|Draft for comment. 12/04/02|
Summary. This is an expanded version of Two rules of scholarly communication: publish for the public, and keep the journals. I document the slow progress of the digital revolution in scholarly communication, and advocate actions to speed it up. The current crisis in scholarly communication makes it imperative, for the preservation and continued growth of human knowledge, that the digital record of as much as possible of that knowledge be securely placed in an international collection of interoperable public archives, to make that knowledge freely accessible to anyone with an Internet connection, in perpetuity. To that end, the value of existing public archives should be compounded for posterity by building over them a well organized network of digital overlays which can be easily navigated for knowledge retrieval. This can be achieved, while preserving the valuable existing system of peer-reviewed scholarly journals, by combination of the following two strategies:1 Introduction
The purpose of the survey journals would be to fill in the trunks, branches and stems of the forest of knowledge whose leaves and flowers are the research journals. In each subject whose knowledge is so represented by a vast tree in cyberspace, there should be a renaissance of interest and activity in that subject and its applications, as its store of knowledge becomes accessible to students and scholars in all subjects, and to the broader public defined by the Internet.
- restructuring each existing journal as an electronic overlay on a public archive;
- creating a new family of similarly structured electronic survey journals.
Soaring prices spur a revolt in scientific publishing. ... academia is a paradise for publishers. First the public pays for most scientific research through for example the National Science Foundation. Then universities pay the salaries of scientists who do virtually all the writing, reviewing and editing. Universities sometimes even provide free office space to journals.Since 1998 there has been widespread advocacy of a new electronic paradigm of scholarly communication via free electronic journals, meaning those which are accessible via the Internet, with no gates, tolls or registration. This paradigm has been supported by the Budapest Open Access Initiative, the Public Library of Science, and the work of SPARC and the Free Online Scholarship Newsletter. But the much awaited revolution has not yet come. Rather, it appears that the sholarly communication crisis is worsening, for a number of reasons:
Finally, authors typically sign over their copyrights to publishers, who can sometines bring in many millions of dollars a year in subscriptions for a high-priced journal - subscriptions paid for by university libraries supported by tax dollars and tuition.
The digital revolution Following Kuhn's analysis of the structure of political and scientific revolutions, I see the practical meaning of these concepts changing by a paradigm shift which defines the digital revolution in scholarly communication. That means the collection of cultural and economic changes to be expected in response to the current change of the primary medium of scholarly communication from paper to electronic. From this perspective, the current crisis in scholarly communication is an unstable interim state associated with the emergence of a new electronic paradigm of free and open communication of knowledge.
Interpretation of the rules by the electronic paradigm To interpet the first rule,
researchers can and should be willing to pay fair market value for services provided at the information and knowledge levels that facilitate and enhance research experience.Be that as it may, for academics and their institutions to allow the global media conglomerates to appropriate control of a global knowledge network in the electronic era, would be to repeat their mistake in allowing commercial agents to substantially control print journal production over the previous 50 years. That mistake has done great harm to the world's university libraries, and there is even greater potential for harm if private interests take control of something as vast as a global knowledge network. To avoid that future, it is now imperative for the academic community to ensure that the digital record of human knowledge is securely held in an international system of interoperable public archives, and that the value of those archives is compounded for posterity by building a well organized digital knowledge network over those archives. Not only should this program ease the current scholarly communication crisis, it should also help solve three other systemic problems of academia: the archiving problem, the professional development problem, and the compartmentalization problem.
Call for action. This is a call for action by all parties on the academic side of scholarly communication, particularly those whose actions support the current trend towards the privatization of the digital record of knowledge and the decline of universities, often without awareness of the consequences of those actions. That is,
Political revolutions aim to change political institutions in ways that those institutions themselves prohibit. Their success therefore necessitates the partial relinquishment of one set of institutions in favor of another, and in the interim, society is not fully governed by institutions at all. Initially, it is crisis alone that attenuates the role of political institutions as we have already seen it attenuates the role of paradigms. In increasing numbers individuals become estranged from political life and behave more eccentrically within it. Then, as the crisis deepens, many of these individuals commit themselves to some concrete proposal for the reconstruction of a society in a new institutional framework. At that point, the society is divided into two competing camps or parties, one seeking to defend the old institutional constellation, the others seeking to institute some new one. And once that polarization has occurred political recourse fails. Because they differ about the institutional matrix within which political change is to be achieved and evaluated, because they acknowledge no supra-institutional framework for the adjudication of revolutionary difference, the parties to a revolutionary conflict must finally resort to the techniques of mass persuasion, often including force.
