Re: Incentives

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Mon, 10 Jul 2000 17:00:20 +0100

On Sun, 9 Jul 2000, Peter Singer wrote:

SH> This Forum is about freeing the peer-reviewed literature, such as it
SH> is, now. There is no reason to delay or side-track this immediate,
SH> face-valid objective by coupling it in any way with untested hypotheses
SH> about ways of improving or modifying or replacing peer review.
ps> There is a reason. You can create self-archives but their use by
ps> researchers will be impeded by the fact that self-archiving will be
ps> seen by researchers to limit future publication options (see below),
ps> and therefore opportunities for promotion and other incentives.

You may be right that researchers have, among other unexamined
rationales for not going ahead and self-archiving, the superstitious
notion that it might somehow "limit future publication options," but
what is their basis for believing this? If it is a fear that it might
be illegal to self-archive, see the ongoing thread on "Legal ways
around copyright for one's own giveaway texts" in this Forum. (Ditto if
the concern is about journal embargo policies.)

But note that you said above "[t]here IS a reason" (to delay or
side-track this immediate, face-valid objective of freeing the
peer-reviewed literature): What is that reason, then? If it is something
different from what is being discussed in that other thread, please say
what it is, so we can consider it explicitly.

ps> I know the Los Alamos physics archive enjoyed tremendous growth, but i
ps> am not aware the physics community faced a critical mass of prestigious
ps> journals that would not publish papers that had been self-archived. Am
ps> i wrong about this? This is of course an empirical question.

It is indeed an empirical question, in fact, several questions:

  (1) Why is Los Alamos still growing only linearly rather than

[I think it has to do with the unsolved horse/water problem -- and
interoperable open-archiving may prove to be the solution.]

  (2) Is there "a critical mass of prestigious journals" whose
  copyright and embargo policies oppose self-archiving in Physics?

[I don't know the answer. I don't think there is a critical mass, and I
think the question has to be subdivided into negative copyright
policies and negative embargo policies. SCIENCE is negative on both,
ELSEVIER is negative on copyright but not embargo, APS is positive on
both. But there has been no evidence whatsoever of any "limit [on]
future publication options" as a result of self-archiving.]

  (3) Is there "a critical mass of prestigious journals" whose
  copyright and embargo policies oppose self-archiving in Biomedicine?

[I don't know the answer, but I don't think there is any "critical
mass" here either, just a mixture of journals, with a mixture of
copyright and embargo policies (most of them not explicitly formulated
on the online self-archiving question). Again, SCIENCE and NEJM seem to
be negative on both, NATURE and BMJ in the middle, and JAMA on the side
of the angels.]

ps> We can find some empirical evidence in BMJ netprints -- the growth
ps> there has not to date parallelled the situation with the Los Alamos
ps> server. Why not?

BMJ netprints is just for unrefereed preprints; we are talking about
freeing the refereed literature. But it is certainly true that the
horse/water problem is not yet solved, either in physics or in
biomedicine. Let us hope that the availability and proliferation of
Santa-Fe-compliant open archives will at last persuade the research
cavalry that it is safe to drink!

ps> Self-archiving is not a both/and decision because many prestigious
ps> journals will not accept papers that have been posted to the web.
ps> Although some journals do accept previously posted articles, the author
ps> limits her options by self-archiving. We may agree that such
ps> restrictions are not a good thing, but they exist.

Self-archiving embargoes on pre-refereeing pre-prints are not only not a
good policy, they are not an enforceable policy: Even if journals were
to dispatch software agents all over the web trawling for "look-alikes"
before refereeing any submission, drafts of a paper are on a
continuum: Author-agents making pre-emptive cosmetic changes to outwit
embargo-agents could keep one another endlessly busy while researchers
went about their business.

The absurdity of such "spy vs. spy antics" is patent, and in turn
highlights the futility of trying to resolve this fundamental conflict
between the interests of research/researchers and the interests of
current publication revenue-streams in this heavy-handed way. Nor do I
believe that journal editors and referees (who, after all, are us) would
knowingly collaborate in such entirely needless and counterproductive
cyber-sleuthing; they too would go about their business.

So such sci-fi scenarios are mere figments of the imagination, and not
realistic reasons for fearing to self-archive one's pre-refereeing
preprints, or for feeling obliged to submit them only to journals that
explicitly allow self-archiving. Embargoes, I repeat, unlike copyright
agreements, are not legal matters, but mere journal policy matters --
and arbitrary and self-serving ones, in this case.

ps> On the matter of self-archiving vs. Biomedcentral, after attending the
ps> interesting conference in New York, I am not sure the distinction
ps> between self-archiving and Biomedcentral with respect to subsequent
ps> publication is as striking as Stevan implies. In both cases the author
ps> retains copyright. Why would another journal -- say a specialty journal
ps> serving a particular audience -- publish [a modified or customized
ps> version of] only self- archived papers but not papers from
ps> Biomedcentral if they feel the material is of interest to their
ps> readers?

