Scientific information/archiving

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Mon, 16 Sep 2002 17:37:01 +0100

I apologize for replying to queries in this mysterious way ("identity
deleted") but I alas haven't the time to reply one-on-one to questions I
am asked so frequently, nor the time to request permission to post each
query. So I have instead adopted the solution of removing all identifying
traces and replying generically, as below:

> On Mon, 16 Sep 2002, [Identity deleted] wrote:
> Dear Dr Harnad
> I am currently writing an article for [deleted], about
> [online scientific information resources]. I will be touching on
> the subject of archiving, as it's such a big topic right now, and of
> course your name springs to mind if I am to represent a fair picture of
> current opinion on the subject!

I hope you will not just focus on opinion! There are a lot of concrete
developments too. See:

> I will be talking to major figures in the [deleted] information industry
> about where they see the industry going in the future. I would really
> like to represent your point of view alongside theirs, so I would be
> very grateful if you could give me your opinion on a couple of things.

Very happy to oblige, but please note that what I write and do concerns
research, researchers and their institutions, and has almost nothing to
do with the information industry...

> A major talking point in [scientific] archiving seems to be the [Learned
> Society X's] pricing policy, which involves paying a rolling subscription
> for current journals plus the archive (thus subscribers pay double
> in effect, and are not able to retain the backfile if they cease to
> subscribe). [Publisher Y] require a one-off payment for their backfile,
> which is then for keeps.
> What I would like to know here, is exactly what role do you see
> publishers such as these playing in the future?

First, note that what you are asking about concerns various different
variants on TOLL-ACCESS (the options include: subscriptions, site-licenses,
and pay-per-view). I have no view or predictions on that, or at least my
opinions are not worth more or less than anyone else's. I have no idea
how long individuals and institutions may want to go on paying either
for on-paper access or on-line access, whether temporary or permanent. My
concern is entirely with a parallel development that is completely within
the hands of the AUTHORS of this special, anomalous, give-away literature,
namely, the researchers and their institutions. This parallel development
may or may not eventually influence the future of toll-access:

I (and many others) advocate OPEN-ACCESS (i.e., online, full-text, freely
accessible) through author/institution self-archiving of institutional
research output, both pre- and post-peer-review, in order to maximize
all researchers' access TO -- and hence the uptake, usage, and impact
OF -- institutional research output.


This is something that researchers and their institutions can do, and
are doing, right now, independent of any of the toll-access issues and
opinions that you are asking about. My own mission (and that of many
like-minded researchers in the BOAI/FOS movements) is to do everything we
can to help accelerate this process, which will lead to what we believe
is the optimal and inevitable outcome for research, researchers, and
their institutions: Universal open access to the entire peer-reviewed
research literature in all disciplines (20,000 journals, 2,000,000
annual articles).

To help hasten the day, we at Southampton, for example, have created:

(1) The CogPrints and PsycPrints Archives (to show what centralized,
discipline-based and journal-based open-access archiving can do):

(2) Free, OAI-compliant institutional-archive-creating software
(to help accelerate distributed, institution-based open-access
archiving, and show what it can do):

(3) Citation linking and online scientometric search engines
(to measure and reveal the effect of open-access on usage and impact):

If you want to know my own prediction of what will happen once open
access reaches critical mass (i.e. "what role peer-reviewed journal
publishers will perform in the future"), see:

In a nut-shell, the prediction is that journals will continue to
exist as providers of their essential function: the implementation
and certification of peer-review. (Peers review for free, hence

> I know that you still see the benefit of peer review, but is it true to
> say that you see this as their only role?

Correct. Journals' only ESSENTIAL role in the online, open-access
era. What further OPTIONS individuals or institutions may be willing to
pay tolls for in the open-access era, I would not venture to predict
(but there may well be some):

> I suppose I find it difficult
> to see how the world of research could work properly if each university
> were to set up its own archive - this fragments information and there is
> not a central source of information.

Please see the work of the OAI (Open Archives Initiative), which has solved
exactly this problem by creating a metadata standard that makes all of
this literature INTEROPERABLE -- exactly as if it were all in one big,
global, searchable archive. (It is is this OAI-compliant archive-creating
software that is giving -- free of course -- to institutions
to use for self-archiving their research output.)

Quite the contrary of being fragmented, a distributed open-access digital
literature is integrated and seamlessly navigable. For a sample, see:
or even Elsevier's

But please don't confuse open-access self-archiving (be it
ever so UNfragmented, integrated, and interoperable) with
self-publication! Institutions can self-archive their pre- and
post-peer-review research output, but they still need to outsource
the peer-review itself to reputable external journals -- with established
track-records for providing rigorous, independent peer review -- for
evaluation, correction, and certification. Otherwise this would all just
be an exercise in vanity-press self-publication, which it is not:

On the contrary, it is the present (obsolete) system of financial
firewalls segregating this (author-giveway) literature that results
in fragmentation. As it becomes open-access, this literature will be
fully citation-linked and integrated:

> There is the [discipline] Preprint
> Server ...which allows free access and peer review - is this part of
> your vision of the future?

Open-Access EPRINTS servers (including both the pre-peer-review PREPRINTS
and the post-peer-review -- i.e., published -- POSTPRINTS, as well as
all revisions and updates in between, and thereafter) are the vision of the
optimal/inevitable future, and that future is not only well within reach
but already somewhat overdue!

    Free at Last: The Future of Peer-Reviewed Journals. D-Lib Magazine

    For Whom the Gate Tolls? How and Why to Free the Refereed Research
    Literature Online Through Author/Institution Self-Archiving, Now.

> I appreciate that you must be very busy, but I would be extremely grateful
> for any information you feel able to give me. I will of course attribute
> any information/opinions to you.
> Thank you very much in advance, and best regards,

Hope this helps. Feel free to ask further questions.

Cheers, Stevan

NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing open
access to the peer-reviewed research literature online is available at
the American Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00 & 01 & 02):

Discussion can be posted to:

See also the Budapest Open Access Initiative:

the Free Online Scholarship Movement:

the OAI site:

and the free OAI institutional archiving software site:
Received on Mon Sep 16 2002 - 17:37:01 BST

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