Two rules of scholarly communication:
publish for the public, and keep the journals

Jim Pitman
Departments of Mathematics and Statistics
The University of California, Berkeley

Draft for comment. 12/04/02

Summary. 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: 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.

1  Introduction

It has been expected for some years now that the communication technology of the Internet, and the accompanying development of digital repositories and free electronic journals, should cause a digital revolution in scholarly communication which would ease the scholarly communication crisis. To quote from an article by Carol Kaesuk Yoon in the New York Times, December 8, 1998:
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.

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.

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:

1.1  Two rules of scholarly communication

I respond to this crisis by recognizing two basic rules of scholarly communication, which have been implicitly accepted by the scholarly community for most of the last century:

The insistence that a publication be freely and permanently accessible is essential to ensure the transmission of knowledge to future generations. And no one has yet proposed a superior vehicle than the scholarly journal system either for contemporary communication or for laying down the archival record. I regard these two rules as so fundamental, and so throroughly tested by experience, that they should be respected independently of the medium of communication, be it paper, electronic, or photonic 1 (whatever that might mean in the future). To interpret the two rules you must ask: Who is the public? What is a journal?

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,

This broad definition of the public for scholarly communication has already been embraced by several of the leading universities in the USA, most notably MIT, the University of California, and Cornell University. This is made manifest by their construction of major digital repositories, DSpace, CDL, and the arXiv, and their commitment to innovative plans of open access to those repositories for various purposes, in particular the MIT OpenCourseWare initiative, and the U.C. eScholarship initiative. Because of the way such digital repositories increase the visibility and prestige of their host universities, it is expected that many more universities will follow suit. The case for institutional repositories explains how the recent widespread acceptance of the Open Archives Initiative, allows any number of such repositories to share the burden of registering and archiving digital content, which can then be accessed from anywhere on the Internet. See also Best Current Practices: Recommendations on Electronic Information Communication by the Committee on Electronic Information Communcation (CEIC) of the International Mathematical Union (IMU), Reproduced in Notices of the AMS Volume 49, Number 8. Now there is the will to interpret the public as everyone with Internet access, and the technology is in place to permanently archive digital content in open digital repositories, the entire academic community should embrace the following interpretation of the first rule of scholarly publication in the electronic era: This rule provides a foundation layer of digital content in open access archives, over which can be laid an arbitrarily extensive system of free electronic journals. As recognized by SPARC, that is the right way to expand, preserve and perpetuate the entire scholarly journal system. This leads to an imperative interpretation of the second rule of scholarly publication in the electronic era: This process of liberation of journals, first one by one, then field by field, has already started. But is currently resisted by many scholarly societies and commercial agents with a vested interest in the status quo. It may proceed peacefully by negotiation between editors and their publishers or information providers, or it may proceed confrontationally by editorial boards declaring independence, as some have done already. But the power to accelerate that process, and force it to completion, lies entirely in the hands of the authors, editors and referees who support the current system. As shown by innovative publishers, such as the many academics who have produced their own free electronic journals, and new ventures, both public and private, such as The Berkeley Electronic Press, Project Euclid, and HighWire, affordable technology is now widely available to create new electronic journals, overlaid on open access digital repositories, faster than editorial boards can commit to this transition. It only remains to persuade these editorial boards of the harm they are doing to academia by perpetuating private archives, and of the value to be added to their journals by migrating to public archives. Already there is the value of work being freely accessible to search engines like Google, and those provided by portals to the public system of scholarly archives, like OAIster.

1.2  Creating network of electronic survey journals

To further enhance the value of public archives, and accelerate the rate at which they acquire high quality intellectual content, to eventually become the dominant repository of knowledge, I make the following far reaching proposal: Ultimately, the goal is to provide a peer-reviewed scholarly survey of all of human knowledge, professionally organized, fully searchable, navigable and retrievable, continuously archived and updated, and available free online to anyone with Internet access, in perpetutity. The possibility that some kind of global knowledge network would develop in various research communities, as an overlay on the existing innovation commons provided by the Internet, was suggested by Paul Ginsparg. The Budapest Open Access Initiative points the way to that goal in all areas of human knowledge. According to Ginsparg, capitalism may play a major role in this development, and
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 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. As explained in The Mathematics Survey Proposal, 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,

