Re: Excerpts from FOS Newsletter

From: Peter Suber <>
Date: Fri, 24 May 2002 21:40:55 +0100

      Excerpts from the Free Online Scholarship (FOS) Newsletter
      May 23, 2002

More on the big koan: self-archiving

Following my essay in the last issue on why FOS progress has been slow, our
discussion forum received many thoughtful postings. Have a look.

There are two primary paths to FOS: open-access journals and
self-archiving. Progress along both paths has been slower than our
opportunities would allow. However, it's easier to explain slow movement
along the first path [= BOAI Strategy 2] than along the second [= BOAI
Strategy 1]. All eight of the points in my essay apply to open-access
journals [S2], but only a few apply to self-archiving [S1] --namely,
that scholars tend not to understand the problem, that they tend to
misunderstand the solution, and that slow progress itself has created
a vicious circle in which relatively few institutions have created
eprints archives.

If you want to deepen the discussion, focus on why self-archiving isn't
spreading more rapidly than it is. Creating an archive is now painless
with free software, maintaining an archive takes minimal effort, hosting
one takes server space that any university could donate without noticing,
and the benefits are immediate and cumulative.

Moreover, there is a network effect. One telephone is useless, but every
new telephone makes every existing telephone more useful. The situation is
similar though not quite so stark with eprints archives. One eprints
archive is useful for the authors who deposit their papers in it and for
the readers who happen to need access to those papers. But readers are
much more likely to find what they need as more archives join the network
of distributed archives. Cross-archive search engines make it unnecessary
for readers to know which archives exist, where they are located, or what
they contain. Researchers using these search engines will notice that they
find what they are looking for more often as more archives join the
system. As more readers and researchers find the body of archived
literature useful, more will turn to it in their research, multiplying the
benefits for authors as well. Every new archive makes every existing
archive more useful.

That is one more reason for every university and laboratory to start an
archive, in case there weren't enough reasons already. Think of it like a
matching grant. If your employer matches your charitable contributions,
you have a rare chance to amplify your donations. In this case, the
network effect matches your FOS contribution. When your institution
participates in self-archiving, the gain to all users is greater than the
set of papers in your archive.

So if it's easy, free, useful, and ready right now, why isn't it spreading

Self-Archiving FAQ
(In case your institution's administrators or tech people are misled about
the simplicity or legality of self-archiving.)

Eprints software, for creating OAI-compliant archives for self-archiving
(To get started now.)

You can advance the cause of self-archiving if you are a scholar or
represent a university, library, journal, publisher, foundation, learned
society, or government. Here's how.
(No more excuses. It's not just an opportunity for other people to seize.)

FOS discussion forum
(Anyone may read; only subscribers may post; subscription is free.)


More on the big koan: open-access journals

Here are two news stories about BioMed Central (BMC). My comments on them
appear inconsistent. But I'll argue that an aspect of the big koan
explains this deceptive appearance.

(1) BMC has launched the _Journal of Biology_, a new open-access journal
which it hopes will challenge _Nature_, _Science_, and _Cell_. JBiol will
have a distinguished editorial board headed by Martin Raff, whom ISI ranks
as one of the 10 most cited scientists in the UK. The board will include
three Nobel laureates, Harold Varmus, Michael Brown, and Joseph Goldstein,
and two former editors at _Nature_, Theodora Bloom and Peter Newmark. The
first issue will appear in June.

This is exactly what the serials landscape needs today. There is no
reason why the world's most eminent scientists can't work for an
open-access journal, although there is a suspicion that this is somehow
unnatural. Nobody quite admits to holding the belief that journal quality
requires price barriers, or that filtering readers by wealth helps a
journal filter manuscripts by quality, but the belief has a widespread
underground existence just the same. It's a holdover from the days when
the internet was dominated by hobbyists, and serious academics looked smart
for saying, "you get what you pay for". Although the web has moved on, and
pockets of free content have long since proved their quality and
reliability, this long-refuted belief may still lurk in the subconscious
minds of people who are otherwise wide awake and informed. It may also
arise from confusing two different gate-keeping functions, one to block
unworthy manuscripts from publication and one to block non-subscribers from
reading [].
But if anyone still needs proof that superlative editors and
superlative quality control are compatible with open access to the
resulting papers, JBiol is providing it.

