Re: June 27 2004: The 1994 "Subversive Proposal" at 10

From: Seth Johnson <>
Date: Sun, 27 Jun 2004 12:45:37 -0700

Stevan Harnad wrote:
> > The scholarly author wants only to PUBLISH them, that is, to reach
> > the eyes and minds of peers, fellow esoteric scientists and scholars
> > the world over, so that they can build on one another's
> > contributions in that cumulative, collaborative enterprise called
> > learned inquiry.
> This still seems correct, though now it is clear that the somewhat
> crasser career-based desire for "usage and impact"
> (and its objective scientometric performance indicators)
> better describes what the authors of peer-reviewed journal articles
> are really after than just the coyer and more idealistic "eyes and
> minds" metaphor. For "esoteric scientists and scholars" just substitute
> "qualified fellow-researcher users."

I don't know why this distinction would become clearer over time, or why it
would appear to be more relevant or appropriate. It's all about what
publishing means. "Usage and impact" suggests a certain stance in that
question that "eyes and minds" does not. A similar point can be made about
the "author giveaway/non-giveaway" and "esoteric/exoteric" distinctions,
while both formulations defer the question.

> > For centuries, it was only out of reluctant necessity that authors
> > of esoteric publications entered into the Faustian bargain of
> > allowing a price-tag to be erected as a barrier between their work
> > and its (tiny) intended readership, for that was the only way they
> > could make their work public at all during the age when paper
> > publication (and its substantial real expenses) was their only
> > option.

< SNIP >

> > But today there is another way, and that is PUBLIC FTP:
> The Web already existed at the time of the Subversive Proposal's writing
> (1994), so this was already obsolescent then! Since then ftp has faded
> and http has taken over. But even back then, the proposal should have
> referred more prominently to self-archiving on the author's website,
> not just the author's ftp site!
> On the other hand, the proposal was made before the Open Archives
> Initiative (OAI) (1999), with its shared metadata-tagging standard,
> allowing all distributed OAI-compliant web archives to be jointly
> interoperable, harvestable and searchable. Compared to that, both
> anonymous ftp sites and arbitrary websites are more like common graves,
> insofar as searching the peer-reviewed literature is concerned.
> > If every esoteric author in the world this very day established a
> > globally accessible local ftp archive for every piece of esoteric
> > writing from this day forward, the long-heralded transition from
> > paper publication to purely electronic publication (of esoteric
> > research) would follow suit almost immediately.
> Again, the real issue was not online publication, but online access,
> toll-free for all (OA), maximizing research impact by maximizing user
> access. And although self-archiving in an arbitrary ftp or web site
> would indeed have done the trick, the interoperability and searchability
> of this special subset of cyberspace -- the peer-reviewed journal
> literature -- still awaited agreement on the OAI standard in order to
> become truly efficient and useful for researchers.

The real issue was publication. The OAI standard simply provides the
benefits of a convention for metadata regarding published works that use it.

> And of course today, a decade later, the level of self-archiving has
> only reached about 20%; but all signs now are that with the research
> community's growing awareness of both the possibility and the benefits
> of OA, self-archiving is poised for a growth spurt. It is likely,
> however, that this growth spurt will have to be facilitated -- just as
> academic publication of all forms is facilitated -- by some
> publish-or-perish pressure from researchers' universities and research
> funders in the form of mandated OA provision for journal articles.
> > This is already beginning to happen in the physics community, thanks
> > to Paul Ginsparg's HEP preprint network, with 20,000 users worldwide
> > and 35,000 "hits" per day, and Paul Southworth's CICnet is ready to
> > help follow suit in other disciplines.
> It has since become clear that although the physicists had -- and
> continue to maintain -- the head-start in self-archiving, their growth
> rate remains steadily linear from year to year, and that means their
> self-archiving will not reach 100% for another decade or more via that
> route.
> The reason may be related to the reason why CICnet never got
> off the ground: Central, discipline-based self-archiving
> is not the fastest and most effective way to reach 100%
> OA. Since the advent of OAI-interoperability, self-archiving
> in distributed institutional OAI-compliant Eprint archives
> looks more promising, because:
> (1) it is at the individual institutional level, not at the central
> discipline-level, that the rewards of maximizing institutional
> research impact are shared by the researcher and his institution in
> the form of grants, prestige, promotion, and prizes;
> and
> (2) it is also at the institutional level that OA provision
> policies can be mandated, and compliance monitored and rewarded
> (via a natural extension of publish-or-perish policies, which are
> already rewarding not just the quantity of publications, but their
> importance and impact).

This distinction is artificial. The use of a common convention such as OAI
brings tremendous advantages, but who's to say "discipline-based" approaches
are averse to working with institutions and endorsing conventions which
would assure all these advantages? Remember that the liberated scholarship
struggle is just fighting an old, hard-won battle all over again, one the
appropriateness of which should (still) be second nature to anybody involved
in any form of research -- having had to struggle to get research
institutions to stand with individual researchers is a truly astonishing,
horrendous thing. That should never have been the case. This would have
been a self-evident no-brainer 30 years ago (regardless of the fact that
digital and communications technologies have been issuing a profound wake-up
call to exponents of regressive notions of exclusive rights during that
timeframe, a wake-up call that is still yet to be heeded); yet institutions
have been only taking baby steps over these years.

The "discipline-based" approaches you mention based themselves on a
recognition that certain groups represented a political structure that could
be relied on, given that other forms of support might not be forthcoming.
Publishing is the issue for all avenues to advancing human knowledge, and
it's not really necessary to draw distinctions based on metadata
conventions, except to say that common conventions are more beneficial.

