Re: Workshop on Open Archives Initiative in Europe

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 31 Oct 2000 17:01:47 +0000

On Tue, 31 Oct 2000, J.W.T.Smith wrote:

> I would agree that one of the roles of the publisher is to organise
> certification (I have argued this myself - elsewhere) but the publisher
> currently also plays quality control (appearance, ie, copy-editing),

Correct. I used to make the distinction between quality-control for
CONTENT (peer review) and quality control for FORM (editing). The
picture is not very different either way.

> making available, and marketing (making known) roles.

I would like to predict (but nothing substantive rides on my
prediction) that the "marketing role" is obsolete for refereed papers
once they are online and free.

The journal's QC/C tag and the Eprint Archives' free accessibility and
navigability are all the "marketing" now needed for maximizing a
paper's visibility and impact far beyond anything that was possible in
the Gutenberg Era.

> This is why my own suggested model for networked based publishing (the
> Deconstructed Journal)
> is so much more complex (I think you described it as 'confused').

The above is an example of exactly the sort of untested
peer-review/publication reform that I was criticizing in my posting.

I am not criticizing the experiment, qua experiment on new forms of
publication and peer review. (Otherwise how can such hypotheses ever be
tested?) I am criticizing its relevance to the freeing of the current
peer-reviewed literature, now: It is not an alternative way of freeing
the current peer reviewed literature now (it is not even clear what
kind of literature it will turn out to be), and representing it as such
simply retards the freeing of the peer-reviewed literature, diverting
efforts instead into untested, speculative directions.

> I hold no brief for the preservation of the publisher and feel all the
> roles played by the publisher could be played by others. In fact I think
> that by preserving the ideas of the 'publisher' and 'journal' (albeit very
> restricted interpretations of them) you are holding back the move to a
> true network based form of academic publishing.

We both seem to think the other one is holding something back. I at
least can formulate what I think your approach is holding back: the
freeing of the current peer-reviewed literature online, now.

Why? Because that literature is currently peer-reviewed and published by
journals. Regardless of what roles they or others might play in a
hypothetical future, it is they who play those roles, now. And it is
the literature they currently make accessible only through S/L/P that
self-archiving is intended to free. There is no need to first free it
from peer review, or from publishers.

Your approach does require first freeing the literature from peer review
and publishers. Well, to a first approximation (conditional on the
eventual outcome of your experiment), that means we are no longer even
talking about the same literature! I am talking about freeing the
current, actual, refereed literature; you are talking about freeing a
hypothetical future literature, no longer peer reviewed or published by
the journals.

Now who is holding what up? I, when I speak of our current peer-reviewed
literature, and of the journals who peer-review it and the publishers
who publish it, to be freed by self-archiving, now?

Or you, when you speak of first eliminating publishers, and
substituting new, untested mechanisms for tried and tested peer

In my approach, it is crystal clear what all authors could do, today,
to free the peer-reviewed literature completely tomorrow. What is the
corresponding step in your approach? "Don't submit it to the journals,
submit it to my 'Deconstructed Journals' instead."

Suppose we suspend disbelief and imagine that every author were
actually to do that, today (we must suppose also, counterfactually,
that, like the software, which is available for any
institution to establish OAI-compliant Eprint Archives immediately,
everywhere, "Deconstructed Journals" are likewise available in every
field, ready to take the full submission load).

Even supposing that (and also a satisfactory answer to my long
unanswered question about the profligacy your proposal entails, in
refereeing manpower and good will): What would be the result? What
would the Deconstructed Journals produce as the end product (and

Would it be the same, peer-reviewed literature we have had till now,
and wanted to liberate, or would it be something else, of whose quality
we have no prior inkling? What would the researchers trying to use this
literature rely on for the quality-control markers they used to have?
What would promotion/tenure committees use?

You may reply that if Deconstructed Journals DO prove to deliver the
same quality that classical peer-reviewed journals did, then this will
all sort itself out eventually.

Eventually (and with a lot of hypotheses in between), perhaps.

But MEANWHILE, who is holding things up, me or you?

> The half-way house model of articles in archives still being 'published'
> in journals (ie, certified by journals) leaves us still connected by an
> umbilical cord to the old model with articles 'belonging' to journals
> (although not in the strict sense they do now). The certification agencies
> can distribute a list of the articles they have certified but take full
> advantage of the fleibility of the network there also needs to be an extra
> set of players who sort, sift and make known articles certified by others
> (true 'overlays on the archives') and this actvity also needs a name. Is
> it a journal? A para-journal (paralleling/parisiting)?

I have a name for it: An untested hypothesis.

I think we should instead back a sure thing.

> Your model has no place for such an activity since it contains only
> archives and certification agencies still called journals.

Because I believe in calling a spade a spade -- and that if it ain't
broke, don't fix it.

> > So what do publishers have to do with peer review? Whether or not by
> > historical accident, they are the ones, and the only ones, who have
> > the track record in implementing it.
> As you say - historical accident - but why need this be perpetrated into
> the future? Barbers used to also pull teeth but we have moved on...

Try and test your better mouse-trap. Once you've demonstrated it works,
we can talk again.

Meanwhile, we have a job to do: liberating the peer-reviewed
literature, such as it is, 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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