Political revolutions are inaugurated by a growing sense, often restricted to a segment of the political community, that existing institutions have ceased adequately to meet the problems posed by an environment that they have in part created. In much the same way, scientific revolutions are inaugurated by a growing sense, again often restricted to a narrow subdivision of the scientific community, that an existing paradigm has ceased to function adequately in the exploration of an aspect of nature to which that paradigm itself had previously led the way. In both political and scientific development the sense of malfunction that can lead to a crisis is prerequisite to revolution.
When Kuhn speaks of scientific revolutions, he is referring to the major paradigm shifts in evolution of scientific theory, such as those associated with the names of Copernicus, Newton, Lavoisier, and Einstein. But his analysis of such paradigm shifts, as political revolutions within scientific communities, exposes general characteristics typical of all kinds of revolutions in human societies, including revolts against governments, technological revolutions, and religious reformations. In these terms, the current scholarly communication crisis, and the much anticipated digital revolution in scholarly publishing, can be understood as follows. The pre-conditions for revolution are met perfectly: there has been a systemic failure of the paper-publishing paradigm, which has led to the scholarly communication crisis. In response to that crisis, and aided by technological change, a new electronic publishing paradigm has been proposed and is advocated by a minority of academics (quite large in number, though small in percentage terms), which well represented by the Free Online Scholarship movement. The current situation is an interim one, in which the former paper publishers are applying their monopolistic power to resist the liberation movement. But that resistance is only exacerbating the crisis, and further building the pressure for change. To complete the digital revolution in scholarly communication, it only remains for the minority view to prevail by mass persuasion.
In particular, conditions are set for an unusual kind of scientific revolution, which will also be economic and political. As remarked by Kuhn (p. 86)
Often a new paradigm emerges, at least in embryo, before a crisis has developed far or been explicitly recognized. .... In cases like these one can say only that a minor breakdown of the paradigm and the very first blurring of its rules for normal science were sufficient to induce in someone a new way of looking at the field.This quote refers originally to a shift in scientific paradigms, rather than a shift in paradigms of scientific or scholarly communication. But its relevance to present circumstances is obvious enough. There is no doubt that with respect to the current crisis in scholarly communication, the embryonic form of the new paradigm was Ginsparg's development of the arXiv in 1991. That challenged the tradition that only a journal could perform the function of registering and certifying a scholarly article, whereby the article would be registered on its day of submission to the journal and its quality would be certified on the day of its acceptance after peer-review, the registration being conditional on subsequent acceptance for publication. Since Ginsparg's creation of the arXiv, an article is published, in the sense of being made public, when it is first deposited in a publicly accessible digital repository such as the arXiv. The article or some revision thereof might be certified at some later date, when accepted by a peer-reviewed journal. But the processes of publication and certification have been decoupled in a way that was not facilitated in the paper era. In cultural respects, the revolution in scholarly communication initiated by Ginsparg's innovation has been running its course through the scientific community exactly according the progression of scientific revolutions documented by Kuhn. Ginsparg's innovation was at first shocking, and is still regarded as threatening by some traditional publishers, which for self-serving reasons refuse to certify an article by inclusion in one of their scholarly journals if it has been previously published by deposit in a public archive.
At this time of pending revolution in scholarly communication, those apprehensive about the future should take heart that crises and resistance to innovation are the normal preludes to the emergence of a new paradigm and a following revolution. In this case the new paradigm has already emerged and been embraced by a substantial minority. Scholars and their institutions have survived numerous such revolutions in the past, when the minority view has eventually prevailed, and the institutions of science and scholarship will doubtless survive further such revolutions in the future.
handling the same bundle of data as before, but placing them in a new system of relations with one another by giving them a different framework.I take the data here to be the functions which define the organic structure of a scholarly journal as a means of scholarly communication. That is
Two different ways of bundling the data that define a journal can now be described as follows.
The paper paradigm For most of the last century, scholarly communication was based on the production and distribution of paper journals to libraries. That was achieved by a symbiotic relationship between universities and various publishers, both non-profit and commercial, whereby university libraries paid subsription fees for paper journals produced by these publishers, after which any scholar at the university could access the journals for free. A similar arrangement applied to books. In many cases, universities opened their doors to a wider public which could also access these materials for free.
The electronic paradigm Since construction of the Internet in the 1990's, a new paradigm of scholarly communication has developed. Authors produce digital files, and place those files in appropriately maintained digital repositories. The reader accesses those files via the Internet. This system was first developed by Paul Ginsparg, founder of the arXiv, as a means of distribution of unrefereed preprints. This system has been extensively used by mathematicians and physicists, and further developed to support high quality, peer-reviewed, free electronic journals. These are created as electronic overlays on an open access digital repository. The repository could be anywhere on the Internet, and the journal can be accessed from anywhere else on the Internet. The content of an electronic journal is controlled by an editorial board in exactly the same way as the content of a paper journal is controlled. Examples of such journals are
Comparison of the two paradigms The nature of the various journal functions in the two paradigms, and the actors involved in their performance, can be described as follows.
