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Re: The forgotten importance of editors (Stevan Harnad) Marcia Tuttle 11 Aug 1999 15:37 UTC

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 11 Aug 1999 16:33:15 +0100
From: Stevan Harnad <harnad@COGLIT.ECS.SOTON.AC.UK>
Subject: Re: The forgotten importance of editors

On Fri, 6 Aug 1999, Arthur Smith (American Physical Society) wrote:

> If self-archiving succeeds as Harnad promotes, it is clear that
> journals will have to change, and will be expected to.
> They, and the editors who represent them, have every right to know
> what to expect, and to have a say in how their journals respond.

Journals and their editors certainly have every right to know what to
expect (insofar as anyone can know for sure), and it is to be hoped
that heads will be put together to make rational plans for how to
respond if/when the effects of freeing the literature through
self-archiving should have their likely effect on S/L/P demand. This
Forum (among others) has strongly recommended concerted advance
planning for this eventuality.

But meanwhile the self-archiving initiative should certainly not wait.

There is no reason whatsoever why AUTHORS should sit back and wait to
self-archive until journals and their editors first see fit to plan a
transition scenario in case self-archiving should one day cause S/L/P
revenues to decline -- for in that case the wait could prove to be a
long one indeed! LANL authors did not wait; it is time now for other
authors in all the other disciplines to follow suit. The creation of
further self-archiving facilities modeled on LANL, such as CogPrints,
E-biomed, and Scholar's Forum should facilitate this.

There is at present only one contingency between author self-archiving
and journal plans and policies, however, and that concerns copyright,
in particular, the author's right to self-archive. Now that LANL has
shown the way, not only is there no longer any justification at all for
continuing to hold authors' refereed papers hostage to S/L/P access
tolls, but there is no justification for holding them hostage to
journals' failure to make contingency plans either.

The handwriting is on the wall (or in the sky, as it were):
Self-archiving, is within reach of all, and it works, to the benefit of
all, as LANL has resoundingly demonstrated. If authors see this and
fail to take advantage of it -- if they are led to the water yet fail
to drink -- that will be their own fault, and nolo contendere.

But if they are deterred from doing it by journal policies that attempt
to forbid it, then I am afraid there may be unstable times ahead; for
such restrictive copyright policies are no longer either ethically
justifiable, technically enforceable, nor even logically coherent (for
there is a slippery slope from the author's raw, unrefereed first
draft, circulated [to how many people?] informally in paper before
submission to the journal, to the public archiving of that draft, to
the public archiving of successive revised drafts, all the way up to
the final, accepted, refereed draft: where is there an ethically
justifiable, technically enforceable, logically coherent boundary line
along this give-away continuum?).

So if "how their journals respond" refers to how they respond to S/L/P
decline as a result of self-archiving, by all means journals should be
as informed and proactive as possible; but if it refers to how they
respond to the THREAT posed by self-archiving -- i.e., what they can do
to prevent it -- then I am afraid this would only escalate the conflict
of interest rather than resolve it.

> Many have responded by not accepting papers that have
> previously appeared on preprint servers, and/or by holding authors to
> egregious copyright agreements that preclude subsequent self-archiving.

Yes, and fortunately Arthur Smith's Editor in Chief and many others
have come out strongly against this self-serving policy, which is so
contrary to the interests of research and researchers.

> How do you get self-archiving started if nobody in a field does it,
> and the journals are already online and accessible from most institutions
> with researchers who might care?

Partly by creating reliable public self-archiving facilities modeled on
LANL (such as CogPrints, E-Biomed, Scholar's Forum)

and partly by tirelessly preaching to the auctorial thoroughbreds
the benefits of partaking of these waters.

> I have some experience dealing with major scientific societies in
> the U.S. and I can tell you that very few of them are comfortable with
> the projected revenue loss they see coming from your predictions.

No doubt. But are they more comfortable with trying to hold the journal
literature hostage from the optimal and inevitable?

> We who do not agree are definitely in the minority. In the U.S.
> it is the physical society, the astronomical society, and with perhaps
> some equivocation the mathematics society on one side, and everybody
> else pretty much on the other.

Patience. Physicists and mathematicians may be smarter, but eventually
the rest of us will catch up too.

> The British Medical Journal, which is partly sponsoring its own
> author self-archive, is the only bio-medical publisher I have seen
> that strongly advocates it.

There is no reason for publishers to ADVOCATE self-archiving; they need
only refrain from trying to PREVENT it.

> And I have a hard time believing that Stevan's current arguments will
> win more than a handful of converts from the opposition, given their
> current entrenched positions.

That may be true, but I am not primarily preaching to publishers here,
but to authors: They are the "self" in the self-archiving initiative.

> LANL has grown at a pretty much linear
> rate, handling probably 25,000 new submissions this year, 20,000 last
> year, 15,000 the year before, etc. Projecting this linear growth
> forward it will take another 10 or so years to capture all articles
> published in pure physics (currently something like 1/3 of papers we
> receive also appear on the archive), roughly 50 years to capture
> both pure and applied physics, and at least 200 years to capture most
> of scientific publishing. A lot can happen in 10 years, let alone 200.

All true. Let us hope that once E-biomed is on-line the pace will
quicken. A lot can happen in 10 months too, when it comes to

> Anyway, the point is there is absolutely no guarantee that self-archiving
> will prevail among authors, and there are good reasons to think existing
> journal publishers and their editors will work against it.

There certainly is no guarantee that self-archiving will prevail, but
there are strong reasons to believe it would be optimal for research and
researchers. Let us hope that if publishers work against it, it will
only be by trying to offer something even better, rather than by trying
to forbid it.

As to editors: the editors are US (just as the authors, referees and
readers are us); let us only hope they/we do not forget it:

> recent discussion has revolved around differences between
> physicists and mathematicians and even between subfields of
> mathematics - not that any of the arguments in opposition hold much
> water, but they are there, and they are acting to prevent author
> self-archiving from taking hold in that community.

Let us hope that arguments that don't hold much water don't keep us from
the water for much longer...

> Journals and their editors need to support this, or it will
> not happen. The time is past for being subversive.

I don't see this at all! On the contrary, the time is very much now.

Subverting a system means taking matters in one's own hands in order to
bring about an alternative. I cannot legally archive YOUR articles, nor you
mine, in order to bring us both to the optimal and the inevitable; but
each of us self-archiving our own small portion of this give-away
literature can -- and could do so almost overnight.

Stevan Harnad           
Professor of Cognitive Science
Department of Electronics and     phone: +44 2380 592-582
Computer Science                  fax:   +44 2380 592-865
University of Southampton
Highfield, Southampton