The Six Roads to Liberating the Refereed Literature

Stevan Harnad harnad at
Fri Jun 1 10:15:08 EST 2001

On Fri, 1 Jun 2001, Thomas J. Walker wrote:

> I am for any strategy that speeds the transition to free access, but both
> [1] boycotts to force publishers to change and [2] self-archiving make 
> authors and their publishers adversaries. In offering a service that 
> authors want, at a fair price, ESA is demonstrating that the change 
> to free access can be mutually beneficial and market-driven.  
> I look forward to other societies soon offering this service that their 
> authors/members want.

Any path that gets us all to our shared goal of free online access to
the entire refereed corpus for everyone (and as soon as possible) is
welcome; and multiple paths (if they don't impede one another) are
welcome too.

You are right that both boycotts and self-archiving are at odds with
the preferences of publishers (though I think "adversaries" may be
overstating it, at least in the case of self-archiving: 150,000 papers
have already been archived in physics with the cooperation, rather than
the opposition, of the American Physical Society, the publisher of
the highest-quality journals in the field).

Here, as I see it, are the plusses and minusses of the six main
strategies for freeing the refereed literature:

(1) Paying the publisher for publisher-supplied online-offprints
(o-prints, free for all): A good solution where it is available, and
where the author can afford to pay for it, but (i) most journals don't
offer it, (ii) there will always be authors who cannot afford to pay
for it, and (iii) self-archiving their own eprint accomplishes the same
outcome, immediately, for everyone, at no expense to authors.

In short, for-fee o-prints require authors to pay for something they
can already do for free (as the authors of the 150,000 physics papers
have done).

(2) Boycotting journals that do not give away their contents online for
free requires authors to give up their established journals of choice
and to switch to unestablished journals (if they exist), not on the
basis of their quality or impact, but on the basis of their
give-away policy. 

If authors self-archived their papers, they could keep publishing
in their established journals of choice yet still ensure free access
for all.

(3) Library consortial support (e.g. SPARC) for lower-priced journals
lowers the access barriers, but does not eliminate them (and
merely entrenches fee-based access blockages further).

(4) Delayed journal give-aways -- 6-to-12+ months after publication)
is too little, too late, entrenching the access-blockage of new
research until it is not new.

(5) Giving up established journals and peer review altogether, in
favour of self-archived preprints and post-hoc commentary puts
research quality standards and navigability at risk.

(6) Self-archiving all preprints and postprints can be done immediately
and will free the refereed literature overnight, but authors are
held back by (groundless) worries about peer review and copyright.

To summarize, (1) - (5) all require waiting for policy changes and,
even once these are available, all require a needless sacrifice on the
part of authors. With (1) the sacrifice is the needless o-print
expense, with (2) it is the right to submit to one's preferred
journals, with (3) it is (as ever) the impact on those who cannot
afford the access tolls, with (4) it is the impact of the all-important
first 6-12 months after publication, and with (5) the sacrifice is the
quality of the literature itself.

Only (6) require no sacrifices at all, and no need to wait for any
change in journal policy or price. The only downside of (6) is authors'
relative sluggishness in just going ahead and doing it; nevertheless,
(6) is well ahead of the other 5 candidates, in terms of the number of
papers thus freed already, thanks to the lead taken by the physicists
(having made adversaries of no one).

I think it's time for all the other disciplines to follow their lead,
rather than to wait, contemplating needless sacrifices. Interoperable
archive-creating software is there, free for all. Just go ahead and do
it, whether at the institutional ( or individual
( level.

Stevan Harnad                     harnad at
Professor of Cognitive Science    harnad at
Department of Electronics and     phone: +44 23-80 592-582
             Computer Science     fax:   +44 23-80 592-865
University of Southampton
Highfield, Southampton  
SO17 1BJ UNITED KINGDOM           

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