Invariant features Despite redistribution of functions amongst the actors in journal production, the method of maintaining quality and prestige of a journal through an editorial board is identical in the two paradigms, as is the way in which journals organize the scholarly literature. Details of the process of handling submissions and peer-review vary from journal to journal, but essentially the same means of handling this process are available to both paper and electronic journals. Contrary to widespread prejudice in the academic community, there is no contradiction between free availablility and high quality. That is proved by previously mentioned examples of ejournals, particularly The Annals of Mathematics, which is one of the most prestigious journals in its field.
Summary of the comparison
From the perspective of all the academic stakeholders (scholars, librarians,
and university administrators)
the electronic paradigm is little different to the
paper paradigm in terms of how the
functions of registration, certification and organization
are performed, and superior to it in terms representation, distribution,
The digital revolution in scholarly communication This is the process of transition of journals from the paper paradigm to the electronic paradigm. But that revolution has been delayed, arrested, corrupted, or diverted, (depending on your point of view), by various agents with a vested interest in the paper paradigm. See
The interim period The superiority of the electronic medium over paper was evident to most players in the scholarly comunication game as early as 1995. The robustness of both individual journals as an organizational unit, and the whole journal system composed of these units, has been confirmed by the survival of nearly all scholarly journals over the last seven years or so, during which time they were transformed by their publishers from paper only to paper plus electronic. Due to the problems of archiving paper, the expense of distributing paper journals, and the fact that electronic files are now the basis for paper production, most journals have positioned themselves for a further change to an era when the electronic form is primary, and the paper form is produced only according to demand. The interim emergency in the field of mathematics is described in Predicting the future of scholarly publishing by John Ewing:
Many scholars (although not most) promote alternatives to journals, but many fewer actually use them. Journals continue to dominate the scholarly literature in mathematics. Almost all journals are in both paper and electronic format, and almost none are electronic only. The journal literature is highly dispersed, contained in many journals, including those that cover disciplines outside mathematics. The older literature is extremely important for current research. And finally, commercial journals are taking over an ever-larger fraction of the literature, with enormous financial incentives driving the trend.It appears that this assessment applies as well in numerous other fields besides mathematics. Like Ewing, I see no current alternative to the quality of scholarly communication provided by the peer-reviewed journal. The dominance of the journal as a means of organizing, registering, certifying and archiving scholarly comunication has been well confirmed in this widespread transition from paper to paper plus electronic, and in some instances to electronic only. But in the process of this transition, the meaning of scholarly publication has been corrupted by some extremely large multinational corporations, who no longer even call themselves publishers. For instance, Reed Elsevier now calls itself ä world leading provider of information driven services and solutions". Even while their production costs were diminishing, as authors came to submit electronic files which reduced costs of typesetting and proof correction, these information providers recognized, after their acquisition of some of the most prestigious journal titles in many fields, that there was nothing to stop them ramping up their prices to where their profit was maximized, despite cancellations by libraries with budget constraints. Ramp them up they did, at a rate exceeding the rate of increase of library budgets, and the result was the current serials crisis. The scholarly work now provided by the commercial information providers is no longer public. It is private. It is available only to members of a small and elite group of institutions which can bear its exorbitant cost. The authors of this work have been unwittingly duped by these information providers, with the complicity of the editors and referees. Whatever the prestige of the journal involved, the authors' work has not been made public: it has been been privatized.
Historically, a privateer was an armed ship that was privately owned and manned, typically commissioned by a government to harrass enemy shipping. What better name for the information providers now constricting the arteries of scholarly communication by their outrageous prices and monopolistic bundling practices? The current interim emergency is due to hijacking of the scholarly communication system by these privateers. How much longer must academia suffer before the digital revolution comes and these privateers are either reformed or banished?
The nature of the scientific publishing industry will not change anytime soon despite the attempts of organizations such as SPARC to encourage academics to publish their reseach directly on the Internet and to encourage the `boards' of individual journals (who peer review the articles included in journals) to defect from commercial publishers to not-for-profit publishers. Libraries and academics have been trying for over a decade to develop new ways of disseminating academic knowledge and research, but the barriers of entry enjoyed by the incumbent journals are just too high (loyal readership brand recognition, `boards' of academics who peer-review research), as are the value proposition (they bring order to an anarchic process - the development of knowledge). Libraries have had some success in forming buyer groups, but to date these initiatives have had limited impact.
