Petitions, Boycotts, and Liberating the Refereed Literature Online

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Fri, 27 Oct 2000 10:06:57 +0000

Here is a reply to a query that is pertinent to this list:

> [Do you know] about the petition that asks signers not to participate
> in publishing articles in journals that don't share their archives[?]

I haven't seen that petition yet, but you may be surprised to hear
that I would not myself endorse it.

I am a strong advocate of freeing the refereed journal literature
online through self-archiving, but I am opposed to making this
conditional in any way on FIRST changing either journals or
author-submission practises in any way (e.g. through author boycotts).
The reason for my opposition is simple: because such preconditions are
unnecessary, ineffectual, and would in fact be counterproductive. So
focusing on them and waiting for them to happen is simply delaying us
on the road to the optimal and inevitable, which is already in reach

Journals need to continue to exist and perform their essential,
irreplaceable function, which is implementing peer review and
certifying the revised, accepted final drafts as having been published
by that journal:

And there is no reason whatsoever for asking or expecting researchers
to choose the journal to which they wish to submit their research
findings on any other basis than the one they use already, which is
quality, reputation, impact.

Why should researchers base that important choice on whether or
not a journal shares its archives (whatever that means)?

For if "sharing its archives" means obliging the journal to give away
its own contents, now, for free, in a public online archive, then
surely it should be the JOURNAL that decides whether or when to do
that, based on its economics and cost-recovery methods, not its
authorship. (But there are other things its authorship can do, now,
that will have exactly the same effect!)

Nor would I endorse a journal boycott by authors even in support of
modifying journals' copyright transfer policy so as to permit authors to
self-archive their final refereed drafts -- but that is because authors
can all do that, legally, already, now (by using the Harnad/Oppenheim

Again, a boycott would be unnecessary, ineffectual, and
counterproductive (delaying the optimal and inevitable by making it
conditional on a prior, successful boycott).

The fact is that the option of self-archiving is already there and
ready, as a SURE means of freeing the refereed literature without
authors' having to boycott or give up anything at all. (That is why the
proposal was dubbed "subversive".)

And the physicists have already demonstrated that it can be done, and
how. So they will get the undisputed historic credit for having been
the fastest of the mark. But even the physicists are only approaching
the optimal and inevitable linearly (at this rate, with 30-40%
of the refereed physics literature freed to date, it will take another
decade or more to free it all). So something is needed to accelerate
the self-archiving rate in physics from the linear to the exponential,
and to propagate that momentum into all the other disciplines as well.

(Physicists may be smarter, more serious about research, and faster
about doing what needs to be done about it, but they are not infinitely
smarter; and all disciplines would benefit hugely from free access to
their refereed literatures, and from the enhanced research tempo and
impact that would vouchsafe. I am hoping the release of the
software so all institutions can immediately set up OAI-compliant
Eprint Archives will now help to propel that self-archiving momentum
into the exponential range in all fields at last.)

Petitions like the one you allude to only reinforce the false idea that
in order to free the refereed literature there is something authors
first have to give up: There is not. Moreover, I, as an
author/researcher, would certainly not give up the prerogative of
submitting my work to, say, Science, because Science currently declines
to give away its contents free, or declines to change its copyright
policy: I can publish in Science and liberate my paper through
self-archiving anyway! (And there are signs that Science's policy
in this regard may be changing anyway; Nature's already is.)

> I have another question. I've just taken a quick look at the Open
> Citation Project--which looks sensible and straightforward to me.
> Have biomedical researchers shown an interest in using OpCit? It
> seems a graceful way of liberating this material, as you say, without
> making threats or demands on publishers.

I think you are conflating two related but distinct projects:

(1) The OpCit Project:


(2) The Eprints Project:

OpCit is an NSF/JISC-funded project for citation-linking, in the first
instance, the Los Alamos Physics Archive, and eventually all
distributed, OAI-compliant Eprint Archives (this still waits on
introducing references into the OAI Protocol: Citation-linking provides a powerful new
means of navigating the digital refereed literature and it also provides
new scientometric measures of research impact:

However, OpCit is not a way of liberating the material: It operates on
material that has already been liberated. The means of liberating the
material is Eprints:

Eprints is the self-archiving project, providing OAI-compliant software
to Universities worldwide so that (1) they can immediately create their
own OAI-compliant Eprint Archives, so that (2) their researchers can
self-archive their papers in them:

All the distributed Eprint archives can then be harvested into one
global virtual archive in which everyone, everywhere can search and
retrieve the full refereed journal literature self-archived therein for
free, thanks to such Open Archive Services as:

So what biomedical researchers should show an interest in now is
Eprints, rather than OpCit! It is self-archiving in OAI-compliant
institutional Eprint archives that provides the graceful way of
liberating this material.

The release date for the operational version of the Eprints software
is in a few weeks. Stay tuned. Then I'll be able to tell you whether
biomedical researchers are showing an interest. But I do know that over
100 institutions are already beta-testing Eprints now.

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

NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing free
access to the refereed journal literature online is available at the
American Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00):

You may join the list at the site above.

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Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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