Floyd Bloom's SCIENCE Editorial about NIH/E-biomed
harnad at cogito.ecs.soton.ac.uk
Wed Jul 28 10:33:45 EST 1999
The Editor of SCIENCE, Dr. Floyd Bloom has written an editorial about
NIH's E-biomed initiative.
Floyd E. Bloom [Editorial] "Just a Minute, Please" SCIENCE 285
(5425) p. 197, 9 Jul 1999.
This is a reply to his editorial.
To summarize, Dr. Bloom is writing ex officio as the Editor of Science,
published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Science is a hybrid journal. It contains articles by salaried staff
writers and commissioned articles written for a fee. It is important to
note that these articles are in no way at issue here.
But Science also contains refereed research reports, submitted by their
authors for free, with the sole objective of making the research
findings available as broadly as possible once they have met Science's
rigorous standards of peer review. It is these refereed articles only
that are at issue here, and the issue is a simple one: Should
NIH/E-biomed provide a free public Archive, modeled on the
NSF-supported Los Alamos Eprint Archive in Physics (LANL), in which the
authors of these refereed research reports can self-archive them online
publicly, free for everyone, everywhere, forever?
Dr. Bloom is arguing that they should not be, and we will shortly
examine his reasons. But we can be confident that Dr. Bloom will revise
his views when more fully informed of the objectives of E-biomed and the
scientific potential of free public archiving of refereed research on
the World Wide Web, for Dr. Bloom represents the American Association
for the Advancement (not the secondary sale or suppression!) of Science.
At the moment, Dr. Bloom's reservations are motivated by two factors:
Concern about the quality of the scientific research literature (and
this concern is commendable, his journal being the representative of
research standards of the highest quality) and concern about the
revenue stream of his journal, which is the financial resource that is
currently supporting those high standards of quality. It is here that I
am afraid that Dr. Bloom is being somewhat short-sighted and perhaps
even a little partisan too, unconsciously placing the interests of the
maintenance of that revenue stream above the interests of the science
that AAAS is dedicated to advancing.
It is undeniable that in the present PostGutenberg Era a conflict of
interest has arisen between researchers and the current means of
production of their published refereed research reports. There is a way
to resolve this conflict, however, although it at first appears
counterintuitive; and as the resolution is clearly to the benefit of
science, and at the same time provides the revenue stream to sustain the
essential service provided by the publishers of science -- quality
control and certification in the form of peer review and editing --
there is every reason to believe that AAAS will find it fully compatible
with its mission.
The resolution is a two-stage one.
First, it is necessary to identify and acknowledge the conflict of
For scientific researchers, the reports of their (usually publicly
funded) research findings are GIVE-AWAYS: They seek neither royalties
nor fees; they seek only the eyes and minds of their fellow-researchers
worldwide, present and future, so as to maximize the impact of their
findings on the future course of research (and thereby also on the
course of their careers and their livelihoods).
Researchers are accordingly interested in having their findings first
quality-controlled and certified (QC/C) through peer review, and then
made freely accessible to everyone. In the Gutenberg Era, the only way
they could come anywhere near that goal was to treat their work exactly
the same way trade authors (who wrote for fees or royalty) treated
theirs, namely, to assign copyright to a publisher, who would then
charge for access to the work in order to cover the substantial
expenses of paper publication and distribution and to make a fair
profit, where possible, for both himself and his author (in the form of
royalties or fees).
But the scientists reporting their research findings in refereed
journals were never interested in fees or royalties, for those would
represent access barriers, restricting their findings to only those
individuals and institutions that could afford to pay for them (via
Subscription, Site License, or Pay Per View, S/L/P). Nevertheless,
scientists had to live with these S/L/P barriers, for all the world as
if they were trade authors seeking royalties or fees for their work,
because in the Gutenberg Era there simply was no alternative way to
reach even that privileged subset of the potential readership of their
article (not a large populace even in the best of times).
In the PostGutenberg era of global digital networks, however, there is
at last an alternative, and not only researchers, but research itself,
and hence all of society, would be the losers if we failed to take full
advantage of it. For now we no longer have to rely on the expensive,
inefficient and access-limiting technology of print on paper to
disseminate refereed research findings. They can be SELF-ARCHIVED by
their authors in public online archives like E-biomed (and its
spectacularly successful model, LANL) and thereby accessible to one and
all without any financial firewalls.