For example, a library may decide to switch away from a journal published by a `society publisher' (such as the Society of American Neurologists)2 who will often publish just one journal, to a journal in the same niche supplied by a larger publisher who can use bundling strategies.And to emphasise the particular strength of Reed Elsevier in this cutthroat game
And to quote their analysis of the transition to on-line platforms:
- A significant portion (we estimate 70%) of Reed's revenues are protected by three-year contracts (with price escalators, which we estimate the price escalator at 5%).
- Larger players can bundle their journals into a single `product' that becomes core to a library's subscription base.
- Reed owns a number of historically strong titles with large academic followings. Weaker titles are more likely to be cut.
Usage has so far shifted fom paper to paper and on-line ..., but over the next four years, we believe there will be a growing trend of moving from paper and on-line to just on-line. This represents a win-win situation for the libraries and the journal publishers (particularly the larger ones). Libraries spend US $ 1.5 on staff costs and other operating expenses for every $1 they spend on buying content ..., so moving to purely online access to journals opens up the possibility of huge cost savings. Journal publishers will also benefit. We estimate that the profitability of a customer improves by 16% as they transfer from paper and on-line subscriptions (most pay for both currently) and opt for just on-line access.
The report goes on to opine that
While academic libraries will continue their vociferous campaign against the journal publishers, we believe a number of factors will dampen their cries for change:
- Journal publishers will moderate their price increases ...
- Journal prices ... may actually start to fall due to bundling.
- Subscription costs may fall as libraries opt for on-line access instead of on-line and paper. Usage of on-line platforms continues to grow at 50% per annum, justifying (in the eyes of some) price increases.
Concerning the risk of regulation (due to monopolistic practices), the report expresses the opinion that such risk is small due to the fact that journal publishing is a global rather than a national business, and therefore difficult to regulate. Readers with any remaining doubts about the intentions of the commercial players in this game can consult details of the report. See also Weasel's manual of apologies for misbehaving monopolists.
Global media conglomerates. Following is a partial list of these organizations, with links an overview of their operations, a list of their holdings, a history of mergers and acquisitions which led to their formation, an important gate to the scholarly literature which they control, and related information. Text is from their own advertising material.
Historical and current journal prices Following are some sources of this information, and general commentary on journal pricing:
Letter from Rob Kirby to the mathematical community, 27 May 1997. Kirby's data updated Jan. 2000
The Economics of Electronic Journals by Andrew Odlyzko
Ted Bergstrom's Journal Pricing Page
Free Labor for Costly Journals by Ted Bergstrom.
P.T. Barnum's list of economics journals
The painful choices forced on academic libraries by monopolistic practices of the multinational information providers have been well documented. See for instance
Scholarly Communication Crisis The Univ. of Connecticut Libraries
Reading List on Scholarly Communication Issues(journal articles, working papers, studies, special issues, position papers, etc.)
Scholarly publishing in the digital age published by the Librarians Association of the University of California
Following are two specific accounts of the current scholarly communication crisis from this perspective, which refer to a wealth of further information supporting their view.
Simply put, the Big Deal is an online aggregation of journals that publishers offer as a one-price, one size fits all package. In the Big Deal, libraries agree to buy electronic access to all of a commercial publisher's journals for a price based on current payments to that publisher, plus some increment. Under the terms of the contract, annual price increases are capped for a number of years.
The Big Deal usually allows the library to cancel paper subscriptions at some savings or purchase additional paper copies at discounted prices. But the content is, henceforth, "bundled" so that individual journal subscriptions can no longer be cancelled in their electronic format. (The Academic Press IDEAL, program and the full ScienceDirect package offered by Elsevier are examples of such licensing agreements. However, I will refer to such agreements as the "Big Deal" rather than by their product names.)
Academic library directors should not sign on to the Big Deal or any comprehensive licensing agreements with commercial publishers.
You read that right. Don't buy the Big Deal. The University of Wisconsin Libraries and dozens of other research libraries also are holding out, convinced that the Big Deal serves only the Big Publishers. Many other university and college libraries are also investigating their options, recognizing - as we all do - that the push to build an all-electronic collection can't be undertaken at the risk of: (1) weakening that collection with journals we neither need nor want, and (2) increasing our dependence on publishers who have already shown their determination to monopolize the information marketplace.
Alternatives to the Big Deal abound. We can continue the print subscriptions that our institutions can afford. We can license electronic access to only those titles that are most needed by our users - most research libraries subscribe to less than half the Elsevier titles in paper format. We could also provide free document delivery (fast interlibrary loan from commercial information vendors when necessary) of any article needed by our users as an alternative to the Big Deal.
My library has licensed about 120 Elsevier titles for e-access and subscribes to approximately 600 in paper. By doing so, we have avoided the principal hazard of the Big Deal: It bundles the strongest with the weakest publisher titles, the essential with the non-essential. Once you have tumbled for the Big Deal, the library cannot continue to receive the titles it most needs unless it continues to subscribe to the full package.
