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Date:         Sun, 27 Jun 2004 14:02:08 +0100
Reply-To:     American Scientist Open Access Forum
Sender:       American Scientist Open Access Forum
From:         Stevan Harnad <>
Subject:      June 27 2004: The 1994 "Subversive Proposal" at 10
Comments: To: AmSci Forum <>
Content-Type: TEXT/PLAIN; charset=iso-8859-1

** Apologies for cross-posting **


Stevan Harnad

Today, June 27 2004, is the 10th anniversary of the "Subversive Proposal" which was first posted June 27 1994:

and then published as:

Harnad, S. (1995) A Subversive Proposal. In: Ann Okerson & James O'Donnell (Eds.) Scholarly Journals at the Crossroads; A Subversive Proposal for Electronic Publishing. Washington, DC., Association of Research Libraries, June 1995.

This seems a good moment to take a critical look at where the Proposal stands today: where it was on target, and where it missed the mark:

> I. OVERTURE: The Subversive Proposal > > esoteric 213 aj .es-o-'ter-ik > > 1 a aj designed for or understood by the specially initiated alone > 1 b aj of or relating to knowledge that is restricted to a small group > 2 a aj limited to a small circle <~ pursuits> > 2 b aj [mini PRIVATE], [mini CONFIDENTIAL] <an ~ purpose> > (From the networked Merriam Webster Dictionary at Princeton University)

This "esoteric/exoteric" distinction turns out to have been just an out-of-focus first-approximation. The relevant distinction is not esoteric vs. exoteric writing but *give-away vs. non-giveaway* writing (a better approximation) and, in particular, peer-reviewed journal articles -- written solely for research impact, not for royalty outcome -- vs. most other forms of writing.

That is what gradually came into focus in the ensuing years as the true target of what eventually came to be called "Open Access" (OA).

> We have heard many sanguine predictions about the demise of paper > publishing, but life is short and the inevitable day still seems a > long way off.

Since then, just about all of peer-reviewed journal publishing has become hybrid, with both a paper and an online edition (and a still-small but growing number of online-only journals). But paper has not died yet. Nor was converting to online-only the real issue: The real issue was (and always had been) toll-free online access to the full-text of peer-reviewed journal articles, i.e., Open Access (OA), in order to maximise their usage and impact.

> This is a subversive proposal that could radically hasten that day. It > is applicable only to ESOTERIC (non-trade, no-market) scientific and > scholarly publication (but that is the lion's share of the academic > corpus anyway), namely, that body of work for which the author does > not and never has expected to SELL the words.

The day in question is not the day when all is online-only, but the day when all is OA. And the "all" is the give-away articles published in peer-reviewed journals -- which is not the lion's share of the "academic corpus," but all of the peer-reviewed journal portion of it (hence an important subset).

It is still not yet clear to how much more writing the OA model applies. It looks applicable to some monographs too. The decisive questions still seem to be: "Is the text an author give-away? Is it written for royalty income or for research impact?"

> The scholarly author wants only to PUBLISH them, that is, to reach > the eyes and minds of peers, fellow esoteric scientists and scholars > the world over, so that they can build on one another's contributions > in that cumulative, collaborative enterprise called learned inquiry.

This still seems correct, though now it is clear that the somewhat crasser career-based desire for "usage and impact" (and its objective scientometric performance indicators) better describes what the authors of peer-reviewed journal articles are really after than just the coyer and more idealistic "eyes and minds" metaphor. For "esoteric scientists and scholars" just substitute "qualified fellow-researcher users."

> For centuries, it was only out of reluctant necessity that authors of > esoteric publications entered into the Faustian bargain of allowing > a price-tag to be erected as a barrier between their work and its > (tiny) intended readership, for that was the only way they could > make their work public at all during the age when paper publication > (and its substantial real expenses) was their only option.

