Reasons for freeing the primary research literature

Stevan Harnad harnad at cogito.ecs.soton.ac.uk
Sat Aug 18 13:35:00 EST 2001


On Fri, 17 Aug 2001, Jim Till wrote:

> Re (1d): please bear in mind that a definition of the verb "censor" is
> "make deletions or changes in".

Peer review certainly is not censorship. Nor is charging tolls for access
to the on-paper or on-line text that is the result of the peer review.

And trying to use copyright restrictions to prevent the authors of
peer-reviewed articles from self-archiving them free online is not
censorship either (though there are probably equally unflattering names
one could use to describe it). 

But this is moot, because such attempted restrictions can already
be legally circumvented (and are being dropped by more and more journal
publishers anyway, as both unenforcable and indefensible, as recently
discussed in this Forum). Hence they represent no real obstacle to
freeing the refereed literature through self-archiving: At most the
"obstacle" is merely a (mis)perceived one on the part of authors and
others who have not given the matter sufficient thought:

http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Tp/resolution.htm#Harnad/Oppenheim

Jim goes on to discuss some hypothetical cases that also grade into
the "Ingelfinger Rule" (i.e., journals with a policy of not refereeing or
not publishing papers that have been previously self-archived as
unrefereed preprints), but note that, unlike copyright, Ingelfinger is
not a legal matter:

    Harnad, S. (2000) E-Knowledge: Freeing the Refereed Journal Corpus
    Online. Computer Law & Security Report 16(2) 78-87. [Rebuttal to
    Bloom Editorial in Science and Relman Editorial in New England
    Journal of Medicine]
http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Papers/Harnad/harnad00.scinejm.htm

    Harnad, S. (2000) Ingelfinger Over-Ruled: The Role of the Web in
    the Future of Refereed Medical Journal Publishing. The Lancet
    Perspectives 256 (December Supplement): s16.
http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Papers/Harnad/harnad00.lancet.htm

> What should the author do, in order to avoid this (cost/revenue-based)
> dissemination barrier?  Some possible options: (i) Thank the journal for
> peer-reviewing the preprint, and simply self-archive it in an open
> archive, together with a comment that it was considered to be acceptable
> for publication by the brand-name journal (how to validate such a claim?).

Not necessary (and silly). Sign the (restrictive) copyright transfer
agreement. Let the journal go ahead and publish it. The unrefereed
preprint is already self-archived. Append the "corrigenda" that will
make it into the refereed final draft.

> (ii) Self-archive the preprint, but not inform the brand-name journal
> (requires deception). 

Of course self-archive the preprint! And of course sign the copyright
agreement, which can pertain only to the refereed final draft (the
"value-added" product) and not to the preprint, which was archived even
before submission or refereeing!

This is not deception. It is verbatim pedantry.

("Deception" would be involved in "violating" the "Ingelfinger Rule"
which announces that the journal will not REFEREE a paper that has been
self-archived on the Web. Here I unhesitantly (and unpenitantly!)
recommend ignoring this unnecessary, unjustifiable and unenforceable
"rule," which, unlike copyright, has no force of law, but is instead
merely an arbitrary submission policy, like declining to referee papers
by authors who have blue-eyed uncles -- on which I would likewise
recommend "deception"... )

(In contrast, the violation of a non-arbitrary submission policy --
such as one of not refereeing or publishing papers that have already
been refereed and published in a refereed journal -- would be
unethical, detectable, and deserving of punishment in the form of no
longer considering that author's work for publication in that journal:
The nonarbitrary reason? Peer-review (which is performed by peers for
free) is a scarce and overused resource. There is no justification
whatsoever, and it is an abuse of referees' time, to squander it on a
paper that has already been refereed, accepted and published.)

> (iii) Withdraw the submitted preprint, and re-submit
> it to a lower-impact journal that either has a version that's
> freely-available online, or permits open self-archiving of preprints
> and/or postprints.

Again unnecessary (and silly). The rational thing to do is described
above. There is no reason whatsoever to give up the well-earned
imprimatur of the refereed journal of the author's choice if the paper
has managed to pass successfully through that journal's peer review.

> The third alternative (which is the one that I'd personally prefer)
> results, I'll argue, in a form of censorship.  First, the article has been
> deleted from (because it didn't enter into) the "top-quality" brand of
> primary research literature, for reasons based on cost/revenue, not
> quality.  Second, it's dissemination has been significantly delayed, again
> simply for reasons of cost/revenue, not quality.  Perhaps these particular
> consequences won't be regarded as serious enough to justify use of the
> word "censorship"?  Is there another word that might be more appropriate?
> "Blockage"? "Interference"?

Sounds very complicated for something much simpler (and less ominous).
Archive the preprint. Submit it to the best journal you can. If it's
accepted, proceed as above. 

Let the journal "brand-names" do the work they already do so well:
sign-posting the refereed literature by the quality level of the
journal that peer-reviewed it.

--------------------------------------------------------------------
Stevan Harnad                     harnad at cogsci.soton.ac.uk
Professor of Cognitive Science    harnad at princeton.edu
Department of Electronics and     phone: +44 23-80 592-582
             Computer Science     fax:   +44 23-80 592-865
University of Southampton         http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/
Highfield, Southampton            http://www.princeton.edu/~harnad/
SO17 1BJ UNITED KINGDOM           

NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing free
access to the refereed journal literature online is available at the
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    http://amsci-forum.amsci.org/archives/september98-forum.html

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