Re: Journal Papers vs. Books: The Direct/Indirect Income Trade-off

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Mon, 12 Jul 1999 18:27:53 +0100

On Mon, 12 Jul 1999, Hal Varian wrote:

> You may end up being right that S/L/P is no longer appropriate given
> the change in costs. If it was so inefficient, how could it have
> survived for so long?

The answer couldn't be simpler: Because of the technology and economics
of print-on-paper! In that medium, S/L/P was the only viable option if
one wanted to be published at all.

In the PostGutenberg, online-only era, for refereed journals, the days
of S/L/P are over!

But S/L/P is STILL fine for the trade literature (books, magazines).
It's only the anomalous, give-away literature that has been freed at
last of the "Faustian Bargain" that held it hostage to S/L/P tolls
until now.

>sh> And what about the many countries and institutions that can't afford
>sh> either form of access? (And re-calculate that at least 14,000 times for
>sh> each of the refereed journals in Ulrich's that some institutional
>sh> author's work might appear in.)
> And what about countries and institutions that can't afford submission
> fees? In the long run, the same costs have to be paid.

I knew, as I wrote that, that this would be the come-back!

The answer is:

(1) Those disenfranchised institutions are currently NET CONSUMERS of
the literature (they aspire only to READ it, if they could only afford
it!). They are not net providers (they are not publishing much). They
could not afford most of the journals under the S/L/P system. So their
researchers had much less basis for publishing anything either, being
starved of access to the literature.

In the up-front system, these institutions will simply get a free ride
from the NET PROVIDERS (research-active, high publishing-rate
institutions), but no one will lose as a result of this. (Stealing my
paper to read is a victimless crime in the post-print-photocopy age!
Among other things, this is the end of the "Copyright Clearance Center"
for the journal literature, which is merely a variant of the "P" in

It should still average out to less than 1/3 of every institution's
prior S/L/P budget being rechanneled toward up-front costs.

And as the institutions that were disenfranchised by S/L/P barriers
begin to become more research-active as a result of free access to the
literature, their research productivity and income should rise, as
should their publication rate, and the resulting revenue available for
covering those increasing publication costs. (Research and
research-impact revenue should always be ahead of QC/C costs by at
least a factor of two, if my < 1/3 figure holds.)

(2) What about institutionally unaffiliated scholars? I think a modest
slush fund should be able to cover that minoritarian need quite

> Your argument is
> that the author-institution pays system covers the costs and allows for
> broader readership, an observation with which I agree. However, there is
> a more subtle issue. An economic system tends to favor those who pay. If
> the authors pay, then the system will lean towards the author's goal
> (getting published) whereas if the readers pay the system will lean
> towards the reader's goal (effective filtering.)

This is the vanity-press argument again. Reply: Peer Review. The peer
community will continue to maintain the standards, as always, for free!
It is only the IMPLEMENTATION of peer review that needs to be paid for,
not referee time/effort. And journal rejection-rates and impact-factors
will continue to be the marks of quality (and the magnet for authors),
not the money exchanged for implementing peer review!

> I'm not sure which effect is larger. But, of course, there is no
> reason why both sides couldn't pay, if that turned out to be the
> appropriate way to align incentives.

Heaven forfend! The worst of all possible worlds! You have to pay to
read AND you have to pay to be published! Insult upon Injury!

> > "It is easy to say what would be the ideal online resource for
> > scholars and scientists: all papers in all fields, systematically
> > interconnected, effortlessly accessible and rationally navigable
> > from any researcher's desk worldwide"
> >
> >
> > As an author, how many potential readers of my work would I like to
> > deprive of this resource -- in the interests of a reader-end S/L/P
> > model (from which I do not make a penny, and which costs my institution
> > at least twice as much as barrier-free QC/C would)?
> The publication system shouldn't be designed only to serve authors---it
> has to serve the needs of readers as well (especially if they are the same
> people!). One might add terms like "all meritorious papers, systematically
> evaluated and vetted" to your "ideal online resource". (I realize that
> you acknowledge elsewhere that refereeing is a critical part of academic
> publication, even though it ends up being missing as a desideratum here.)

Precisely. It is and always has been the freeing of the REFEREED JOURNAL
LITERATURE to which all these efforts have been directed. And as far as
I can tell, that completely nullifies your objection here!

>sh> This "vanity press" model of
>sh> author-pays profoundly misunderstands peer review!
>sh> The prestige of the top journals is based on their quality, which
>sh> in turn depends on their quality-control standards: They only
>sh> accept the very best papers (and their typically high citation
>sh> impact factors reflect this). (They are not "designer labels," for
>sh> the patina of which a "consumer" is willing to pay more!)
> I think that your subsequent analysis is a more-or-less correct analysis
> of the pressures for quality in the current system. Essentially, low
> quality journals are cancelled since their benefits aren't worth their
> costs. But in your proposed system, the reader bears no costs, so
> this particular feedback is eliminated.

The way for a reader to vote is not with his (institution's) S/L/P
dollars, but with his eyes, his citations, his refereeing, and his
research! This is not commerce we are talking about, but Learned

> You may well respond that authors will want to submit to quality journals,
> a point I accept. But what does "submit" really mean in this world?
> I have argued elsewhere that when publication costs were expensive,
> it made sense to evaluate ex ante. Now that publication costs are
> cheap, it makes sense to evaluate ex post.