This is still true: The authors of refereed journal articles want to maximize the impact of their work on the work of their fellow researchers, and the way to do this is to maximize user access to it. Anything that denies access to would-be users of a piece of research denies the researcher and the research part of its potential impact. Access-tolls (subscriptions, licenses) certainly do this, for tolls mean that researchers whose institutions cannot afford them, cannot have access, and that therefore their potential contribution to that research's impact is lost.

In the Gutenberg (on-paper) era, there was no way to supplement toll-based access with toll-free access for those would-be users whose institutions could not afford the tolls: in the PostGutenberg (on-line) era there is, at last.

> But today there is another way, and that is PUBLIC FTP:

The Web already existed at the time of the Subversive Proposal's writing (1994), so this was already obsolescent then! Since then ftp has faded and http has taken over. But even back then, the proposal should have referred more prominently to self-archiving on the author's website, not just the author's ftp site!

On the other hand, the proposal was made before the Open Archives Initiative (OAI) (1999), with its shared metadata-tagging standard, allowing all distributed OAI-compliant web archives to be jointly interoperable, harvestable and searchable. Compared to that, both anonymous ftp sites and arbitrary websites are more like common graves, insofar as searching the peer-reviewed literature is concerned.

> If every esoteric author in the world this very day established a > globally accessible local ftp archive for every piece of esoteric > writing from this day forward, the long-heralded transition from paper > publication to purely electronic publication (of esoteric research) > would follow suit almost immediately.

Again, the real issue was not online publication, but online access, toll-free for all (OA), maximizing research impact by maximizing user access. And although self-archiving in an arbitrary ftp or web site would indeed have done the trick, the interoperability and searchability of this special subset of cyberspace -- the peer-reviewed journal literature -- still awaited agreement on the OAI standard in order to become truly efficient and useful for researchers.

And of course today, a decade later, the level of self-archiving has only reached about 20%; but all signs now are that with the research community's growing awareness of both the possibility and the benefits of OA, self-archiving is poised for a growth spurt. It is likely, however, that this growth spurt will have to be facilitated -- just as academic publication of all forms is facilitated -- by some publish-or-perish pressure from researchers' universities and research funders in the form of mandated OA provision for journal articles.

> This is already beginning to happen in the physics community, thanks > to Paul Ginsparg's HEP preprint network, with 20,000 users worldwide > and 35,000 "hits" per day, and Paul Southworth's CICnet is ready to > help follow suit in other disciplines.

It has since become clear that although the physicists had -- and continue to maintain -- the head-start in self-archiving, their growth rate remains steadily linear from year to year, and that means their self-archiving will not reach 100% for another decade or more via that route.

The reason may be related to the reason why CICnet never got off the ground: Central, discipline-based self-archiving is not the fastest and most effective way to reach 100% OA. Since the advent of OAI-interoperability, self-archiving in distributed institutional OAI-compliant Eprint archives looks more promising, because:

(1) it is at the individual institutional level, not at the central discipline-level, that the rewards of maximizing institutional research impact are shared by the researcher and his institution in the form of grants, prestige, promotion, and prizes;


(2) it is also at the institutional level that OA provision policies can be mandated, and compliance monitored and rewarded (via a natural extension of publish-or-perish policies, which are already rewarding not just the quantity of publications, but their importance and impact).

Distributing the (small) archiving costs per article is another advantage of institutional over central self-archiving. Moreover, journals -- 80% of which have already given their official green light to author self-archiving -- sometimes prefer institutional self-archiving to central self-archiving out of concerns about 3rd-party rival publishers free-riding on their content.

> The only two factors standing in the way of this outcome at this > moment are (1) quality control (i.e., peer review and editing), > which today happens to be implemented almost exclusively by paper > publishers, and (2) the patina of paper publishing, which results > from this monopoly on quality control.