> Distributing the (small) archiving costs per article is another
> advantage of institutional over central self-archiving. Moreover,
> journals -- 80% of which have already given their official green light
> to author self-archiving -- sometimes prefer institutional
> self-archiving to central self-archiving out of concerns about 3rd-party
> rival publishers free-riding on their content.

Just think, if there had never been Bayh-Dole, how the mission of the
university could have been served as a self-evident matter of course.

> > The only two factors standing in the way of this outcome at this
> > moment are (1) quality control (i.e., peer review and editing),
> > which today happens to be implemented almost exclusively by paper
> > publishers, and (2) the patina of paper publishing, which results
> > from this monopoly on quality control.
> This was expressed badly: Peer review does not stand in the way of
> self-archiving, for it is the self-archiving of peer-reviewed articles
> that OA is all about! Nor is peer review a matter of mere "patina." And
> inasmuch as journals compete for articles, no journal has a monopoly on
> quality control! Only the peer-review system itself has (and there is
> nothing wrong with that):
> What I should have said then was that peer review continues to be
> an essential component of research publishing, even if the on-paper
> edition will soon cease to be. And publishers would only be obstacles
> to the extent that they tried to prevent self-archiving. But, as noted,
> publishers have since proved very responsive to the interests of
> research and to the research community's expressed desire for OA, with
> over 80% of journals now already officially "green" on author
> self-archiving and many of the remaining "gray" 20% ready to agree if
> asked.

They have come to acknowledge your point.

> There is even a perfectly legal way to self-archive in the rare case
> when the journal does not agree to the self-archiving of the
> peer-reviewed final draft: Self-archive the unrefereed preprint before
> submission and link a list of corrections to it after peer review and
> acceptance:

This was your point.

> This strategy was already implicit in the Subversive Proposal:
> > If all scholars' preprints were universally available to all
> > scholars by anonymous ftp (and gopher, and World-Wide Web, and
> > the search/retrieval wonders of the future), NO scholar would ever
> > consent to WITHDRAW any preprint of his from the public eye after
> > the refereed version was accepted for paper "PUBLICation." Instead,
> > everyone would, quite naturally, substitute the refereed, published
> > reprint for the unrefereed preprint.
> Either substitute/add the refereed published version -- now called
> the "postprint" -- or
> link to the list of corrigenda:
> > Paper publishers will then either restructure themselves
> > (with the cooperation of the scholarly community) so as to arrange
> > for the much-reduced electronic-only page costs (which I estimate
> > to be less than 25% of paper-page costs, contrary to the 75% figure
> > that appears in most current publishers' estimates) to be paid out
> > of advance subsidies (from authors' page charges, learned society
> > dues, university publication budgets and/or governmental publication
> > subsidies) or they will have to watch as the peer community spawns
> > a brand new generation of electronic-only publishers who will.
> This speculative prediction was both premature and unnecessary:
> Self-archiving (SA) provides OA, which is an end in itself, by
> supplementing Toll Access (TA): OA = SA + TA
> That is what has since come to be called the "green" road to OA.
> The other road to OA is the "golden" road of OA journal publishing: It
> is the transition to OA journal publishing that I was describing above,
> but it is clear that this is neither the fastest nor the surest road to
> OA: For the research community to achieve 100% OA, there is no need for
> their TA journals to convert to gold; it is sufficient that they become
> green. Then TA + SA provides OA.
> If/when that should ever eventually lead to a transition to gold is a
> speculative matter (and what research needs now is not more speculation
> but more OA!)

You make the question of what publishing means secondary through the use of
the term "speculative" here.

Self-archiving makes the points that need to be made. Toll access is forced
to hear the wake-up call.

What happened was you stressed certain principles by means of encouraging
self-archiving. You have thereby sponsored the growth of a constituency
that had been marginalized. Right now, the liberated scholarship community
are the true standard-bearers for the mission of the university, the ones
who have struggled to reconstitute a political base in the cause of
representing the intrinsic common wealth that human knowledge represents and
the essential right to access and make use of information that researchers
render to the public. Promoting this mission is the unavoidable next phase.

> > The subversion will be complete, because the (esoteric -- no-market)
> > peer-reviewed literature will have taken to the airwaves, where it
> > always belonged, and those airwaves will be free (to the benefit of
> > us all) because their true minimal expenses will be covered the
> > optimal way for the unimpeded flow of esoteric knowledge to all: In
> > advance.
> This is all true, but just as "esoteric" turned out to be not quite
> on-the-mark, so "subversion" too misses the mark: The objective of
> OA is not to subvert or reform the publication system (either toward
> online-only or toward OA publishing). It is to maximise research impact
> by maximising research access, right now: To put an end to all further
> needless research impact loss, once and for all, at last.

The disposition that seems to be conveyed by the term "needless" here
doesn't necessarily apply to the issue of what publishing means; you are
also using the term "maximize" in a peculiarly attentuated way, conveying a
kind of restriction to the way you describe the parameters of your tactic
through the distinctions you draw.

> If OA via TA + SA eventually leads to an evolution toward OA
> publication, then so be it.
> But that is not and should not be the objective of the OA movement. An
> attempt to go directly from TA to OA publishing will only retard the
> growth of OA for another needless decade.

Information freedom at this level involves a different kind of organizing,
something that takes the points made so far and builds the political ability
to insist on eliminating the application of regressive notions of the nature
of exclusive rights -- insisting on the basic principles that scientific
researchers understand as a matter of course.

> The "Subversive Proposal" should have been called, non-contentiously,
> the "Self-Archiving Proposal."

Getting nervous? :-)


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Received on Sun Jun 27 2004 - 20:45:37 BST

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