Free public self-archiving, however, is only the first of the two
stages of resolving the conflict of interest between research and its
current means of publication. As long as there continues to be a demand
for the paper version, it (and its proprietary online counterpart) can
continue to be sold via S/L/P, which can continue to fund (among other
things) QC/C (peer review). But meanwhile the worldwide research
community will also have the self-archived online version on its
desktops for free. And there is every reason to believe that they will
grow increasingly reliant on it.
Eventually, this is likely to shrink S/L/P revenues, and here it may
look as if we are approaching a catastrophe point, for part of that
revenue is paying for the maintenance of the quality standards of that
literature (QC/C). But a very simple solution is available, once we
recognize that the S/L/P revenues are largely being paid for by their
researchers' institutions. Let us call this "reader-institution end"
funding. All that is needed to continue covering QC/C costs is to
switch from reader-institution end funding to author-institution end
funding, covered fully by the S/L/P savings. The big difference is that
reader-institution-end S/L/P is access-blocking, holding the literature
hostage to access tolls, whereas author-institution end funding makes
access completely free.
This is the second stage of the resolution of the conflict of interest,
and it has the further advantage (although this is more controversial,
because no one has the exact figures yet) that it will save
institutions a great deal of money. For the cost of QC/C alone -- once
publishers have scaled down to providing this essential service alone,
leaving the access providing and preservation entirely to public online
archives like LANL and E-biomed -- is likely to be much lower than
current S/L/P expenditure. Indeed it is likely to be less than 1/3 of
it, by current estimates. See the American Scientist Discussion Forum
threads on this:
Odlyzko, A.M. (1998) The economics of electronic journals. In:
Ekman R. and Quandt, R. (Eds) Technology and Scholarly
Communication Univ. Calif. Press, 1998.
This means that researchers benefit (access to their findings is
expanded, potentially infinitely), their institutions benefit (both
from S/L/P savings and from their researchers' enhanced impact), and
research itself benefits (in both productivity and pace). Refereed
journal publishers will unfortunately need to downsize, but in exchange
they will have a stable, permanent niche that is compatible with the
new medium rather than at odds with it.
Now I proceed to reply to Dr. Bloom's editorial on a quote/comment
> Proponents [of the E-biomed Archive] acknowledge that cooperating
> journals could lose subscription income and suggest that journals
> recover their costs through submission and acceptance fees charged to
> authors. E-biomed may be free to users, but it will not be free to
> taxpayers or authors submitting through peer review.
We can now understand that this passage is based on a
misunderstanding. Tax payers are already sustaining our educational
and research institutions, including their S/L/P budgets, which will be
REDUCED rather than increased by the switch to up-front payment in the
And the costs of providing public research archive facilities such as
LANL and E-biomed will be minuscule compared to the size of the
literature and the benefits conferred; moreover, most of the
infrastructure is in place already, in this increasingly networked
world, and pooling resources with the rest of the disciplines (after
Physics and the Biomedical Sciences) will make the marginal costs even
So there is nothing whatsoever in this passage to deter us from
resolving this conflict of interest in the way just described.
> [E-biomed has] much support from quarters long known to advocate a more
> open scientific literature that would banish the alleged cabals of
> editors, biased reviewers, and expensive commercial presses with
> generally irrelevant content.
There are as always extremists around who want to banish QC/C, but
leveler heads are bent on preserving it, and indeed the entire
scenario just described is predicated on just that.
So this objection too is invalid.
> Lurking behind the public discussions are some potentially troubling
> What if the major journals choose not to cooperate out of concern that
> their ability to survive and maintain quality control and timeliness
> are threatened by the diversion of authors and competent reviewers into
> the NIH system?
There was a little confusion in the initial draft of the E-biomed
proposal. The eventual goal is cooperation with the refereed journals,
in the form of official "overlays" on the archive, authenticated by
them. But in the first stage, author self-archiving of their refereed
drafts will suffice to free the literature.
