Harnad, S. (1999) The Future of Scholarly Skywriting. In: Scammell, A. (Ed.) "i in the Sky: Visions of the information future" Aslib, November 1999 http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Papers/Harnad/harnad99.aslib.html
The Future of Scholarly Skywriting

Stevan Harnad
Department of Electronics and Computer Science
University of Southampton
Highfield, Southampton

My own corner of what I've called the "PostGutenberg Galaxy" is a relatively tiny one. Alongside the video, audio, commerce, adverts, chat and erotica, the scholarly/scientific portion of the Net is like the flea on the tail of the dog. But that flea is destined for great things, and humankind will be the beneficiary.

First it has to be clearly understood that the flea differs from the rest of the dog in one crucial respect, but this difference means that its future in cyberspace will differ from most of the rest of its inhabitants.

Let's drop the fumigator metaphor. The flea is the refereed journal literature: At least 14,000 periodicals are dedicated to publishing the ideas and findings of researchers in all the scholarly fields -- the sciences, arts and humanities. Now the critical difference in question is that the authors of all those articles -- unlike the authors of books, and of articles in trade magazines -- do not write their papers for royalties or fees; they give them to their publishers for free. The only reward they seek is the eyes and minds of their fellow researchers, so that their ideas and findings can have their full potential impact on the future course of research.

In the Gutenberg era the only way these special authors could bring their ideas and findings to the attention of their peers -- present and future, the world over -- was by treating them exactly the way trade authors did: They gave them to a publisher, who paid the considerable costs of printing them on paper, and then recovered those costs, plus a fair profit, by charging for access to the "product" (even though these nontrade authors did not seek or get any of the proceeds from the receipts).

Despite the expense and inefficiency of disseminating their work through print on paper, and despite the deterrent effect of restricting access to only those who could and would pay for it (usually in the form of institutional journal Subscriptions, but lately also through shared arrangements such as institutional Licenses or Pay-per-view in various forms -- let us call these S/L/P), scientists and scholars were well-served by this system in the Gutenberg Era, mainly because it did disseminate their work, and there were no alternatives.

The PostGutenberg Galaxy offers an alternative. Just as in the paper era these special authors had (at their own expense) sent free reprints of their papers to everyone who requested them, so today, these authors can self-archive their papers publicly on the Web, so all interested heads and minds can access them from anywhere for free.

In 1999 this is already being done by 100,000 physicist-authors and 35,000 daily physicist-readers in the Los Alamos Eprint Archive , created by Paul Ginsparg in 1991. It will be an interesting matter for historians to unravel why, having been led to the water, researchers in all the other disciplines have been taking so long to get around to drinking, but it is a foregone conclusion that they will catch on and do so, sooner or later.

Once they do, the entire refereed literature will be available to every researcher everywhere at any time for free, and forever. No more trips to libraries to chase down a reference (assuming your library can afford to subscribe to the journal in question at all), no more distinctions between academic haves- and have-nots when it comes to being able to keep abreast of the journal literature. In fact, the literature will be seamlessly interconnected, with hyperlinks from every paper to every other paper it cites . Still more important, the probability that each paper reaches its full potential readership (and hence makes its full potential contribution to the future course of knowledge) will be much higher:

Today, the average journal article is cited by no one and read by few. All papers will not become best-sellers as a result of public self-archiving, but they will certainly have a much better chance of having the full impact they were destined to have once the access barriers of both paper and its costs are out of the picture.

Removing access barriers and putting the entire literature at everyone's fingertips, however, is just the first step in the scholarly revolution that is afoot, although it is the crucial one (waiting only for the academic thoroughbreds to take to the water). For once the barriers are gone it is not only scholarly access that will skyrocket as it never could before, but so will scholarly interaction, the creative interplay between those idea/findings and those eyes/minds that this whole special subfield of publication has always been about. For here the handicap was not just the cost barrier, but also the time barrier:

Human thought evolved hand in hand with human language. The speed of thought and the speed of speech are of the same order of magnitude (if not even more closely coupled). This is because speech evolved in the service of interactive thought: Interdigitating ideas were better than solipsistic ones, simmering in just one cranium. Science and scholarship evolved out of the oral tradition of exchanging ideas and findings by word of mouth. Writing created a permanent record, which increased both the scope and the reliability of the tradition. The written word not only has a broader reach, in time and space, than the spoken one, but it is also incomparably more disciplined, answerable, and hence objective.

Never mind; we are not here to sing the praises of prior revolutions (speech, writing, print), but of a future one: Skywriting. For every self-archived paper on the web is like a piece of skywriting, visible to one and all, today and forever more. Still more important, skywriting is there to have further skywriting appended to it (rather like serial graffiti on a public wall, although the analogy is otherwise unflattering, and irrelevant when it comes to SCHOLARLY skywriting, as opposed to mere Netnews-style chat groups that are really just global graffiti-boards for trivial pursuit).

The paper journal literature could never support interactive skywriting; its turnaround times were simply too slow. By the time a published response to your work appeared, you could no longer even remember what it had all been about! This is nothing like a live interactive conversation -- and a good thing too, because live conversations are rambling and unconstrained, alright for conferences and symposia, but not what one wants a permanent archive to consist of (as anyone who has read transcripts of live interactions will agree).

But skywriting offers a hybrid possibility, not quite like anything that came before it: much closer to the live interactive tempo of spontaneous on-line speech (and hence on-line thought), yet retaining all the virtues of the written medium (formality, discipline, objectivity, publicity, corrigibility permanence). For not only is it possible (within minutes, if one wishes) to post a skywritten comment in reponse to a piece of skywriting -- something completely impossible in the paper medium (or even in the online medium as long as it is criss-crossed with access barriers from S/L/P), but it is also possible in the online medium to make a piece of skywriting come "alive," even if its author is deceased, and to interact with it using all the online dialogic resources for which our brains are specially adapted.