This unfortunately seems to conflate a number of distinct and even
mutually exclusive factors into an impossible composite picture:

(1) Self-archiving pre-refereeing preprints

(2) Self-archiving post-refereeing postprints (revised final drafts,
refereed and accepted by a peer-reviewed journal)

(3) Submitting papers to Biomed Central for refereeing (and subsequent
archiving in PubMed Central)

(4) Re-publication of an already-published paper

(5) Copyright retention or assignment (all or part)

Let us forget about re-publication for now (the concern here is about
freeing the refereed literature, not about publishing it over and over

The fundamental difference between the self-archiving model and the
BiomedCentral model for freeing the refereed literature is:

  SA: In the self-archiving model, the author submits the paper to an
  established journal for refereeing AND self-archives [i] the
  pre-refereeing preprint and then later self-archives either [ii] the
  refereed postprint, if the journal copyright agreement allows
  self-archiving, or [iii] a file of corrigenda, indicating what needs
  to be done to turn [i] into [ii], if the journal copyright agreement
  does not allow self-archiving.

  BC: In the BiomedCentral model, the author submits the paper to
  BiomedCentral for refereeing. BiomedCentral then archives
  (optionally first the unrefereed preprint) and then the refereed
  postprint in PubmedCentral.

Copyright is a bit of a red herring here, because freeing the online
refereed draft is the objective, not re-publishing or re-selling the

  In the SA model, the authors either get a copyright agreement that
  allows them to self-archive the refereed postprint [ii] or they
  self-archive the corrigenda [iii] to supplement the already-archived
  preprint [i]. (Less convenient, but only a temporary measure, to get
  us all over the hump.)

  In the BC model, archives retain copyright, and their postprint is
  archived in PubMedCentral (but they have been unable to publish it in
  the established refereed journal of their choice. (Is this too a mere
  inconvenience, or a more serious sacrifice? This is the hub of the

Republication by other journals is utterly irrelevant, once the
refereed version is free for all online.

ps> When you write Universities should reward researchers for
ps> self-archiving, you are agreeing with my argument that incentives
ps> matter. What sort of incentives did you have in mind here?

Perhaps, but I am speaking about much simpler and less problematic
incentive changes: not changing reward or evaluative structures or
publication preferences, but merely mandating that, just as ones work
needs to go into a CV for evaluation, its full texts need to go on the
Web: and providing the Archives and the Archivers to make the first
wave of (proxy) self -archiving as effortless as possible for researchers.

No more radical an incentive change, really, than madating that CVs be
submitted on a disk instead of on paper.

And the real incentive is the enhanced potential impact for every paper
by vouchsafing free access to it for everyone, everywhere, forever.

PAS> The... university, granting agency, or award-giving body simply needs
PAS> to state that the work itself, and not where it was published, should
PAS> be the focus of attention of review committees
SH> And unfortunately the proponent of this expedient needs to state where
SH> these review committees are to find the time, money, and peers to
SH> peer-review all these already peer-reviewed papers afresh each time.
ps> The focus of review in the incentive system is not the paper but
ps> usually the person (university promotion committee or career award or
ps> prize). So it is a false proposition to say all the articles will need
ps> to be re- reviewed. Rather, we need valid and efficient assessments of
ps> the body of a person's work that treats fairly work published, for
ps> example, in Biomedcentral rather than the brand name journals that will
ps> not accept self-archived papers.

I don't think you answered my question: What is this "valid and
efficient assessment of the body of a person's work" if it is not peer
review, done all over again?

And what has BiomedCentral got to do with it? If it succeeds,
BiomedCentral will just be another brand-name journal, or set of
brand-name journals, whose peer review the committee can either trust,
or must redo for itself. We already have a set of known brands, with at
least a prior track record (and established impact factors) to go by,
brands that authors may understandably be reluctant to abandon for new,
untested brands -- and their promotion committees would have the same
reason for concern about relying on them for assessment.

I am afraid I cannot see your point at all.

PAS> The current tools of number of articles, journal brand, journal impact
PAS> factor, peer reviews can be improved. If we produce better tools, we
PAS> will decrease reliance on the ones we have now -- especially journal
PAS> brand -- and authors can be recognized appropriately for their work
PAS> submitted to the new venues for e-"publishing".
SH> By all means produce better tools; test them; and once they have been
SH> shown to do the job, they will no doubt be adopted. Meanwhile, we have
SH> a job to do: freeing the current refereed literature online, now. --
SH> Once this is done, there will be a much bigger database for developing
SH> those new kinds of tools:
ps> I am not arguing that self-archives should not be established in
ps> medicine and science. I also agree that the freed literature will
ps> provide a much better database for citation analysis etc.
ps> The difference in our views is that Stevan sees the proper alignment of
ps> incentives as a detour on the way to freeing the literature and I see
ps> them as a necessary precondition. The problem is, to use Stevan's
ps> metaphor, you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink. We
ps> can create self- archives but researchers won't use them in large
ps> numbers if the incentive system is not aligned with such use.

Peter, we are on the same team. And I agree that it's a chore, getting
the horses to drink. But you seem to be saying that to get them to
drink, you need to get them to want a different beverage. The
rat/cage/horse/water metaphor is getting more and more mixed up: It
will not make sense until distinct and even antithetical things are
kept clearly separate, rather than being jumbled up in a heap. Here are
some of the critical distinctions to keep in mind:

(1) give-away vs. non-give-away work

(2) freeing work vs. improving it vs. improving how it is used to evaluate us

(3) archiving unrefereed preprints vs. archiving refereed postprints

(4) archiving papers vs. publishing papers (refereed)

(5) publishing in an established journal vs. publishing in a new journal

(6) tested and face-valid practises vs. untested, experimental practises

Stevan Harnad
Professor of Cognitive Science
Department of Electronics and phone: +44 23-80 592-582
             Computer Science fax: +44 23-80 592-865
University of Southampton
Highfield, Southampton
Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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