written and (among other things) given for free to
their journals.

This possibility has been made available by LANL in Physics, and has
been taken up in astounding numbers. Scholars Forum could see to it that
the same thing happens in all other disciplines.

This will induce a very rapid transition to preferential use of the
free online literature across disciplines and around the world.

Once the effect of this on S/L/P revenues is felt or anticipated by
journal publishers, it will induce them to find a stable alternative,
and an Archive overlay may be one of the ways they can save costs in
delivering the one remaining essential service to which (I believe)
they will have to scale down, namely, quality control.

But to imagine that (because their authors might find the association
prestigious?), journals will jump at the chance of an Archive overlay
NOW, while their papers are still being accessed and paid for
everywhere via S/L/P, is not, I think, very realistic at all, in fact
it hardly makes sense.

The incentive for authors is free access to their papers. That is the
one that needs to be addressed DIRECTLY, not via a tenuous connection
involving lines of influence that somehow pass through universities,
authors, and editorial boards to journal publishers.

> It would cost them something to set up
> the facilities, but then they must know that or they wouldn't be
> thinking of getting into this to begin with, and the expense might be
> recoverable from the money saved by the end of the dependence on
> commercial journals.

Yes, the cost of the Archive should be seen as an investment in eventual
S/L/P savings but also in immediate freeing of the journal literature for
the benefit research and researchers.

> Why would the journal editors and the contributors
> to and readers of the journals be unwilling to take advantage of the
> sort of arrangements and facilities the Consortium could provide if they
> were assured that their editorial policies were not interfered with and
> the papers published would be available at no charge? Sounds like a
> bold and quite practical solution on the face of it.

Yes, the editors, referees, authors and readers are us, but the journals
and their current structure and implementations are in the hands of
journal publishers. I can imagine circumstances that are sufficiently
frustrating to make an editorial board bolt (it has happened
occasionally), and perhaps still more frustrating circumstances might
make many boards bolt en masse. But despite my fervent belief in the
optimality and inevitability of a free online journal literature for
authors, readers, referees, editors, research and researchers, I think
their benefits first have to be FELT, before their absence can be
expected to generate sufficient frustration.

Providing the facilities and the support for self-archiving will make
these benefits felt, as they are already felt in Physics. Then we could
bypass the need for frustration and the bolting of Boards entirely, for
library S/L/P cancellations will awaken journal publishers to the need to
scale down and restructure.

But at the moment, the thought that the mere creation of a prestigious
Archive that invites publishers to restructure right now is a pipe
dream, no matter how much prestige and academic weight stands behind
it. Nor is it necessary, for self-archiving will gently achieve the
same objective, and it could do it quite quickly too, if implemented in
the right way. I hope that is what the Scholars Forum will realize its
real mission is.

> they [could] decide that...
> the self-archiving principle doesn't actually make that much difference
> to them after all since they can accomplish the goal of getting
> everybody on-line that deserves to be on-line without having to wait for
> the eventual effects of free self-archiving.

This is a speculative hypothesis: We KNOW self-archiving works. And
that's just about ALL we know that is pertinent to any of this.

> I don't attribute
> any of this to sinister forces. It could be simple oversight, for
> example, or sloppy thinking, though I am rather more inclined to
> interpret it charitably as an indicator that their present perspective
> on this doesn't make the importance of these things as obvious to them
> as it should.

I am delighted you said this. I agree. I will remind you if you sound as
if you are forgetting again...

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
Received on Wed Feb 10 1999 - 19:17:43 GMT

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