June 27 2004: The 1994 "Subversive Proposal" at 10
harnad at ecs.soton.ac.uk
Sun Jun 27 08:02:08 EST 2004
** Apologies for cross-posting **
THE 1994 "SUBVERSIVE PROPOSAL FOR ELECTRONIC PUBLISHING" AT 10
Today, June 27 2004, is the 10th anniversary of the "Subversive Proposal"
which was first posted June 27 1994:
and then published as:
Harnad, S. (1995) A Subversive Proposal. In: Ann
Okerson & James O'Donnell (Eds.) Scholarly Journals
at the Crossroads; A Subversive Proposal for Electronic
Publishing. Washington, DC., Association of Research Libraries,
June 1995. http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/subvert.html
This seems a good moment to take a critical look at where the Proposal
stands today: where it was on target, and where it missed the mark:
> I. OVERTURE: The Subversive Proposal
> esoteric 213 aj .es-o-'ter-ik
> 1 a aj designed for or understood by the specially initiated alone
> 1 b aj of or relating to knowledge that is restricted to a small group
> 2 a aj limited to a small circle <~ pursuits>
> 2 b aj [mini PRIVATE], [mini CONFIDENTIAL] <an ~ purpose>
> (From the networked Merriam Webster Dictionary at Princeton University)
This "esoteric/exoteric" distinction turns out to have been just
an out-of-focus first-approximation. The relevant distinction is not
esoteric vs. exoteric writing but *give-away vs. non-giveaway* writing
(a better approximation) and, in particular, peer-reviewed journal
articles -- written solely for research impact, not for royalty outcome --
vs. most other forms of writing.
That is what gradually came into focus in the ensuing years as the true
target of what eventually came to be called "Open Access" (OA).
> We have heard many sanguine predictions about the demise of paper
> publishing, but life is short and the inevitable day still seems a
> long way off.
Since then, just about all of peer-reviewed journal publishing has become
hybrid, with both a paper and an online edition (and a still-small
but growing number of online-only journals). But paper has not died
yet. Nor was converting to online-only the real issue: The real issue
was (and always had been) toll-free online access to the full-text of
peer-reviewed journal articles, i.e., Open Access (OA), in order to
maximise their usage and impact.
> This is a subversive proposal that could radically hasten that day. It
> is applicable only to ESOTERIC (non-trade, no-market) scientific and
> scholarly publication (but that is the lion's share of the academic
> corpus anyway), namely, that body of work for which the author does
> not and never has expected to SELL the words.
The day in question is not the day when all is online-only, but the day
when all is OA. And the "all" is the give-away articles published in
peer-reviewed journals -- which is not the lion's share of the "academic
corpus," but all of the peer-reviewed journal portion of it (hence an
It is still not yet clear to how much more writing the OA model
applies. It looks applicable to some monographs too. The decisive
questions still seem to be: "Is the text an author give-away? Is it
written for royalty income or for research impact?"
> 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."
> 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.
This is still true: The authors of refereed journal articles want to
maximize the impact of their work on the work of their fellow researchers,
and the way to do this is to maximize user access to it. Anything
that denies access to would-be users of a piece of research denies the
researcher and the research part of its potential impact. Access-tolls
(subscriptions, licenses) certainly do this, for tolls mean that
researchers whose institutions cannot afford them, cannot have access, and
that therefore their potential contribution to that research's impact
In the Gutenberg (on-paper) era, there was no way to supplement toll-based
access with toll-free access for those would-be users whose institutions
could not afford the tolls: in the PostGutenberg (on-line) era there is,
> 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.
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;
(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).
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.
> 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): http://www.eprints.org/self-faq/#7.Peer
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.
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 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
-- 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!)
> 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.
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.
The "Subversive Proposal" should have been called, non-contentiously, the
Here are some selected references. For a fuller history, see
Peter Suber's excellent "Timeline of the Open Access Movement"
Brody, T., Stamerjohanns, H., Vallieres, F., Harnad, S. Gingras,
Y., & Oppenheim, C. (2004) The effect of Open Access on Citation
Impact. Presented at: National Policies on Open Access (OA) Provision
for University Research Output: an International meeting, Southampton,
19 February 2004.
Cox, J. & Cox, L. (2003) Scholarly Publishing Practice: The ALPSP
report on academic publishers' policies and practices in online
publishing. Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers.
Harnad, S. (1990) Scholarly Skywriting and the Prepublication Continuum
of Scientific Inquiry. Psychological Science 1: 342 - 343 (reprinted in
Current Contents 45: 9-13, November 11 1991).