Untested speculations about replacing peer review by post-publication
peer commentary are a can of worms on which I've written before:

            Excerpt from:

            Harnad, S. (1998) The invisible hand of peer review.
            Nature [online] (5 Nov. 1998)

        Peer Commentary vs. Peer Review

        "And is peer commentary (even if we can settle the vexed "peer"
        question) really peer review? Will I say publicly about someone
        who might be refereeing my next grant application or tenure
        review what I really think are the flaws of his latest raw
        manuscript? (Should we then be publishing our names alongside
        our votes in civic elections too, without fear or favour?) Will
        I put into a public commentary -- alongside who knows how many
        other such commentaries, to be put to who knows what use by who
        knows whom -- the time and effort that I would put into a
        referee report for an editor I know to be turning specifically
        to me and a few other specialists for our expertise on a
        specific paper?

        "If there is anyone on this planet who is in a position to
        attest to the functional difference between peer review and
        peer commentary (Harnad 1982, 1984), it is surely the author of
        the present article, who has been umpiring a peer-reviewed
        paper journal of Open Peer Commentary (Behavioral and Brain
        Sciences, published
        by Cambridge University Press) for over 2 decades (Harnad
        1979), as well as a peer-reviewed online-only journal of Open
        Peer Commentary (Psycoloquy, sponsored by the American
        Psychological Association, for what will soon
        be a decade too).

        "Both journals are rigorously refereed; only those papers that
        have successfully passed through the peer review filter go on
        to run the gauntlet of open peer commentary, an extremely
        powerful and important SUPPLEMENT to peer review, but certainly
        no SUBSTITUTE for it. Indeed, no one but the editor sees [or
        should have to see] the population of raw, unrefereed
        submissions, consisting of manuscripts eventually destined to
        be revised and accepted after peer review, but also (with a
        journal like BBS, with a 75% rejection rate) many manuscripts
        not destined to appear in that particular journal at all.
        Referee reports, some written for my eyes only, all written for
        at most the author and fellow referees, are nothing like public
        commentaries for the eyes of the entire learned community, and
        vice versa. Nor do 75% of the submissions justify soliciting
        public commentary, or at least not commentary at the BBS level
        of the hierarchy."

Food for thought: Would you rather have an ailing relative treated on
the basis of the traditionally peer-reviewed biomedical literature,
with referees selected and their reports adjudicated by a qualified,
answerable Editor, or on the basis of navigating a Netnews chatgroup
peppered with "articles" and "comments" by God knows who (guided by hit


> Furthermore, there is
> no reason to use a 0-1, publish/don't publish scale any more---much
> more sophisticated systems could be used.

On this topic, see:
1999 Thread: Independent scientific publication - Why have journals at all?

Short answer: Peer review is not 0/1, red/green light. It is an
interactive, iterative feedback cycle that sometimes leads to a paper
that passes the threshold for THAT journal in the hierarchy (everything
gets published SOMEWHERE eventually). But referees are a scarce
resource, and journal quality is equivalent to referee quality and
rigour (and rejection rate).

> One scenario is for public-archiving and self-archiving as the publication
> mechanism and an essentially separate system of cataloging/ranking/peer
> reviewing as the filtering system.

This is already covered by the dichotomy: "U" unrefereed preprint vs.
"R" refereed reprint (+ journal name "JX"). BOTH can be self-archived (and
suitably tagged).

> The question then is who should pay
> for the peer reviewing? I submit that it may well be the readers, due to
> the incentive effects described above.

No, the readers need merely CHOOSE to search only on items tagged "R"
in the free Eprint Archive. The refereeing can be provided by peer
review (which ain't broke, hence don't need fixin' -- let alone
replacin' by untested alternatives).

> >hv> if an organization "can't afford" access, it is
> >hv> likely an accounting illusion rather than actual lack of money.
> >
>sh> I'd like to see the data for that, not even for all 14K journals in
>sh> Ulrichs, but just, say, the top 6.5K indexed by the ISI. And please
>sh> tell me the figures per journal, per institution, per country.
> See Lemberg, Richard, 1996 thesis on costs of digitization, UC Berkeley.
> JSTOR did some calculations with the same conclusion, which are reported
> in part by a speech from Bill Bowen, which, I believe, is available
> on the JSTOR Web site.

That does not answer my question: We are not talking about the costs of
digitization, current or retrospective. We are talking about how many
institutions/countries can and do afford how many journals!

You focus on capturing the available money (via S/L/P), whereas I ask
"Why not give it away for free for all, and pay the small remaining cost
-- quality control -- out of the S/L/P SAVINGS?"

If there is no other way to free your intuitions from reader-end market
thinking, run your whole argument through on advertisements: Why
shouldn't advertisers give their ads only to those who can afford to pay
for it?

Answer: Ads are not the right PRODUCT to think of! It is ad companies'
SERVICES that advertisers want to pay for. (But before this segues into
the vanity-press argument again, note that it's only an analogy; for
something closer to a homology, you would have to make it the services
of a quality-controller/certifier (the FDA?), and one in which the
quality assessment itself is done by independent and incorruptible --
because unpaid! -- assessors [referees]!)

Stevan Harnad
Professor of Cognitive Science
Department of Electronics and phone: +44 2380 592-582
Computer Science fax: +44 2380 592-865
University of Southampton
Highfield, Southampton
Received on Wed Feb 10 1999 - 19:17:43 GMT

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