Re: Financial Times Article on Self-Archiving: 23 July 2001

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 7 Aug 2001 13:24:04 +0100

On Wed, 1 Aug 2001, George Lundberg wrote:

> if the "function of self-archiving" is so easily misunderstood by me,
> perhaps some others will also misunderstand and believe that what they are
> reading purports to be valid, even if self-published--excuse
> me--self-archived.

Yes, prima facie misunderstanding is rife in this general area. And I'm
certainly trying to do my bit toward dispelling it. But dozens of
published papers, many many talks, and countless email comments have
not yet proved to be a match for the very same questions that keep
getting raised, and answered, only to be raised again, elsewhere, by
someone else.

One might be tempted to conclude that the answers are inconclusive, but
usually they are so trivial that the only explanation is that this
general area is so novel (though trivial), and goes so much against
established habits, that people simply make the same unreflective,
reflexive responses over and over again: The token not only fails to
drop, it even fails to be noticed!

This self-archiving vs. self-publication misunderstanding is a case in
point. It has come up so many times that it has earned a FAQ of its own
(in fact several) -- but that has not prevented it from continuing to
rear its head on every occasion:

The short, explicit mnemonic I have proposed (below) has not helped to
pre-empt the misunderstanding either, even though using it should make
it crystal clear that the conflation is self-contradictory:

   "Distinguish self-publishing (vanity press) from self-archiving (of
   published, refereed research)"

Would the still shorter "Self-Archiving of Published (Refereed)
Research" help keep the distinction clearer?

> I am not alone in the view that widespread electronic
> distribution of information by whomever is, in fact, a form of publishing.

Yes, but that is utterly irrelevant, since the main focus here is the
widespread electronic distribution (by self-archiving) of PUBLISHED
information. The rest is just a matter of tagging it as such.

Yes, there is also self-archiving of unpublished, or prepublication
information, and that is valuable and welcome too (being another,
earlier embryonic stage of research reporting), but that is not the
focus of this Forum, which, to repeat, is about the freeing of the
refereed, published research literature online, not about the archiving
of the "gray" literature.

> I suppose due process for the reader of such material might consist of large
> red labelled flashing warnings as a legal disclaimer about the absence of
> any form of validation of the content so as not to mislead or misrepresent?

I have to confess that I do not understand the motivation for this
well-meaning but rather strident concern about the capacity of the
reader to see (or heed) whether an item is labelled "REFEREED" (plus
journal-name) or otherwise. We seem to be perfectly capable of making
that distinction in the analog world. Why the alarm about whether we
can use the same labels in the digital world?

But fine: Let those who feel that such tags need to flash flamboyantly
implement them so to flash...

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 & 01):

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Received on Wed Jan 03 2001 - 19:17:43 GMT

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