Harnad, S. (1991) Post-Gutenberg Galaxy: The Fourth Revolution in the
Means of Production of Knowledge. Public-Access Computer Systems Review
2 (1): 39 - 53 (also reprinted in PACS Annual Review Volume 2 1992;
and in R. D. Mason (ed.) Computer Conferencing: The Last Word. Beach
Holme Publishers, 1992; and in: M. Strangelove & D. Kovacs: Directory
of Electronic Journals, Newsletters, and Academic Discussion Lists
(A. Okerson, ed), 2nd edition. Washington, DC, Association of Research
Libraries, Office of Scientific & Academic Publishing, 1992); and in
Hungarian translation in REPLIKA 1994; and in Japanese in "Research and
Development of Scholarly Information Dissemination Systems" 1994-1995.
Harnad, S. (1995) Electronic Scholarly Publication: Quo Vadis? Serials
Review 21(1) 70-72 (Reprinted in Managing Information 2(3) 1995)
Harnad, S. (1998) For Whom the Gate Tolls? Free the Online-Only Refereed
Literature. American Scientist Forum.
Harnad, S. (2001/2003) For Whom the Gate Tolls?
Published as: Harnad, S. (2003) Open Access to Peer-Reviewed Research
Through Author/Institution Self-Archiving: Maximizing Research Impact by
Maximizing Online Access. In: Law, Derek & Judith Andrews, Eds. Digital
Libraries: Policy Planning and Practice. Ashgate Publishing 2003.
[Shorter version: Harnad S. (2003) Open Access to Peer-Reviewed Research
through Author/Institution Self-Archiving: Maximizing Research Impact
by Maximizing Online Access. Journal of Postgrad Medicine 49: 337-342.
and in: (2004) Historical Social Research (HSR) 29:1 [French version:
Harnad, S. (2003) Ciélographie et ciélolexie: Anomalie post-gutenbergienne
et comment la résoudre.
In: Origgi, G. & Arikha, N. (eds) Le texte à l'heure de l'Internet.
Bibliotheque Centre Pompidou: Pp. 77-103.
Harnad, S. (2001) The Self-Archiving
Initiative. Nature 410: 1024-1025 Nature WebDebatesversion:
Harnad, S. (2003) Electronic Preprints and Postprints. Encyclopedia of
Library and Information Science Marcel Dekker, Inc.
Harnad, S. (2003) Online Archives for Peer-Reviewed Journal Publications.
International Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science. John
Feather & Paul Sturges (eds). Routledge.
Harnad, S., Brody, T., Vallieres, F., Carr, L., Hitchcock, S., Gingras,
Y, Oppenheim, C., Stamerjohanns, H., & Hilf, E. (2004) The green and
the gold roads to Open Access. Nature Web Focus.
Longer version to appear in Serials Review: The Access/Impact
Problem and the Green and Gold Roads to Open Access
Harnad, S., Carr, L., Brody, T. & Oppenheim, C. (2003) Mandated online
RAE CVs Linked to University Eprint Archives: Improving the UK Research
Assessment Exercise whilst making it cheaper and easier. Ariadne 35
Hitchcock, S., Woukeu, A., Brody, T., Carr, L., Hall, W.,
and Harnad, S. (2003) Evaluating Citebase, an open access
Web-based citation-ranked search and impact discovery service
Kurtz, Michael J.; Eichhorn, Guenther; Accomazzi, Alberto; Grant,
Carolyn S.; Demleitner, Markus; Murray, Stephen S.; Martimbeau, Nathalie;
(2003) The NASA Astrophysics Data System: Sociology, Bibliometrics, and Impact.
Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology
Kurtz, M.J. (2004) Restrictive access policies cut readership of
electronic research journal articles by a factor of two, Michael
J. Kurtz, Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, Cambridge,
Lawrence, S. (2001) Online or Invisible? Nature 411 (6837): 521.
Odlyzko, A.M. (2002) The rapid evolution of
scholarly communication." Learned Publishing 15: 7-19
Smith, A. & Eysenck, M. (2002) The correlation between RAE ratings and
citation counts in psychology. Technical Report, Psychology, University
of London, Royal Holloway. http://psyserver.pc.rhbnc.ac.uk/citations.pdf
Swan, A. & Brown, S.N. (2004) JISC/OSI Journal Authors Survey Report.
Swan, A. & Brown, S.N. (2004) Authors and open access publishing. Learned
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