Nor is there any "diversion of authors and competent reviewers into
the NIH system." There is no "NIH system," merely a public archive in
which authors can deposit their papers (both refereed reprints and,
if they wish, unrefereed preprints).
There is only one respect in which the major journals need to
"cooperate," and one certainly hopes they will do so, otherwise this
will escalate the conflict of interest instead of resolving it to the
benefit of science: Publishers must not attempt to use copyright
restrictions as a weapon to continue to hold the literature hostage to
access tolls by forbidding public self-archiving.
This is THE central issue, and at the heart of all of this. SCIENCE
itself has published a collective call for the retention of such author
along with a dissenting editorial by Dr. Bloom.
Some prior comments on that exchange in SCIENCE are appended at the end
of this reply. Let it only be noted here that progressive publishers
are already resolving this conflict in a fair and rational way, in the
interests of the scientific community they serve, rather than their
own S/L/P revenue streams. A model in this regard (and they will be duly
recognized by historians for this) is the American Physical Society
(APS), publisher of the journals with the highest QC/C standards and
impact factors in Physics. Dr. Bloom's homonomyous APS counterpart, Dr.
Blume, is one of the cosignators of the above copyright reform
proposal in SCIENCE. For APS copyright policy, see:
> Will societies whose members' future careers rely on NIH funding be
> willing to resist the cooptation of their journals' editorial and peer
> review systems?
Nothing is being co-opted. The NSF-funded LANL Physics Archive stands
as a model for the kind of cooperative solution that will prevail.
Journals, editorial boards and peer review will continue to exist,
independent and intact. The only issue is whether they should be
allowed to continue to try to hold this give-away literature hostage to
S/L/P access tolls, against the interests of research and researchers.
> What will the real costs be to authors, peer-reviewed journals, and
> scientific societies?
Yes, what will they be indeed, once the obsolete Gutenberg "add-ons"
are phased out and only the essential QC/C costs remain?
> Does a monopolistic archive under government control by the major
> research funder enhance scientific progress better than the existing
> journal hierarchy, which provides multiple alternatives to authors and
Multiple journals -- indeed the entire hierarchy that currently exists
-- will continue to exist for authors and readers. Nor will it be
government controlled. (As always, quality will be controlled by peer
reviewers, who, like the authors, do their work for free! QC/C costs are
for IMPLEMENTING peer review, not for actually performing it.)
NIH will fund E-biomed, just as NSF funds LANL. The cost will be
minuscule, and still smaller as more disciplines join in the
self-archiving initiative. And once S/L/P expenditures shrink, savings
will prevail, including savings on government-supported institutional
Pluralism will be, if anything, enhanced by a firewall-free global
research literature. The objective is to free the literature from
market restrictions that are no longer justified or necessary, not to
take over a market!
(The word "monopoly," so clearly out of place here, will recur later in
this reply in the context of certain collaborative firewall practises
on the part S/L/P providers...)
> What about research in disciplines outside what the National Library of
> Medicine considers biomedical?
There are plans for vetting the unrefereed clinical preprint sector to
safeguard public health, but no planned restrictions of any sort on the
refereed sector, any more than there are any such restrictions on the
LANL Archive. (One wonders what Dr. Bloom has in mind here?)
> What about research not sponsored by NIH or even U.S. federal funds?
The answer to this question is so obvious, one can only wonder why it
was raised: What about research not sponsored by NSF in LANL? What
about LANL's 14 mirror sites around the world? Why on earth would an
archive dedicated to freeing access to the refereed research literature
for the world scientific community through self-archiving have any
interest in blocking access to any of it? (The only interests vested in
blocking access to this corpus at the moment are certainly not
> Without answers to these and other questions, it is hard to determine
> the feasibility of the proposal.
(The answers are in each case so trivially obvious that one can only
wonder what the real source of the reservations about feasibility
> Science and other journals are eager to identify the advantages of the
> E-biomed proposal and are actively looking for changes that could
> benefit scientific publishing.
The advantage of the E-biomed proposal is that it will free the
refereed journal literature, to the benefit of science, scientists, and
humankind. The only change required at the moment is a copyright policy
that clearly recognizes the no-royalty/no-fee author's right to
self-archive along the lines of the APS policy.
