Re: The forgotten importance of editors

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Fri, 6 Aug 1999 10:52:35 +0100

On Thu, 5 Aug 1999, Arthur Smith wrote:

> the key to having smaller journals
> accept the inevitable was to find ways to bring their editors on board.

It is not at all clear what this pertains to. Editors are "on board" as
long as peer review is on board. And on board what? Self-archiving does
not require anyone to embark on any new vessels; it leaves current
journals intact. (Only a resultant decline in the S/L/P market may
require some downsizing and refinancing of current vessels.)

There has been a scenario floated by some to the effect that one should
try to draw editorial boards away from their current journals in favour
of new online-only journals under new management. I think this is highly
unrealistic, undesirable, and unnecessary, and should only be considered
as a very last resort; in any case there is no call for it whatsoever
at this stage.

> the provost's opinion...
> that the "lower tier" journals, which is often a way of characterizing
> the smaller ones, will disappear in the new regime.

There is no new regime. Provosts are not running the show (except for
paying the library serials S/L/P budgets).

> No matter how much Stevan denies it, journals of all sizes are
> threatened by author self-archiving - why indeed did he call it a
> "subversive proposal" in the first place?

Not denying it one bit! That is indeed precisely why the proposal was
dubbed subversive.

(And so much for the red herring of the "small journal": ALL journals
whose revenues are predicated on holding this give-away literature
hostage to S/L/P access tolls are threatened by the optimal/inevitable,
as they indeed SHOULD be, in the interests of research, researchers and

> And to the extent editors have power, and feel
> threatened, they will oppose the business

And they will be answered, point for point.

And if reason prevails, the opposition will be unsuccessful.

But may I also express some doubt that Editors Bloom (Science) and Relman
(NEJM) (see URLs above) are representative of scientific journal
editors in general? Let us not forget Arthur Smith's boss, Marty Blume
(Editor of all APS journals) and many others who are conscious of
editing journals for the sake of science and not for the sake of
protecting journals' current S/L/P revenue streams, particularly as
alternative ways of funding quality control are possible (as has been
repeatedly pointed out in this Forum)?

> the current proposals (E-biomed,
> Scholars Forum) will not succeed, at least if restricted to author
> self-archiving only.

They will not be "restricted" to self-archiving only. That is merely the
first (subversive) phase. Once self-archives prevail among users, as
LANL did in Physics, official journal overlays will be implemented,
just as they were with LANL in Physics.

What is completely wrong-headed is to launch the self-archives
initially as if they were journals, or alternatives to journals. They
are neither, just as LANL is not and never was, and this is what must
be made abundantly clear from the outset.

> What will it take to motivate other editors to
> support author self-archiving? I think this is a highly relevant
> question for this forum.

It is indeed, and has been and is continuing to be actively discussed.

> And I think the answer has to be a mechanism, within these proposals,
> for the continuity of journals in some form, with at least a reasonable
> plan for how things will continue to be funded.

Many proposals have been made; only the wildest ones have proposed
discontinuing journals, and those have been, I think, rationally
rebutted. Many plans for funding have been discussed, including my own
quite explicit one (switch from reader-institution end S/L/P funding to
author-institution end up-front funding out of the institutional S/L/P
savings). But we still need a stable interim transition scenario, and
that will require some collaborative and perhaps consortial planning.

> With E-biomed and the Scholar's
> Forum on the table, we now have a wonderful starting point to actually make
> this new regime come about - but we absolutely need to address the survival
> of the journals and the role of editors in the future - beyond merely
> being "stamps of approval".

Peer review, as Arthur knows quite well, is not merely a "stamp of
approval," but a dynamic, iterative interaction, mediated by the
editor, with peer feedback shaping articles to meet a particular
journal's quality standards. That is what it has always been, and that
is what it will continue to be, regardless of the medium (or the means
of funding its continued implementation).

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

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Dec 10 2010 - 19:45:35 GMT