ALPSP Research study on academic journal authors

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Thu, 27 May 1999 10:29:35 +0100

> Date sent: Thu, 27 May 1999 08:01:16 +0100
> Subject: Research study on academic journal authors
> From: "ALPSP" <>
> the ALPSP research study on the motivations and concerns of
> contributors to learned journals
> The Association of Learned and Society Publishers has recently carried out
> a large-scale survey of contributors to learned journals. The aim was to
> discover what motivated researchers to publish in journals, and how they
> decided where to publish, as well as their concerns about the current
> system, and what changes they wanted or expected to see in the future.

Here's a hypothesis: I bet this ALPSP survey never asked the authors the
following pointed question:

   If there is a choice between making your papers, which you give to
   journals for free, accessible to all your potential readers for free,
   rather than for fee, would you prefer that?

Nor were there likely to be any questions about the contingencies that
would lead to actually giving authors that option.

> Authors are continuing to publish in learned journals primarily to
> communicate their findings and advance their careers. Direct financial
> reward is not an important issue.

Indeed it is not, but in this simple fact, which sets learned journal
publishing radically apart from all other forms of publishing, are some
radical and hitherto unexploited truths: Not only are learned journal
authors not interested in being paid for their papers, but it is
against their interests that their readers should have to pay for them
either. That is why they have always taken the time and trouble (and
expense) to provide offprints: The potential impact of their work (and
all its ensuing rewards) depends essentially on its accessibility.


> Their main aim is to reach the widest possible audience,

Indeed, but unless the question I formulated above is posed to them
explicitly, along with a realistic set of conditional questions about
the contingencies that would allow them to attain their preference, a
survey like this can only be a confirmation of the unreflective,
uniformed status quo.

> with the quality of peer review and the impact factor of the journal
> the main factors of importance in achieving their overall publishing
> objectives.

One of the contingencies in question is that there is a way for authors
to have their cake and eat it too: They can have their rigorous peer
review, and high-impact journals, yet without any financial access
barriers separating them from their potential readership. They could
have this by simply publicly self-archiving all their papers
(unpublished and published) online now. Was this contingency -- and its
implications -- probed in this survey of what authors want?


> In deciding where to submit their work, the perceived reputation of the
> journal, its impact factor, subject area, international reach and
> coverage by abstracting and indexing services are extremely important.

The last two factors -- reach and coverage -- are the ones in question

> Offprints continue to be the main way in which authors disseminate their
> findings after publication, though 84% also claim to announce their
> results at conferences pre-publication.

Public self-archiving of all papers ("eprints") is the natural online
successor to offprint dissemination, but it has enormous implications
for the way the publishing itself will be implemented (online-only),
what it will cost (much less), and how it will be paid for (probably on
the author-institution-end rather than the reader-institution-end, out
of institutional savings from the latter).

> Copyright does not appear to be an area of major concern at the moment,
> though a significant number of authors think that copyright should be
> retained by the author rather than being relinquished to the publisher.

Copyright is and ought to be the most central question. For if authors
are denied the right to publicly self-archive, the choice in question is
denied them, entirely and arbitrarily contrary to their interests.


> Around 30% of authors express dissatisfaction with the peer review system,
> primarily because of the delays incurred in the process.

Peer review, being reliant on overloaded referees giving their time for
free, will always be something of a delay factor, but it can be made
faster and more efficient by being implemented online.


> Publication delays in general are a source of concern, especially
> because of the anxiety that someone else will publish the work first.

This problem is COMPLETELY solved by public self-archiving.

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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