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Petitions, Boycotts, and Liberating the Refereed Literature Online

Stevan Harnad harnad at cogito.ecs.soton.ac.uk
Sat Oct 28 05:42:35 EST 2000

Here is a reply to a query that is pertinent to this list:

> [Do you know] about the petition that asks signers not to participate
> in publishing articles in journals that don't share their archives[?]

I haven't seen that petition yet, but you may be surprised to hear
that I would not myself endorse it. 

I am a strong advocate of freeing the refereed journal literature
online through self-archiving, but I am opposed to making that
conditional in any way on FIRST changing either journals or
author-submission practises in any way (e.g., through author boycotts).

The reason for my opposition is simple: because such preconditions are
unnecessary, ineffectual, and would in fact be counterproductive. So
focusing on them and waiting for them to happen is simply delaying us
on the road to the optimal and inevitable (the entire refereed journal
literature, online and free), which is already within reach now.

Journals need to continue to exist and perform their essential,
irreplaceable function, which is implementing peer review and
certifying the refereed, revised, final drafts as having been
accepted for publication by that journal:

And there is no reason whatsoever for asking or expecting researchers
to choose the journal to which they wish to submit their research
findings on any other basis than the one they use already, which is
quality, reputation, impact.

Why should researchers base that important choice on whether or
not a journal shares its archives (whatever that means)?

For if "sharing its archives" means obliging the journal to give away
its own contents, now, for free, in a public online archive, then
surely it should be the JOURNAL, not its authorship, that decides
whether or when to do that, based on its economics and cost-recovery
methods. (But is something its authorship CAN do, now, that will have
exactly the same effect!)

Nor would I endorse a journal boycott by authors even in support of
modifying journals' copyright transfer policy so as to formally permit
authors to self-archive their final refereed drafts (as the APS policy,
for example, already allows them to do
<ftp://aps.org/pub/jrnls/copy_trnsfr.asc>) -- but that is because all
authors can already achieve the same outcome, legally, now, even if
they sign the most restrictive copyright transfer agreement (by using
the Harnad/Oppenheim strategy)!

Hence here too, a boycott would be unnecessary, ineffectual, and
counterproductive (merely delaying the optimal and inevitable by
needlessly making it conditional on a prior, successful boycott).

The fact is that the option of self-archiving is already there and
ready, as a SURE means of freeing the refereed literature without
authors' having to boycott or give up anything at all. (That is why the
proposal was dubbed "subversive".)


And the physicists have already demonstrated that it can be done, and
how. So they will get the undisputed historical credit for having been
the fastest of the mark. 

But even the physicists are only approaching the optimal and inevitable
linearly <http://arXiv.org/cgi-bin/show_monthly_submissions> (and at
that rate, with 30-40% of the refereed physics literature freed to
date, it will take another decade or more to free it all). So something
is needed to accelerate the self-archiving rate in physics from the
linear to the exponential, and to propagate that momentum into all the
other disciplines as well.

(Physicists may be smarter, more serious about research, and faster
about doing what needs to be done about freeing it, but they are not
infinitely smarter, faster, etc.; there exists no discipline that would
fail to benefit hugely from having free access to its refereed literature,
and from the enhanced research tempo and impact that that would
vouchsafe. I am hoping that the imminent release of the eprints.org
software so all institutions can immediately set up OAI-compliant
Eprint Archives will at last propel that self-archiving momentum
into the exponential range in all fields.)

Petitions like the one alluded to above only reinforce the false idea
that in order to free the refereed literature there is something
authors first have to give up: They don't have to give up (or petition
or boycott for) anything. Moreover, I, as an author/researcher, would
certainly not give up the prerogative of submitting my work to, say,
Science, because Science currently declines to give away its contents
for free, or declines to change its copyright policy, on may say-so: I
can publish in Science and liberate my paper through self-archiving
anyway! (Besides, there are signs that Science's policy in this regard
may be changing anyway; Nature's already is.)

> [T]he Open Citation Project... looks sensible and straightforward to me.
> Have biomedical researchers shown an interest in using OpCit? It
> seems a graceful way of liberating this material, as you say, without
> making threats or demands on publishers.

I think you are conflating two related but distinct projects:

(1) The OpCit Project: http://opcit.eprints.org


(2) The Eprints Project: http://www.eprints.org

OpCit is an NSF/JISC-funded project for citation-linking, in the first
instance, the Los Alamos Physics Archive, and eventually all
distributed, OAI-compliant Eprint Archives (this is still waiting on
the OAI's introducing references into the OAI Protocol:
http://www.openarchives.org). Citation-linking provides a powerful new
means of navigating the digital refereed literature and it also
provides new scientometric measures of research impact:


However, OpCit is not a way of liberating the material: It operates on
material that has ALREADY been liberated! The means of liberating the
material is institutional self-archiving:

Eprints is the self-archiving project, providing OAI-compliant software
to Universities worldwide so that (1) they can immediately create their
own OAI-compliant Eprint Archives, so that (2) their researchers can
self-archive their papers in them:

All the distributed Eprint archives, being interoperable, can then be
harvested into one global virtual archive in which everyone, everywhere
can search and retrieve the full refereed journal literature
self-archived therein for free, thanks to such Open Archive Services
as: http://arc.cs.odu.edu/

So what biomedical researchers should show an interest in now is
Eprints, rather than OpCit! It is self-archiving in OAI-compliant
institutional Eprint archives that provides the graceful way of
liberating this material.

The release date for the operational version of the Eprints software
is in a few weeks. Stay tuned. Then I'll be able to tell you whether
biomedical researchers (and researchers in all other fields) are
showing an interest. But I do know that over 100 institutions are
already beta-testing Eprints now.

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
American Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00):


You may join the list at the site above.

Discussion can be posted to:

    september98-forum at amsci-forum.amsci.org 

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