> For example, the E-biomed server would provide a venue for online
> publication of negative results and thus allow others to avoid
> experimental repetition.
Among the much more profound benefits of public online self-archiving
of refereed reprints and unrefereed preprints there is also the more
modest one of being able to self-archive negative results, both those
that have been accepted by refereed journals, and those that were not.
> On the other hand, if NIH really wants to improve access to the
> literature, they could digitize the peer-reviewed literature published
> before 1995.
The retroactive peer-reviewed literature is most certainly welcome in
the free public archives, and will most certainly be deposited there,
both by individual authors and by digitization initiatives (neither LANL
nor E-biomed is a digitization initiative: they are public
But exactly what is the benefit to science of restricting availability
to the pre-1995 literature?
> In addition, all would benefit if NIH developed software for online
> journal submittals and provided access to a common search engine that
> could survey all peer-reviewed sciences across all journal lines.
The first benefit, though undeniable, is likewise not E-biomed's
mandate. (Why should NIH develop submission software tools?) On the
other hand, the practise of self-archiving will certainly help
accelerate the development of such tools, and it will hasten and expand
authors' using them. Moreover, once the second stage is reached,
official journal overlays on E-biomed will allow automatic online
submission to the journals via the archive, as is already being
implemented on LANL in collaboration with the APS.
As to providing the capacity to "survey all peer-reviewed sciences
across all journal lines," this will be trivially provided by E-biomed
and any number of generic search engines as soon as the self-archiving
initiative is well under way, and E-biomed is well stocked with
papers searchably tagged as "U" (unrefereed preprint) or "R" (refereed
reprint, together with journal name "Jx").
But the principal advantage of this free public archive will be that it
will indeed be "across all journal lines" without any of the financial
firewalls that criss-cross the proprietary online corpus as it now
stands -- a state of affairs that some would like to see turned into a
"click-through" monopoly governed by interpublisher S/P/L fee
> It may be instructive to recall an earlier congressional reaction, as
> Albert Henderson, editor of Publishing Research Quarterly did in his
> response to E-biomed on 6 May. In the Sputnik aftermath, an
> E-biomed-like proposal was made that Congress accelerate U.S.
> scientific research by establishing a unified information system
> similar to what had been created in the Soviet Union. The Senate's
> advisory panel responded: "The case for a Government-operated, highly
> centralized type of center can be no better defended for scientific
> information services than it could be for automobile agencies,
> delicatessens, or barber shops." Surely other creative solutions can be
> found to what NIH considers problems. Are they prepared to listen, or
> is this a done deal?
Both Dr. Henderson and Dr. Bloom might benefit from being reminded (if
they will only listen!) that unlike the producers of cars, bagels and
haircuts, the producers of refereed journal articles wish to give them
away for free. And there is no earthly reason why any government should
not wish to help them do so, to the eternal benefit of science and
This would have been as welcome in the Sputnik era as it is today, but
we had not yet reached the PostGutenberg Galaxy at that time.
The only costs that remain to be paid are those for the SERVICE of
implementing QC/C, costs that it will make incomparably more sense for
the author-institution to pay up-front, out of S/L/P savings, thereby
freeing the literature for one and all, along with a considerable
institutional saving, rather than at the access-denying
reader-institution end, for the reasons described above.
This is the end of my reply. I close with some unanswered prior comments
on Dr. Bloom's earlier editorial on copyright. See:
Bachrach S. et al. (1998) Intellectual Property: Who Should Own
Scientific Papers? Science 281 (5382): 1459-1460. September 4
Bloom, F. (1998) EDITORIAL: The Rightness of Copyright. Science
281 (5382): 1451. September 4 1998.
Intellectual Property: Who Should Own Scientific Papers?
Bachrach, S., Berry, S.R., Blume, M., von Foerster, T.,
Fowler, A., Ginsparg, P., Heller, S., Kestner, N.,
Odlyzko, A., Okerson, A., Wigington, R., & Moffat, A.
"...The goals and motivations of scientists writing up their
research are very different from those of professional authors,
although they may be the same people in different settings. The
scientist is concerned with sharing new findings, advancing
research inquiry, and influencing the thinking of others. The
benefits the scientist receives from publication are indirect;
rarely is there direct remuneration for scientific articles.
