AMERICAN SCIENTIST, published by SIGMA XI, the Scientific Research Society invites you to contribute to an On-Line Forum On:
Free Internet Access to Traditional Journals
Walker, T.J. (1998) American Scientist 86(5)

Moderated by:
Stevan Harnad
Cognitive Sciences Center
Department of Electronics and Computer Science
Southampton University
Highfield, Southampton
SO17 1BJ United Kingdom

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See also: Stefano Ghirlanda's Free Science Campaign

Moderator's Introduction:

(Please don't just read this, but the Walker target article too.)



Stevan Harnad
Southampton University

It is a foregone conclusion that the refereed journal corpus will all soon be available on-line. The question is: Will access to it have to continue to be blocked by financial firewalls as in the era of paper publication?

This is not just a matter of marginal conveniences or utopian details: The difference between free and fee-based access is the difference between a seamless, completely interlinked learned literature at the fingertips of every scholar and scientist in the world and a jerry-rigged agglomeration of toll-ridden proprietary packages -- the on-line counterparts of exactly what we have now in the trade world of scholarly paper journals, funded through Subscriptions, Site-Licenses and Pay-Per-View (tear-sheets, photocopy, interlibrary loan) (S/SL/PPV) tolls.

And for the author, the difference is even greater than for the reader, for it is the difference between free versus toll-gated access to one's work, work that one has submitted to the journal for free with the express wish of having it certified and then made public.

What will the true cost of certification and publication be once everything is on-line-only? In other words, what will be the cost of quality control for content (refereeing/editing) and form (copy-editing/mark-up) once all expenses associated with paper production are gone? Paper publishers say they will not be much lower (30% at most), but today's brave new on-line-only publishers are finding otherwise (70% at least). If the latter are right, then it will no longer make sense to recover those reduced costs from S/SL/PPV, with its attendant restrictions on access: Author pages charges, funded by University savings from journal subscription cancellations, could cover them up-front, and all authors, readers, and Learned Inquiry itself would be the beneficiaries.

Suppose we agree that this outcome would be the best one: How do we get there (page-charge-based free access to all) from here (access restricted by S/SL/PPV)?

Thomas Walker (1998) recognises that making the refereed journal literature in all disciplines on-line and free for all, with no financial firewalls, is the optimal and inevitable solution for science and scholarship, and he proposes the following transition scenario: Let journals -- immediately, while we are still in the hybrid paper/on-line era -- finance free access to on-line reprints out of author page-charges (for about the same price as paper reprints currently). The work of authors who pay appears instantly; those who do not pay must wait a year for their work to appear publicly on-line; until then, toll-based paper is the only means of access.

This would be responsive to the need and desire of authors for instant free access to their work today, and it would hasten reader addiction to this new mode of access, thereby hastening the day when paper, and its expenses, and the S/SL/PPV tolls that needed to be levied to cover them, can all be jettisoned and author page charges take over entirely, making the entire literature free for all.

The only problem with this scenario is that, human nature being what it is, people will not part with their money unless there is no alternative. And there IS an alternative for providing free on-line access to one's work in the paper era: Authors can put their papers on-line themselves -- on their institutional home servers or in centralised ones such as, the NSF/DOE-supported Physics Eprint Archive at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The outcome would be the same as the one sought by Walker: Reader demand for the free on-line versions would rise (xxx has 70,000 hits daily, and new papers are archived at the rate of 100 per weekday), demand for the paper versions would fall, library subscriptions would be cancelled, paper publishers would be forced to restructure as on-line-only publishers, costs would scale down to on-line-only, and THEN (when costs approached those of today's paper reprints) authors would be willing to pay page charges, not for the electronic archiving, which they could do at least as well for themselves, but for the quality control and subsequent certification that journals have always provided. Publishing being the imperishable mark of productivity that it is, Universities will find the resources out of their library windfall savings to cover the relative pittance it will cost to reap the benefits of the optimal and the inevitable.

Does that settle it then? Not quite. There are still some controversial issues that have only been glossed over here, and it is hoped that the discussion will focus on these. They are at the heart of the controversy about the future course of refereed journal publishing.

