S. Harnad, 5/11/99
ONLINE SELF-ARCHIVING: DISTINGUISHING THE OPTIMAL FROM THE OPTIONAL, THE PROVISIONAL, THE CONDITIONAL AND THE EVENTUAL
The 2/3-year long American Scientist September-Forum Discussion so far has helped to crystallize a number of features of the online archiving initiative.
Before replying to Arthur Smith, below, I will summarize some critical distinctions that some contributors are failing to make. I think that when these are made, broad lines of agreement will be seen to emerge.
I think we can all agree on what is optimal now: that the refereed journal literature should be available online on every scholar/scientist's desktop for free. (Ask yourself, component by component, what it would mean to deny this? It is BETTER that it not be available online? It is BETTER that it not be available free? Save thoughts about why you may think it might be impossible for later; we are at the moment asking whether it would be optimal.)
From the optimality of a free online refereed journal literature, it follows, on an individual author basis, that publicly self-archiving one's papers would free the literature. If every author did that today, the optimal would be here tomorrow.
Having agreed on what is optimal, the rest is about how to get there from here (and whether it is possible at all). Some steps towards the optimal have face-validity: they are in and of themselves part of the solution. Self-archiving authors' own refereed papers now is such a step.
But other steps are optional: (a) Individual authors can decide case by case whether or not to self-archive unrefereed papers too. (b) Readers can decide whether they are satisfied with the author's self-archived versions, or they still want to keep using the paper or online page-image versions too. (c) Institutions can decide whether or not to continue purchasing the toll-based S/L/P versions of papers even after they are also available free. (d) Publishers can decide whether to keep producing and selling the S/L/P versions to readers' institutions as their product, or to instead sell quality control and certification to authors' institutions as their service.
Still other steps are provisional, and conditional on the outcome of the above options (author self-archiving may be supplemented by official publisher overlays on the archive; institutional archiving may be subsumed by a global virtual archive; indispensable commercial "add-ons" might be created that everyone wants to pay for). Many contingencies are possible. No one knows exactly what shape the online literature will take eventually.
For my own part, I am prepared to make some predictions, but they are only predictions:
(1) Readers will self-archive all their papers online (with the occasional exception of those unpublished papers that some may sometimes wish to withhold for various reasons till they are accepted for publication, if they ever are; then they will be self-archived too).
(2) Readers will overwhelmingly prefer to use the free online versions.
(3) The S/L/P market will accordingly shrink radically.
(4) Publishers will prefer to scale down to providing quality control only, funded by author-institution-end page charges.
For prediction (1) (author self-archiving) to fail, readers would have to fail to understand the relationship between self-archiving and the free online journal literature they want, or they would have to fail to want it. I doubt the latter (but if it were so, there would be nothing to be done); as to the former, I and others will work indefatigably to prevent anyone from failing to understand it.
The overwhelming empirical evidence in support of prediction (1) from the Physics Archive is that authors will indeed understand and self-archive, once the archive is made available to them. See: <http://xxx.lanl.gov/cgi-bin/show_monthly_submissions>
For prediction (2) (reader preference for the free archive) to fail, authors would have to understand that universal self-archiving provides the free archive, and go ahead and do it, but readers would have to fail to use it.
Again, the empirical evidence from physics is that readers will become quickly and overwhelmingly addicted to using the free archive. See: <http://xxx.lanl.gov/cgi-bin/show_weekly_graph>
For prediction (3) (S/L/P cancellation) to fail, libraries would have to continue to want to pay for S/L/P despite (2).
So far, there has been no sign of significant S/L/P cancellations because of the Physics Archive. This may mean cancellations will never come, and that this prediction is wrong, or that cancellations will come more slowly than the change in usage patterns, and may possibly be awaiting a generalization of the effect from Physics to the rest of the disciplines.
Note that (1) and (2) are in NO WAY conditional on the outcome of prediction (3). The optimal resource would be there, and in full use, whether or not (3) happens.
For prediction (4) (transition to page-charges) to fail, prediction (3) would have to fail. Again, (1) and (2) in no way depend on the outcome, whichever it proves to be.
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