Re: Australian Radio Program on Archiving

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sun, 12 Aug 2001 16:44:38 +0100

On Sat, 11 Aug 2001, Michael Lean wrote:

> This Week On ABC Radio National's investigative documentary
> program, Background Briefing
> .........................................
> Sunday August 12th 9am
> Tuesday August 14th 7pm
> Wednesday August 15th 4am
> .........................................................
> Knowledge Indignation: Road Rage
> on the Information Superhighway
> Produced by Stan Correy

I'm not sure whether or not the following quote is an excerpt from the
above programme:

> On the eighth day God created the Internet so that eventually everyone
> would know everything. But mankind didn't want to share, and created
> new technologies to control the miracle of the Internet, and knowledge
> became a commodity.

It is so disheartening to have to point out the fallacies in the
thinking of kindred spirits, but if the above quote is indeed an
excerpt from the above programme then it must alas be stated that it is
not only utter nonsense, but, for that reason, it is likely to retard
rather than hasten the freeing of what can and should be free on the
Internet -- which is most decidedly NOT everything!

In general, human beings do what they do, produce what they produce,
create what they create, in the hope and expectation of getting fairly
rewarded for it. Otherwise, it is not worth the time and effort.

I simplify, but I think this is the general rule. There are exceptions,
where humans take the time and effort to produce things in order to
give them away (or where giving them away is an indirect way of gaining
some other reward). But those are exactly that: EXCEPTIONS. It does not
matter whether the commodity is pork-bellies or "information": we are
not in general motivated to produce it as a give-away.

I repeat. There are exceptions. And the refereed research literature is
one of those exceptions. But to conflate this with the countless books,
papers, and other chunks of "knowledge" that their authors are NOT
interested in giving away for free is simply woolly thinking, and does
(in my opinion) considerable harm to the cause of those who championing
only the giving away of the give-ways.

Let us take a step back. What is wrong with the following statement?

    "On the SEVENTH day God created the PRINTING PRESS so that
    eventually everyone would know everything. But mankind didn't want
    to share, and created new technologies to control the miracle of
    the PRINTED PAGE, and knowledge became a commodity."

The ONLY relevant thing that has changed, from the Gutenberg Era to The
PostGutenberg Era, is that there is now (1) a new way to produce and
sell (sic) NON-GIVE-AWAY "knowledge" AND (2) a new way to produce and
give away GIVE-AWAY knowledge.

This much more realistic construal of the "miracle" is a far cry from
the "Knowledge Liberation Movement," which is as incoherent, and hence
as quixotic, as the movement to free all products, be they knowledge or
otherwise, digital or analog.

Please, let's be sensible! It will not hasten the day when give-aways
can be freely given away on the Net to make common cause with the
absurdity that everything digital should be free, and only analog
products paid for!

> Scientists are the first to rebel, and 26 000 have signed a petition.
> After the first of September they'll refuse to cooperate
> unless scientific knowledge is set free.

"Refuse to cooperate"? What does that mean? They have signed a petition
that refereed journal publishers should give away their contents online
for free. They have also threatened (and some [not all] may actually
carry out the threat) not to publish in journals that do not comply.

One can only wish them every success. (I myself have signed the
petition.) But what is their probability of success, and, even more
important, what is its likely timetable?

There are currently 20,000+ refereed journals, publishing 2,000,000+
refereed articles annually. How many of those authors (or even of the
biomedical subset, which is at least an order of magnitude greater than
26,000) have signed that petition, sincerely plan to stop submitting
their papers to journals that do not comply, and have suitable
alternative journals to submit them to instead?

And is it a reasonable thing to ask of refereed journal publishers,
today, that they immediately give away their contents for free online?
More important, is it a reasonable thing to expect authors to give up
their established journals immediately just because they decline to
give away their contents for free online, equally immediately?

Or is this meant to be a long, drawn-out process, freeing the refereed
research literature in a decade or two? (But is that not likely to
happen anyway?)

It seems to me that if we bring things more into focus, stop naively
conflating the give-away and non-give-away literature in one
"Knowledge-Lib" slogan, and address our appeal to free their give-away
goods to the PRODUCERS of those works, namely, the authors of the
refereed journal articles, rather than to the publishers of the
journals, then there might be some hope of hastening the optimal and
inevitable, instead of delaying it still further.

The way to free the researchers' give-away refereed research is for
them give it away themselves, immediately, by self-archiving it in
their institutional Eprint Archives, not by signing petitions enjoining
their publishers to do it for them, and then waiting and hoping for the

Harnad, S. (2001) Six Proposals for Freeing the Refereed Literature
Ariadne 28 June 2001.

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):

You may join the list at the site above.

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

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