13.0128 online publication

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Wed, 4 Aug 1999 20:24:06 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 13, No. 128.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

Date: Wed, 04 Aug 1999 20:25:45 +0100
From: Guedon Jean-Claude <guedon@ERE.UMontreal.CA>
Subject: Re: 13.0124 pre-publication online?

The point raised by Chris Ann Matteo is most interesting and it echoes a
good many points that have been exchanged around electronic publishing,
particularly in the hard sciences. For a recent a lively debate on this
topic, see the archives of the e-biomed project at the National Institute
of Health. In particular, see Stevan Harnad's incisive comments on this
matter. They are not always couched in the most diplomatic manner, but
they certainly go at the heart of the matter.


It is interesting that the scholar-as-reader behaves significantly
differently from the scholar-as-author. In the former case, he or she
insists on the widest possible access to journals and books within the
University library; in the latter case, he or she insists on the highest
visibility, prestige, status, *independently of the cost of the journal
that the library will have to buy later*. This is even worse when the
scholar puts on a third hat, that of the editor, and does it for a
company like Elsevier. Elsevier sells scientific journals (about a
billion dollars worth of sales per year) and makes a cool 40% profit in
passing. Fundamental knowledge produced largely thanks to public money is
then written up for free, refereed for free. When the article is submitted,
some commercial journals already request a small fee (a "ticket
mod=E9rateur" of sorts); when it is accepted, the author(s) often must pay
so much per page. Then the journal is produced with little added value
and it is sold at incredible prices. And it is sold to libraries that, by
and large, are supported by public money. In effect, through this
technique, some commercial outfits have managed to create a kind of tax
on governments across the planet, or at least across the OECD nations (i.e.
the richest nations of this planet). Very clever indeed! Not very
equitable, nor very functional. It impedes the free flow of scholarly
information among scholars; it tends to discriminate against
poorer institutions, as well as poorer countries.

This said, a young colleague is particularly vulnerable to this kind of
situation as she or he must prepare a credible dossier in the hope of
gaining academic employment.

I have no direct advice to give Ms. Chris Ann Matteo, and I understand
her worries. I also feel that she should not be the kind of person
heroically defending a worthy cause without any solid base from where to
wage battle (if so is her inclination). On the other hand, more senior
people could envision organizing a humanities project similar to the
physics project at Los Alamos (Ginsparg's project at www.lanl.gov) and
the NIH project that is presently being discussed.

Such a project could entail the following form

1. A pre-print archive where articles would be admitted on the quick and
fundamental test of relevance to the domain or domains covered by the

2. The copyright should remain in the hands of the author(s).

3. Editorial boards as prestigious as possible could be organized and
could begin selecting the better papers so as to provide a quality of
intellectual certification through some classical peer review.

4. The selected papers could then be marked in such a way that users
would know that they are fully certified as if they had been published in
a normal, peer-reviewed journal. The editorial boards would, in effect,
overlay (to use a phrase that is being used more and more commonly in
e-publishing circles) the pre-print archives. Their role, beyond
providing an accountable form of certification, would be to create an
intellectual identity to these texts. This is particularly important in
the social sciences and the humanities.

5. A more innovative idea would be to allow for the possibility of
multiple certification of a single article by several editorial boards.
This could draw attention to a variety of characteristics such as
the inter-disciplinary nature of an article, or its fundamental,
trans-disciplinary relevance, or its extremely high quality. The "or"
here does not mean mutually exclusive characteristics.

Discussions have been going on on this topic for a while. A conference in
California in 1997 laid some of the groundwork for such a project. More
focused discussions are going on in the sciences as I have noted above.
Isn't it time to launch a similar effort in the area of the social
sciences and the humanities? We will not solve Ms. Matteo's difficult
dilemma (and again, I fully sympathize with her) but, in due time, we may
relieve some of these difficulties which ultimately rest on simultaneous
desire to create as friction-free a communication system among scholars,
and treat the objects of communication, documents, journals, etc., as

Any interest in pursuing this kind of vision?

Best regards,

Jean-Claude Gu=E9don

=09Jean-Claude Gu=E9don=09=09=09=09Tel. 514-343-6208
=09D=E9partement de litt=E9rature compar=E9e=09=09Fax. 514-343-2211
=09Universit=E9 de Montr=E9al=09=09
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