I am referring to a feature that we have all gotten accustomed to using in the past 2 decades of email and mailing lists without realizing just how revolutionary it would be if it were being used formally by researchers at the highest level of peer interaction, rather than just in private messages to friends or in public chat groups in which the blind lead the blind

The quote/commenting capability with online digital texts -- the convention we use in email, in which excerpts from your message to me appear indented and preceded by a ">" sign, followed by my comments (and the possibilities of further iterations and embeddings of this, for which we have not yet developed the codes or the modes, but will) -- is the hybrid capability I have in mind, but its revolutionary potential will only become apparent once the peers of the realm have finally opted to drink from the water to whose brink they have now been led. My guess is that their productivity will increase by an order of magnitude once they deign to drink.

Harnad, S. (1990d) Scholarly Skywriting and the Prepublication Continuum of Scientific Inquiry. Psychological Science 1: 342 - 343 (reprinted in Current Contents 45: 9-13, November 11 1991). http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Papers/Harnad/harnad90.skywriting.html

Harnad, S. (1991b) 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. http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Papers/Harnad/harnad91.postgutenberg.html

Harnad, S. (1992c) Interactive Publication: Extending the American Physical Society's Discipline-Specific Model for Electronic Publishing. Serials Review, Special Issue on Economics Models for Electronic Publishing, pp. 58 - 61. http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Papers/Harnad/harnad92.interactivpub.html

Harnad, S. (1995c) Electronic Scholarly Publication: Quo Vadis? Serials Review 21(1) 78-80 (Reprinted in Managing Information 2(3) 31-33 1995) http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Papers/Harnad/harnad95.quo.vadis.html

Harnad, S. (1995f) The PostGutenberg Galaxy: How To Get There From Here. Information Society 11(4) 285-292. Also appeared in: Times Higher Education Supplement. Multimedia. P. vi. May 12 1995. http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/THES/thes.html

Harnad, S. (1995g) Sorting the Esoterica from the Exoterica: There's Plenty of Room in Cyberspace: Response to Fuller. Information Society 11(4) 305-324. Also appeared in: Times Higher Education Supplement. Multimedia. P. vi. June 9 1995. http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/THES/harful1.html

Harnad, S. (1995h) Universal FTP Archives for Esoteric Science and Scholarship: 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.arl.org/scomm/subversive/toc.html

Harnad, S. (1995k) Interactive Cognition: Exploring the Potential of Electronic Quote/Commenting. In: B. Gorayska & J.L. Mey (Eds.) Cognitive Technology: In Search of a Humane Interface. Elsevier. Pp. 397-414. http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Papers/Harnad/harnad95.interactive.cognition.html

Harnad, S. (1996a) Implementing Peer Review on the Net: Scientific Quality Control in Scholarly Electronic Journals. In: Peek, R. & Newby, G. (Eds.) Scholarly Publishing: The Electronic Frontier. Cambridge MA: MIT Press. Pp. 103-118. http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Papers/Harnad/harnad96.peer.review.html

Harnad, S. (1997a) How to Fast-Forward Serials to the Inevitable and the Optimal for Scholars and Scientists. Serials Librarian 30: 73-81. [Reprinted in C. Christiansen & C. Leatham, Eds. Pioneering New Serials Frontiers: From Petroglyphs to CyberSerials. NY: Haworth Press. and in French as "Comment Accelerer l'Ineluctable Evolution des Revues Erudites vers la Solution Optimale pour les Chercheurs et la Recherche"] http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Papers/Harnad/harnad97.learned.serials.html

Harnad, S. (1997c) The Paper House of Cards (And Why It Is Taking So Long To Collapse). Ariadne 8: 6-7. http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Papers/Harnad/harnad97.paper.house.ariadne.html http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue8/harnad/

Harnad, S. & Hemus, M. (1997) All Or None: No Stable Hybrid or Half-Way Solutions for Launching the Learned Periodical Literature into the PostGutenberg Galaxy. In Butterworth, I. (Ed.) The Impact of Electronic Publishing on the Academic Community. London: Portland Press. Pp 18-27. http://tiepac.portlandpress.co.uk/books/online/tiepac/session1/ch5.htm http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Papers/Harnad/harnad97.hybrid.pub.html

Harnad, S. (1998) Learned Inquiry and the Net: The Role of Peer Review, Peer Commentary and Copyright. Learned Publishing 4(11): 283-292 Shorter version in 1997: Antiquity 71: 1042-1048 Excerpts also appeared in the University of Toronto Bulletin: 51(6) P. 12. http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Papers/Harnad/harnad98.toronto.learnedpub.html http://citd.scar.utoronto.ca/EPub/talks/Harnad_Snider.html

Harnad, S. (1998d) For Whom the Gate Tolls? Free the Online-Only Refereed Literature. American Scientist Forum. http://amsci-forum.amsci.org/archives/september-forum.html http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/amlet.html

Harnad, S. (1998e) On-Line Journals and Financial Fire-Walls. Nature 395(6698): 127-128. http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/nature.html

Harnad, S. (1998h) The invisible hand of peer review. Nature [online] http://helix.nature.com/webmatters/invisible.html http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/nature2.html

Duranceau, E. & Harnad, S. (1999) Electronic Journal Forum: Resetting Our Intuition Pumps for the Online-Only Era: A Conversation With Stevan Harnad. Serials Review 25(1): 109-115 http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Papers/Harnad/harnad99.ejforum.html

Harnad, S. (1999) Advancing Science By Self-Archiving Refereed Research. Science dEbates [online] 31 July 1999. http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/eletters/285/5425/197#EL12