At the time of writing in November 2002, the vast majority of academics, especially those in larger institutions, appear to be oblivious to the severity of the scholarly communication crisis. They may not have felt the impact of journal cancellations in their libraries, they may never have talked to their librarian about the problems faced by university libraries, and they may be unaware that there is a superior alternative to the paper paradigm of scholarly communication. It is the as yet unchanged view of this academic majority which supports the current interim arrangement. The apparent stability of the current arrangement, though painful to university libraries, and protested by the majority of librarians and a minority of academics, has lured the multinational media corporations into offering universities an arrangement whereby they receive electronic only subscriptions to the same journals at around 85% of the outrageously inflated price they currently pay for paper subscriptions. That is the message I hear from librarians at U.C. Berkeley.
For me, this action by the information providers, of first appropriating digital copyright from authors, then licensing the content back to universities in perpetuity for the indefinite future, at prices tied to the already artificially inflated price of subscriptions to paper journals, is intolerable, and unjustified by any appeal to rights of free enterprise or efficiency of a free market system. I see it as an instance of the phenomenon described in Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance by Douglass C. North, whereby the parties involved in the paper paradigm of scholarly communication have become locked in a relationship, which with the development of the electronic medium has become a dysfunctional institutional framework with rules which reward individuals and organizations for acting in ways which perpetuate its inefficiencies. See also Chapter 12 of Ruling the root:Internet governance and the taming of cyberspace, by Milton L. Mueller, for another instance of the same phenomenon associated with the technological development of the Internet. From my perspective, the electronic paradigm of free and open communication of scholarly information, with print versions of books and journals available on demand according to a market system that rewards efficiencies in printing and distribution rather than proficiency in copyright hoarding, is superior in every respect to the interim arrangement described in the previous paragraphs, and a transition to that paradigm would be of enormous benefit to the academic community. See Open access to the scientific journal literature, by Peter Suber, for a better summary of the benefits than I can provide here.
I was an associate editor of The Annals of Probability, an official journal of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics from 1988 to 1993, and editor of that journal from 1994 to 1996. That was the dawning of the electronic era in journal publication. The Annals of Probability was not yet produced electronically, but I handled much of the of submissions and refereeing process by email, using a database which I created myself as an overlay on a unix file system, with various shell scripts connecting to latex documents which generated letters to authors and associate editors. (Professional quality software is now available which greatly improves on that and similar systems built by early developers of electronic journals, which have largely eliminated the need for secretarial support in editing a journal.) While I was editor of The Annals of Probability, my former student Chris Burdzy became one of the founding editors of The Electronic Journal of Probability, one of the first free electronic journals, which has been produced since 1996 as an independent electronic journal overlaid on university servers, by the committed work of its editors, with zero cash flow. I have been a consistent supporter of that journal, and published 7 papers there over the last 7 years. In the early years I was concerned that the journal might not survive. But it is now supported by a strong community of researchers of all ages, and there is no doubt that it will continue to flourish. There is now a large community of several hundred probabilists who are devoted to the new paradigm of free electronic communication. For the most part they deposit their preprints on the Mathematics ArXiv, they publish in The Electronic Journal of Probability and other electronic only journals, in other journals run by scholarly societies which have both print and electronic versions, and rarely if at all in commercial journals.
In formulating the views expressed here, over the last month or so I have immersed myself in the literature generated by the crisis in scholarly communication, talked to many university librarians and administrators, and consulted about a hundred members of my network of connections in probability and statistics, extending also into other branches of mathematics and science. From these consultations I find an almost complete consensus around the views I am expressing, which encourages me to speak out on these issues as I do now. I am one of a large number, if still a percentage minority, of academics committed to the revolution in scholarly communication, whereby the present dysfunctional vestige of the paper paradigm will be replaced by a free elecronic paradigm. I am not among the leaders, of this movement, just the 32,840'th scholar to sign the Public Library of Science initiative. See also the webpages of The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) which is a coalition of organizations already in place with the declared purpose of supporting the digital revolution in scholarly communication.
One primary function of the journal, whose performance is not affected at all by the change of medium from paper to electronic, is its function of organization of the otherwise anarchic and chaotic process of human research and discovery. That organizational function is achieved by the way in which journals establish their identity and reputation by establishment of their editorial board, their editorial policy, and the way in which authors select the journals to which they submit.