The academic enterprise is systematically giving away the treasure of university research to multinational corporations over which it has no control. The efficiency of universities as engines for generation of knowledge for the benefit of society has already been reduced by these corporations, which limit the freedom of scholars to access each others work by hoarding copyrights and charging outrageous licence fees for access to that sector of the literature. The quality of the research programs in all but the richest universities in the richest countries has already been seriously compromised by this give away of intellectual resources. Unless this privatization of knowledge is soon arrested and reversed, the future will mirror the present, in which scholars and their universities are the slaves of corporate information providers. To summarize: the basic ethical question: can be answered by academia in one of two ways: The choice is yours.

2  Problems and Solutions

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.

2.1  Authors

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 global media conglomerates 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.

2.2  Editors

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 they 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 perform editorial 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.

2.3  Referees

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.

2.4  Executives of scholarly societies

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?   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.

2.5  University librarians

Librarians have been at the forefront of exposing the assaults of global media conglomerates on academic freedom, so need not be reminded of the problem.

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.

2.6  Digital libraries and repositories

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.

2.7  University administrators

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.

2.8  University system administrators

Support systemwide digital repositories. Recognize that a dollar spent on support of digital archives or platforms for free journals built on those archives can save many dollars spent on library serials budgets.

2.9  University promotion committees

Acknowledge that publications in electronic journals should be judged on their intellectual merits and not on some arbitrarily defined impact factors generated by self-serving commercial interests. Acknowledge and support expository and survey writing by faculty members helping to create knowledge overlays on the open-archive system. Recognize the first rule of scholarly communication. Acknowledge that a preprint deposited on a public archive has been published, even if its content has not been certified by peer review, while an article whose copyright has been given to a multinational information provider has not been published, but privatized.

2.10  Public and private foundations

Respond to the needs of universities, libraries and the academic communication system, in such a way as to support the actions recommended above.

2.11  Commercial information providers

Give up attempting to control academic content and resisting open archives, or prepare to become marginalized by a hostile academic community. Rather, open your private archives, to be copied and stored in perpetuity in the public domain. Look for ways to serve the academic community by providing high quality competetive information retrieval services based on data in public archives.

2.12  Commercial publishers

Observe the first rule of publication, or risk being marginalized by the academic community when the digital revolution comes. For then there will be no value added, and no money to be made, in electronic publication of scholarly work. But there will still be value added, and money to be made, in competitive publication of academic books, paper journals, and various compilations of articles according to demand.

2.13  Investors

Expect the revolution in academic communication. Sell and then sell short the stock of companies engaged in the exploitation of academic journals. Look for opportunities to support the renaissance of universities to follow the digital revolution.

3  Acknowledgments

I could not have imagined the future envisioned here, nor thought it possible to get there, nor tried to persuade others to accompany me, without the imagination and courage of the following people. As testament to the power of the Internet for free transmission of ideas, I have met none of them except through cyberspace:

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 resistance to ``Big Deals''.

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.

3.1  Special thanks

Special thanks are due to the editors of Encyclopedia of Statistical Sciences, Second Edition, for inviting me to contribute 16 to 28 page article, to be titled Brownian processes, to this online encyclopedia to be published by Wiley. It was not until considering this invitation that I fully faced the question raised by this article: to publish or privatize? Thanks also to more than fifty mathematicans and statisticians I consulted about this offer, who agreed with me that it would be better for us to create our own free online survey of mathematics, The Mathematics Survey, than to participate in the privatization of the digital record of ideas in the public domain. I appreciate also the strong support for this project shown by the University of California librarians Catherine Candee, Ann Jensen, Isabel Sterling, and Beverlee French. It was only through exchanges with all these people that I came to the position presented here by the iterative process of RFC (Requests For Comments) made famous by development of the Internet. The opinions expressed here are my own, but I don't intend them to remain that way for long.


1I thank Michel Emery for this concept, to be understood as whatever new medium might provoke the next revolution in scholarly communication

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