I applaud the launch of an open-access journal with a world-class editorial
board. Still, I long for the day when open access will be so ordinary that
the launch of an open-access journal with a merely competent board will
garner the interest and respect accorded to other competent journals.

Journal of Biology

BMC press release

(2) BMC has created a web page of "pioneering authors" whose support for
open-access publishing has advanced a revolution that "will be felt by the
whole world-wide scientific community". The page is an alphabetical
database of authors who have published in BMC journals.

It would be easy to draw the conclusion that BMC is simply blowing its own
horn here, and that was my first impression. But in fact the list is
useful for two reasons. First, these authors do deserve thanks for their
willingness to publish in new journals. If there is a vicious circle
dissuading first-rate authors from submitting their work to new journals
until the journals are well-respected, when the journals cannot become
well-respected without first-rate submissions, then these authors have
proved their willingness to break the circle. If you have doubts without
evidence, then you might think it more likely that these authors are
second-rate than both first-rate and courageous. But here's where the
second virtue of the list comes in. You can search it and satisfy yourself
that it includes scientists who are significant by any standard. The list
is searchable by author, institution, and nation.

* Postscript. My comments on these two stories seem inconsistent. In one
I'm saying that the quality of open-access journals can be as high as as
the quality of any traditional journal. In the other I'm thanking authors
for their willingness to publish in open-access journals. It appears that
open-access journals are strong enough to praise and weak enough to cosset.

But I stand by both sets of comments. Their juxtaposition highlights the
difference between quality and prestige, or real excellence and known or
reputed excellence. The difference matters because the incentive for
authors to submit their work to a given journal is much more a function of
the journal's prestige than its quality, at least when the two differ.

Prestige takes time to cultivate, but quality can exist from
birth. Because open-access journals are new, even those excellent from
birth must take time to earn prestige proportional to their quality. This
gap between their quality and prestige can deter submissions, which in turn
will delay the closing of the gap. All new journals face this gap and the
vicious circle it creates. There may be many creative ways to break the
circle, but BMC is using two of them here. One is to make a journal
self-evidently excellent from birth and use this fact to recruit
submissions. Another is to find authors willing to submit their work to
open-access journals even before the prestige gap is closed, and then to
thank them publicly for their insight and courage.


More on the big koan: Macchiavelli

In _The Future of Ideas_, Lawrence Lessig quotes the following passage from
Macchiavelli. It goes a long way to answer the big koan.

"Innovation makes enemies of all those who prospered under the old regime,
and only lukewarm support is forthcoming from those who would prosper under
the new. Their support is indifferent partly from fear and partly because
they are generally incredulous, never really trusting new things unless
they have tested them by experience."

(From _The Prince_, W. W. Norton, 1992, at p. 17. Quoted by Lessig, Random
House, 2001, at p. 6.)


* In March the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore hosted two
workshops on electronic publishing and interoperable open archives. The
workshops addressed editors and support staff of Indian non-profit STM
journals, and focused on the advantages, economics, technology, and nuts
and bolts of electronic publishing, especially in open archives. "The
overarching concern behind the idea of the workshops is the urgent need to
increase visibility of Indian journals by making them available on the
Internet in formats that take advantage of search and retrieval procedures."

Workshops home page
(Thanks to Leslie Chan.)

The Workshops' useful page of FOS links, still under construction

* BioOne is producing a free online book in collaboration with the American
Society of Plant Biologists. The book will summarize the state of current
knowledge on the plant, Arabidopsis thaliana. Containing 100 invited
chapters, it will eventually link all gene names to sequence databases as
well as link citations to abstracts and sections to one another.

(The BioOne "news" page is not up to date.)
Received on Fri May 24 2002 - 21:40:55 BST

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