The scholarly journal is a basic unit from which the both the paper and electronic systems of scholarly publishing are constructed. Another basic unit is provided by research monographs and textbooks, whose identity is also unlikely to change much in the course of the digital revolution (ebooks have not been a great success, and the current system of paper production of scholarly books is less affected by privatization.) To comprehend the ensemble of all scholarly journals, books and monographs, I suggest the following picture:
Imagine for a moment that the digital revolution has come, and that every currently existing journal has a digital representation in cyberspace. Then we have an image in cyberspace of all the currently live and growing parts of the forest of human knowledge. All that is missing to have a complete image of the forest of human knowledge in cyberspace, which would surely be a wondrous thing, is a digital representation of the trunks, branches and stems of the various trees of knowledge. Those trunks, branches and stems represent that part of human knowledge which would be regarded as ''well known'' in the sense that what was in the higher branches would at least be known to some group of experts, even if not easily located by non-experts in the existing literature. And what belonged in the lower branches would be what is currently recorded for the most part in monographs and pre-revolution journal articles. A nice digital representation of some of that lower level knowledge, with hyperlinks between web pages corresponding to links between various concepts, can be found in various online encyclopedias. See for instance
For me, the possibility of even a small scientific community, like the community of probabilists, creating such a marvellous representation in cyberspace of its collective achievement, is the single most compelling reason for keeping the entire digital record of knowledge freely accessible in the public domain, and in any case for liberating all that can possibly be liberated as fast as it can be. The value of such a communal creation in cyberspace would be immense. In particular, it would help solve each of the following three systemic problems afflicting the infrastructure of academia.
The professional development problem That is the problem every field has of attracting bright young people, training them in the basics of the subject, and helping them up to higher levels of the tree where the current research is occurring. The existence of a suitably constructed and interlinked system of free online survey articles in a subject should accelerate the rate at which new people can be attracted and trained to work in it. For instance, the construction of such a survey of mathematics would be consistent with long-range goal of the Grants for Vertical Integration of Research and Education in the Mathematical Sciences (VIGRE), an activity of the NSF Division of Mathematical Sciences to increase the number of well-prepared U.S. citizens, nationals, and permanent residents who pursue careers in the mathematical sciences.
The compartmentalization problem That profesional development problem is particularly acute in fields like probability and statistics, whose current vigor depends largely on their interactions with other branches of knowledge. Consequently, for young researchers to get going they may have to rapidly work their way up two or more trees in the forest of knowledge to understand what is happening at the interfaces between subjects where the leaves of those trees are intermingling. The problem of training people for interdisciplinary work is made difficult by the current compartmentalization of knowledge, due to the departmental structure of universities, the privatization of intellectual resources, and the lack of high quality guide and review material in most fields beyond what is available in a typical graduate textbook. If adequate survey and review materials were available free online in neighbouring subjects, appropriate links between those surveys should help to break down the barriers between subjects, and reduce the compartmentalization of knowledge.
The archiving problem A subject enriched by a digital knowledge network is much easier to archive, and navigate to retrieve archived information, than one that is not. Once the network was established, every new article in the subject would find one or more points of attachment to the existing network, and the entire literature of the subject would be organized in a connected set of links, much like the organization of the Internet.
Initially then, there is some risk involved in committing time to creation of a free electronic survey journal. Others might not contribute their share, and the project might falter. But once the journal has assembled a critical mass of well connected survey material, its further growth should be essentially self sustaining, as the journal becomes widely used and cited, and eventually acknowledged as the definitive survey of its field of knowledge.
On the other hand, competetion between different branches of the network, with regard to rate of growth of quality content, and the rate of liberation of research ejournals from the control of societies and commercial agents, is something that will be very beneficial for the public domain, and is therefore to be encouraged.
In thinking about something as important as the archiving and perpetual preservation of some large body of human knowledge, we must identify and avoid mistakes of the past. Of these, there is no shortage.
The lesson of the The Library of Alexandria is well known. Not all the books in one library. Not all the bits on one server. For records in digital repositories, this problem has been addressed by first making multiple copies in widely distributed mirror sites, such as the worldwide system of mirrors of the Mathematics ArXiv, including the Centre pour la Communication Scientifique Directe (CCSD) run by the French CNRS, followed by development of suitable comparison protocols to detect any loss or degradation of the data. See for instance LOCKSS (Lots Of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe) as a cooperative archiving solution for e-journals.
One concern is the number of storage technologies besides paper which have now been discarded in favor of present methods of digital storage: e.g. microfiche, punch cards, .... However, as discussed earlier, the format for digital representation of scholarly work seems to have stabilized to the extent that the developer of any future format will be obliged to provide the necessary conversion tools. A more serious concern is that once a large amount of human knowledge has been committed to some form of digital storage, there is the fundamental issue of who has control over access, especially who might be able to change the conditions of use of software involved in that access. See Lawrence Lessig's book The future of ideas: the fate of the commons in a connected world for a full acknowledgement of closely related problems. The greatest danger is to allow the digital resource to have a single controlling agent: even a university or scholarly society or government, whose intentions at one time were good, might be inclined to impose a charge for the resource at some later time when the value of the resource had increased. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. The only protection against such control is for the academic community to vigilantly ensure that at all times there are many universities and many governments involved with storage of copies of the archive, none of them having power to exclude any of the others. As long as enough parties maintain a commitment to storage of the archive, it should be possible in this way to maintain freedom of access to the archive in perpetuity.
