Re: Central vs. Distributed Archives

From: Greg Kuperberg <>
Date: Thu, 2 Nov 2000 09:42:34 +0000

I have been skimming the September98 forum on and off for a few months.
As a cursory Internet search will demonstrate, I strongly support
what I consider "the Ginsparg model", especially in my own discipline,
mathematics. I would call it the arXiv model. But while I agree in
outline with Stevan Harnad et al, I disagree in some of the details.
(And that's where the devil is.) Here is my take on three issues in

1) I have mixed feelings about the grass-roots connotations of the "Open
Archives Inititiative" and even more in Harnad's phrase "self-archiving".
I do believe that the research literature should be electronic and free,
and it is possible that each discipline must pass through an anarchic,
do-it-yourself phase of open archival before moving on to a more
organized stage. However, when I started archive work in mathematics,
we already had an array of separate preprint servers cum e-print archives.
The effort since then has been to reorganize much of this jumble into the
math arXiv. Having many copies of one huge archive is superior to having
many little archives, no matter how interoperable. Serious permanence
and stability requires closer cooperation than that.

At the overall STM level the literature may have to be divided
into single-discipline or few-discipline fragments for some time.
The Los-Alamos based arXiv works well for the TeX-based e-print culture
in mathematics, physics, and parts of computer science. But it is
not clear how to extend that particular system to the rest of science.
If you have to have disjoint archives, fragmented interoperability is
then a good goal to work towards. But you have to realize that it is
only a partial solution. And I have reservations about encouraging every
tenth researcher to set up yet another archive, because that can lead to
entrenched Lilliputian feifdoms of e-prints. By my standards the physics
part of the arXiv, with 130,000 e-prints, is large; the math arXiv,
with 13,000, is medium-sized; and an archive with 1,300 or less is tiny.

2) I have been accused, sometimes correctly, of being overzealous in
my support of the arXiv. I see that Stevan Harnad has about as much
enthusiasm as I do, and I can't criticize that. But if the September98
forum has strong advocacy in favor of open archives, it doesn't make sense
to limit criticism. Because then you're just preaching to the choir.
If you don't want to debate whether or not open archives are a good idea,
maybe that makes sense. But then you shouldn't dwell on how fantastic
open archives are; instead you should steer the discussion to practical

3) I also can't criticize Elsevier's Chemistry Preprint Server project.
In a way I can't even criticize commercial publishers with high journal
prices, even though I believe that the mathematical literature should
be free. A for-profit company is entitled to maximize profit. If it is
publicly traded, it is legally required to do so up to a point. (But the
same token, the customer, academia, is entitled to minimize expenses.)
I'm against Napster-style copyright infringement and I have mixed
feelings about journal boycotts. My approach is less confrontational.
My own recent papers lie permanently in the arXiv, I keep the copyright,
and I will publish in any journal that wants the papers on those terms.

>From this point of view, I am not sure about the Chemistry Preprint
Server, because I don't see the business model for it. But then, I
don't see the business model for Google either, and I think that Google
is great. It is possible that the Chemistry Preprint Server will be
an important gift from Elsevier to the chemistry research community.
Arguably the chemists should have done it for themselves, but maybe they
lack leadership and need Elsevier to do it for them.
  /\  Greg Kuperberg (UC Davis)
 /  \
 \  / Visit the Math ArXiv Front at
  \/  * All the math that's fit to e-print *
Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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