S. Harnad to P. Ginsparg 5/3/99

Paul Ginsparg 505-667-7353 <ginsparg@qfwfq.lanl.gov>

( SF = Scholar's Forum sh = Stevan Harnad pg - Paul Ginsparg)

SF> To facilitate this new mode of discussion, the Forum will
SF> develop the mechanisms to support and retain linked commentary.

sh> Eminently worthwhile feature, but already proposed by the American
sh> Physical Society in 1992, and as obvious a capability for an online
sh> archive as citation-linking.

pg> actually this probably refers to something we considered in 1994, and
pg> it wasn't with the APS

Have another look at the reference below. The APS Task Force was definitely considering this already in 1991, although, as I note in the paper, they did not fully appreciate its implications:

Harnad, S. (1992) Interactive Publication: Extending American
Physical Society's Discipline-Specific Model for Electronic
Publishing. Serials Review, Special Issue on Economics Models for
Electronic Publishing, pp. 58 - 61.


The American Physical Society's Task Force's Report on Electronic
Information Systems (this volume) has sounded all the right chords:
The idea is to develop a world scientific information system that
will include all the formal scientific literature that has been, is
being, and will be published, as well as the informal unpublished
scientific communications that surround it, all in an electronic
form that is searchable and accessible by any scientist anywhere in
the world. The system would be furnished and administered by a
collaborative effort among the scientists themselves through their
learned societies, universities and libraries, and perhaps some
publishers and data-base producers too. The Report discusses
knowledgeably the technological state of the art in the software,
hardware, and telecommunications resources that will be required to
implement this ambitious system. Sounding the appropriate notes of
caution about the economic and psychological factors that must be
reckoned with, the Report confidently describes the electronic
medium as poised for a series of revolutionary changes, changes
that will be as beneficial as they are inevitable.
I am in complete agreement with this assessment and will add only
one specific detail that I believe will play a much more
significant role in hastening the revolution than what is implied
by the APS Report. I will close with some reflections on the
economics of information.

The APS Report notes (in section 2.2) "the blurring of distinctions between private [scientific/scholarly] communication (the "informal literature") and published articles (the "formal literature")" and devotes an entire section (4.5) to "Novel forms of "informal literature" " (namely,"preprints and comments/discussions"). Yet the implications of this seemingly minor detail do not appear to be appreciated in the Report's conventional (and distinctly nonrevolutionary) conclusion (section 4.3.2) that the "publication process will be completed by the journal or book publisher who will produce blocks of code for each document."

sh> First, let me make it explicit, as I have done before, that the CalTech
sh> initiative is very welcome and should be supported. Let us in no way
sh> balkanize our efforts over minor local differences. The overall idea is
sh> excellent, timely, and should be pursued with energy and speed.

pg> (yes. but sometimes too many mentions of "short-sighted banalities",
pg> "empty nonsense", "content-free", "amateurism and quackery" tend to
pg> exaggerate the "minor local differences".)

Fair enough. I'll curb the cavils lest they be misused by the opponents of free archiving. (I think Steve Koonin knows that my critique is intended to be a constructive one, and that once the weak parts of the Cal Tech proposal are removed, it could form the basis for a very powerful and important initiative that could play a historic international role in hydrating a thirsty Global Academy.)


Stevan Harnad harnad@cogsci.soton.ac.uk

Professor of Cognitive Science harnad@princeton.edu

Department of Electronics and phone: +44 1703 592-582

Computer Science fax: +44 1703 592-865

University of Southampton http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/

Highfield, Southampton http://www.princeton.edu/~harnad/

SO17 1BJ UNITED KINGDOM ftp://ftp.princeton.edu/pub/harnad/