In the end, at any given time, it is the current users and maintainers of the archive who have the main interest in its preservation. These users and maintainers must be vigilant to ensure that no third party ever gains a monopoly control over access, for example by charging for some software involved. In any case, such vigilance is a small price to pay to avoid what appears likely to happen if academia makes no serious attempt to build a knowledge commons over open archives. That would be an emerging dominance of control by privately owned archives such as ScienceDirect and Kluwer Journals, whose cost to the academic community would be unbounded by competitive forces as soon as the copyright to any substantial fraction of human knowledge was hoarded in those archives.
This section presents the current problems from the perspective of each party in the business of scholarly communication, followed by the solutions to those problems promised by large scale development of free electronic journals, and a script for each party to become part of the solution instead of part of the problem.
Most scripts are written for clarity as if the issue were black or white. But of course there will be shades of grey, especially dealing in the short term with quality journals and resources like MathSciNet run by large and conservative scholarly societies. Long term the goal should be to make those resources free too, but that is a lower priority. The biggest rewards to universities will come by first reducing commercial control of the journal system. If enough parties on the academic side follow the script indicated here, that may be achievable within a few years in at least in some fields of knowledge, despite what may be fierce and persistent resistance of the commercial agents.
What is the problem? You work hard to write an original research or expository article, then give away your copyright to a commercial agent. You get no financial return, while the paper is distributed to a limited number of readers in institutions capable of paying for the book or journal in which the article appears. If it is a high quality journal, you may gain prestige or promotion. The current situation in many fields is that your options are limited: if the commercials control all the high prestige journals in your field, you cannot have both prestige and wide dissemination.
What is the solution? Self-archive your papers before publication, and/or only submit them only to free journals. Do not give away your copyright, especially your right to free electronic distribution. Do not publish in journals which deny those rights. Junior authors without tenure may be forgiven for choosing in the most prestigious outlet, even if commercial. But senior authors should publish especially their best work in free journals, to raise the prestige of those journals and relieve future generations of the unacceptable choice between wide disemmination and high prestige. Place in open archives digital forms of as many of your previous publications as you can, to make those papers freely available through the open knowledge network. Persuade colleagues in your field to start a free survey journal, then undercut commercial domination of encyclopedias and handbooks by writing high quality survey articles and submitting them to such a free journal. Contact executives of professional societies and persuade them of the merits of free journals.
What is the problem? Editors of commercial journals have little or no control over the cost to the academic community of the work that they edit. They may be paid for their work, but it is a Faustian bargain: the academic community is losing many times that salary to the owner of the journal, and you are harming the system of academic communication by perpetuating the existence of high quality knowledge which is not freely available.
What is the solution? Only work for free journals, preferably high quality journals run by scholarly societies. If you work for a journal run by a scholarly society whose electronic vesrion is not free, contact executives of the society and persuade them of the merits of free ejournals. Do not work even for scholarly society journals if their costs to libraries are unreasonably high, and there are free alternatives. If there are no free alternatives, contact other editors in your field to form a network of editors dedicated to free ejournals. Create high quality free alternatives to existing commercial journals, and persuade their editorial boards to defect. Look for opportunities to create higher level knowledge networks and high quality paper volumes based on open access archives.
What is the problem? If you work for a journal whose electronic version is not free, you are harming the system of academic communication by perpetuating the existence of high quality knowledge which is not freely available.
What is the solution? Do not work for such journals. When asked to do so, respond with a message to the editor drawing attention to your reasons for not supporting them, Refer them to this or other documents promoting free journals.
What is the problem? All members of a professional society suffer when university libraries are obliged to cut journals. Most societies are good at keeping the costs of their journal operations under control, so are friendlier to universities than commercial publishers. Still, large professional societies behave in some respects like commercial publishers, as their profits on journal sales may offset losses in other activities. In particular, most professional societies have followed commercial publishers in offering libraries electronic subscriptions in a paper+electronic format to what were formerly paper only journals. They typically offer gated rather than free access to the electronic source, through portals such as Project Euclid, which is used by the Institute of Mathematical Statistics for electronic distribution of its journals
The Annals of Probability, The Annals of Applied Probability, and The Annals of Statoistics.