(1) What IS the true cost of on-line-only publication of a mainstream journal?

(2) What is the current status of copyright agreements in relation to public on-line archiving of one's own work? More important, what justification is there for attempting to restrict such author archiving in domains where authors neither seek nor receive fees or royalties, but only maximal accessibility to their work?

(3) How can chaos be avoided in the unstable period of journal cancellations, while S/SL/PPV-supported paper is not yet phased out, costs are not yet down to online-only levels, and author page-charges are not yet phased in?

Please read the Walker target article and then post your comments to the list: or link to:

Some relevant background links:

Bachrach, S., Berry, S.R., Blume, M., von Foerster, T., Fowler, A., Ginsparg, P., Heller, S., Kestner, N., Odlyzko, A., Okerson, A., Wigington, R., & Moffat, A. (1998) Intellectual Property: Who Should Own Scientific Papers? Science 281 (5382): 1459-1460. September 4 1998.

Bloom, F. (1998) EDITORIAL: The Rightness of Copyright. Science 281 (5382): 1451. September 4 1998.

Ginsparg, P. (1996) Winners and Losers in the Global research Village. Invited contribution, UNESCO Conference HQ, Paris, 19-23 Feb 1996.

Ginsparg, P. (1994) First Steps Towards Electronic Research Communication. Computers in Physics. (August, American Institute of Physics). 8(4): 390-396.

Harnad, S. (1990) Scholarly Skywriting and the Prepublication Continuum of Scientific Inquiry. Psychological Science 1: 342 - 343

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

Harnad, S. (1992) 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.

Harnad, S. (1995) Electronic Scholarly Publication: Quo Vadis? Serials Review 21(1) 78-80 (Reprinted in Managing Information 2(3) 31-33 1995)

Harnad, S. (1995) 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.

Harnad, S. (1995) 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.

Harnad, S. (1996) 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.

Harnad, S. (1997) How to Fast-Forward Serials to the Inevitable and the Optimal for Scholars and Scientists. Serials Librarian 30: 73-81.

Harnad, S. (1997) The Paper House of Cards (And Why It Is Taking So Long To Collapse). Ariadne 8: 6-7.

Harnad, S. (1997) Learned Inquiry and the Net: The Role of Peer Review, Peer Commentary and Copyright. Antiquity 71: 1042-1048

Harnad, S. (1998) On-Line Journals and Financial Fire-Walls. Nature 395: 127-128.

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.

Hitchcock, S., Carr, L., Harris, S., Hey, J. M. N., and Hall, W. (1997) Citation Linking: Improving Access to Online Journals. Proceedings of the 2nd ACM International Conference on Digital Libraries, edited by Robert B. Allen and Edie Rasmussen (New York, USA: Association for Computing Machinery), pp. 115-122.

Hitchcock, S., Quek, F., Carr, L., Hall, W., Witbrock, A., and Tarr, I. (1997) Linking Everything to Everything: Journal Publishing Myth or Reality? ICCC/IFIP conference on Electronic Publishing 97: New Models and Opportunities, Canterbury,UK, April.

Odlyzko, A.M. (1998) The economics of electronic journals. In: Ekman R. and Quandt, R. (Eds) Technology and Scholarly Communication Univ. Calif. Press, 1998.

Odlyzko, A.M. (1997) The slow evolution of electronic publishing. In Electronic Publishing - New Models and Opportunities, A. J. Meadows and F. Rowland, eds., ICCC Press, 1997.

Odlyzko, A.M. (1995) Tragic loss or good riddance? The impending demise of traditional scholarly journals, International Journal of Human-Computer Studies (formerly International Journal of Man-Machine Studies), 42 (1995), 71-122.

Okerson A. & O'Donnell, J. (Eds.) (1995) Scholarly Journals at the Crossroads; A Subversive Proposal for Electronic Publishing. Washington, DC., Association of Research Libraries, June 1995.

Walker, T.J. (1998) Free Internet Access to Traditional Journals. American Scientist 86(5)