Indeed, scientists frequently pay page charges to publish their
articles in journals. The world of the directly paid author is very
different. There, the need for close protection of intellectual
property follows directly from the need to protect income, making
natural allies of the publisher and the professional author,
whether a novelist or the author of a chemistry text..."
"...The suggested policy is this: Federal agencies that fund
research should recommend (or even require) as a condition of
funding that the copyrights of articles or other works describing
research that has been supported by those agencies remain with the
author. The author, in turn, can give prospective publishers a
wide-ranging nonexclusive license to use the work in a value-added
publication, either in traditional or electronic form. The author
thus retains the right to distribute informally, such as through a
Web server for direct interaction with peers..."
"...[Some publishers, such as] Science, the New England Journal of
Medicine, and the Journal of the American Chemical Society, have
adamantly opposed authors' posting of their own articles on Web
pages or e-print servers, whereas others, such as the American
Journal of Mathematics, the Journal of Neuroscience, Nature
Medicine, and Physical Review, have considered such distribution
consistent with, and even advertising for, their own journals..."
EDITORIAL: The Rightness of Copyright:
Floyd E. Bloom
"...[C]opyright transfer is critical to the process of
communicating scientific information accurately. Neither the public
nor the scientific community benefits from the potentially
no-holds-barred electronic dissemination capability provided by
today's Internet tools. Much information on the Internet may be
free, but quality information worthy of appreciation requires more
effort than most scientists could muster, even if able...."
Questions for Reflection [SH]:
(1) Is F. Bloom's a logical or even a practical argument for full
copyright transfer to publishers by refereed-journal paper authors,
ceding their right to archive those papers for free public access?
(2) Is it really true that the only options are either (a) free papers,
with no quality control, or (b) quality-controlled papers, but only in
exchange for copyright transfer and the ensuing blockage of free access by
S/SL/PPV (Subscription/Site-License/Pay-Per-View) fee barriers?
"...A paper submitted to Science will undergo extensive review and,
upon acceptance, extensive revision for clarity, accuracy, and
solidity. A paper published in Science will be seen throughout the
world by our 160,000 paid subscribers and perhaps two or three
times more readers as issues are shared. More than 30,000 readers
will be alerted to the new reports within hours of the appearance
each week of Science Online...."
(3) How many other journals reach 160K subscribers (or even
1/100 % of that)?
(4) Free posting on the Web can reach all 160K (and 100 times that).
(5) Science magazine is a hybrid trade/refereed journal. It publishes
refereed articles, contributed for free, plus commissioned and paid
articles by staff writers and others, for fee. Hence it is in most
relevant respects not representative of the vast refereed literature of
which it (and a few other journals like it, such as Nature) constitutes
a minuscule portion.
"...This degree of investment in the scientific publication process
requires the assignment of copyright. This allows the society
publisher to provide a stewardship over the paper, to protect it
from misuse by those who would otherwise be free to plagiarize or
alter it, and to expand the distribution of information products
for the benefit of the society.
(6) Do we need this degree of investment? Is it worth the consequences
(7) What is "stewardship"?
(8) What do copyright ASSIGNMENT (to the publisher) and S/SL/PPV tolls
have to do with protection from plagiarism or alteration? (Doesn't
copyright simpliciter already provide that, without transfer
to the publisher?)
"...Permissions are granted freely to the originating authors for
their own uses. Science holds the copyright of its authors because
of our belief that we materially improve and protect the product we
(9) What if the "own use" is the provision of one's work to others,
through free public archiving on the Web?
(10) Would payment for the true cost of the necessary "improvements"
not be sufficient, without the need for copyright assignment, S/SL/PPV
[Again, this should all be considered in conjunction with the fact that
Science magazine is far from representative of refereed journals, for
the reasons noted above.]
Stevan Harnad harnad at cogsci.soton.ac.uk
Professor of Cognitive Science harnad at princeton.edu
Department of Electronics and phone: +44 2380 592-582
Computer Science fax: +44 2380 592-865
University of Southampton http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/
Highfield, Southampton http://www.princeton.edu/~harnad/
SO17 1BJ UNITED KINGDOM ftp://ftp.princeton.edu/pub/harnad/
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