This is annoying even to IMS members like myself, who have to go through some registration process or keep track of a password to obtain access they may have by right of membership. It is even more annoying to someone who finds a reference to an article in one of these journals on the Internet, attempts to download the article, and gets this message from the Project Euclid site:
We're sorry, but we are unable to provide you with the full text of this article because we are not able to identify you as a subscriber. If you have a personal subscription to this journal, then please login. If you are already logged in, then you may need to update your profile to register your subscription. Read More Alternatively, the document is available for a cost of $15. Select the "Pay Per View" button above to purchase this document from a secured VeriSign,Inc. site.As remarked by Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web, in Links and Law: Myths
On the web, to make reference without making a link is possible but ineffective - like speaking but with a paper bag over your head.The value of web communication is equally stymied by links to gated sites which are artifacts of the paper era. The executives of scholarly societies like the IMS have simply not yet understood the benefits to their membership and the broader public of free access to the high quality journals they produce. As time passes and faith in the archivability of the open access digital record increases, library demand for all kinds of paper journals will decrease. Societies understandably fear that if they make their electronic source open, libraries will cancel their paper subscriptions and let their patrons use the open electronic access for free.
What is the solution? Contemplate the fate of the Society of American Neurologists. Recognize that scholarly societies are in the same boat as the university libraries when it comes to fighting the global media conglomerates. Seek the goodwill and trust of both individual members and libraries in agreeing to support free electronic journals, for the benefit of the entire academic community. Recognise that a field in which most electronic journals are free, and there is a high quality free survey journal, is one which should flourish to the benefit of all professionals in the field. Educate society members to see the value of free electronic journals. Let them appoint society executives who acknowledge that value. Make the electronic versions of society journals free, and obtain income from members and supporting libraries as necessary.
What is the solution? Support the creation of digital repositories. Provide information to all parties in the academic communication industry about the dire consequences of current trends. Stengthen coalitions such as library consortia and their union ICOLC, which promote the interests of libraries against commercial publishers. Follow policies of ICOLC in resisting exploitation by commercial publishers, and voicing concern about the current pattern of information industry mergers which is further concentrating control of access to publicly-used information into the hands of a few giant multi-national companies. Refuse to participate in big bundling deals and licensing arrangements. Inform your faculty of the unfortunate consequences of such mergers, and consult with them about subscription cancellations. Confront them with the implications of the monopolistic bundling practices of large commercial publishers, and challenge them to create free alternatives. Do not cancel subscriptions to free electronic journals, even if they can be obtained for free. The basic contract between a free ejournal and a library is one of trust. It is in the library's and library patron's interest that these journals survive free of tolls. But there is of course some expense in their production, which should properly be shared by all university libraries.
What is the problem? Your light is not yet shining brightly enough. I did not recognise until a month or so ago, after reading Digital Libraries: Universal Access to Human Knowledge (President's Information Technology Advisory Committee, 2001) and The case for institutional repositories, what a central role should be played by digital libraries in the liberation of academic communication.
What is the solution? Educate the entire community, both inside and outside academia, of your potential to open up access to knowledge. Seek grants from governments, foundations and other sources to support open access archives, provide platforms for electronic publication of materials in those and other open archives, and provide long-term commitment to the preservation of those archives and platforms. Such platforms for electronic journals are likely to be developed soon by CDL , in collaboration with the University of California, and should be available soon at low cost to other digital libraries and repositories. To maintain quality of content, insist on academic review of proposals for new electronic journals.
Recognize and support the efforts of faculty and library staff to create open access archives and journals. Acknowledge work towards such projects as valuable university service. Recognize the first rule of publishing, and support academics and librarians by refusing to finance big bundling deals and licensing arrangements.
Tim Berners-Lee For creating the World Wide Web, and fighting to keep it open, nonproprietary and free.
Kenneth Frazier, For his support of SPARC, and his declaration in The librarian's dilemma: contemplating the costs of the ``Big Deal'' in D-Lib Magazine, March 2001, that academic library directors should not sign on to any ``Big Deal'' or comprehensive licensing arrangement offered by the commercial conglomerates.
Paul Ginsparg for his creation of the arXiv, and his vision of a global knowledge network.
Stevan Harnad for his vision of a future of academic communication in cyberspace unrestricted by gates and tolls.
Lawrence Lessig for his tireless resistance of commercial strangling of the Internet, and promotion of Creative Commons
Richard Stallman for founding the Free Software Foundation.
Peter Suber for his eloquent promotion of benefits of open access to the scientific journal literature, and editing the Free Online Scholarship Newsletter.
1I thank Michel Emery for this concept, to be understood as whatever new medium might provoke the next revolution in scholarly communication
2A Google search suggests this is
a fictitious society. But there is the American Neurological Association
which publishes the Annals of Neurology. And the threat to all
journals produced by professional societies should be clear.