This was expressed badly: Peer review does not stand in the way of self-archiving, for it is the self-archiving of peer-reviewed articles that OA is all about! Nor is peer review a matter of mere "patina." And inasmuch as journals compete for articles, no journal has a monopoly on quality control! Only the peer-review system itself has (and there is nothing wrong with that):

What I should have said then was that peer review continues to be an essential component of research publishing, even if the on-paper edition will soon cease to be. And publishers would only be obstacles to the extent that they tried to prevent self-archiving. But, as noted, publishers have since proved very responsive to the interests of research and to the research community's expressed desire for OA, with over 80% of journals now already officially "green" on author self-archiving and many of the remaining "gray" 20% ready to agree if asked.

There is even a perfectly legal way to self-archive in the rare case when the journal does not agree to the self-archiving of the peer-reviewed final draft: Self-archive the unrefereed preprint before submission and link a list of corrections to it after peer review and acceptance:

This strategy was already implicit in the Subversive Proposal:

> If all scholars' preprints were universally available to all > scholars by anonymous ftp (and gopher, and World-Wide Web, and > the search/retrieval wonders of the future), NO scholar would ever > consent to WITHDRAW any preprint of his from the public eye after > the refereed version was accepted for paper "PUBLICation." Instead, > everyone would, quite naturally, substitute the refereed, published > reprint for the unrefereed preprint.

Either substitute/add the refereed published version -- now called the "postprint" -- or link to the list of corrigenda:

> Paper publishers will then either restructure themselves > (with the cooperation of the scholarly community) so as to arrange > for the much-reduced electronic-only page costs (which I estimate > to be less than 25% of paper-page costs, contrary to the 75% figure > that appears in most current publishers' estimates) to be paid out > of advance subsidies (from authors' page charges, learned society > dues, university publication budgets and/or governmental publication > subsidies) or they will have to watch as the peer community spawns > a brand new generation of electronic-only publishers who will.

This speculative prediction was both premature and unnecessary: Self-archiving (SA) provides OA, which is an end in itself, by supplementing Toll Access (TA): OA = SA + TA

That is what has since come to be called the "green" road to OA.

The other road to OA is the "golden" road of OA journal publishing: It is the transition to OA journal publishing that I was describing above, but it is clear that this is neither the fastest nor the surest road to OA: For the research community to achieve 100% OA, there is no need for their TA journals to convert to gold; it is sufficient that they become green. Then TA + SA provides OA.

If/when that should ever eventually lead to a transition to gold is a speculative matter (and what research needs now is not more speculation but more OA!)

> The subversion will be complete, because the (esoteric -- no-market) > peer-reviewed literature will have taken to the airwaves, where it > always belonged, and those airwaves will be free (to the benefit of us > all) because their true minimal expenses will be covered the optimal > way for the unimpeded flow of esoteric knowledge to all: In advance.

This is all true, but just as "esoteric" turned out to be not quite on-the-mark, so "subversion" too misses the mark: The objective of OA is not to subvert or reform the publication system (either toward online-only or toward OA publishing). It is to maximise research impact by maximising research access, right now: To put an end to all further needless research impact loss, once and for all, at last.

If OA via TA + SA eventually leads to an evolution toward OA publication, then so be it.

But that is not and should not be the objective of the OA movement. An attempt to go directly from TA to OA publishing will only retard the growth of OA for another needless decade.

The "Subversive Proposal" should have been called, non-contentiously, the "Self-Archiving Proposal."

Stevan Harnad

Here are some selected references. For a fuller history, see Peter Suber's excellent "Timeline of the Open Access Movement"

Brody, T., Stamerjohanns, H., Vallieres, F., Harnad, S. Gingras, Y., & Oppenheim, C. (2004) The effect of Open Access on Citation Impact. Presented at: National Policies on Open Access (OA) Provision for University Research Output: an International meeting, Southampton, 19 February 2004.

Cox, J. & Cox, L. (2003) Scholarly Publishing Practice: The ALPSP report on academic publishers' policies and practices in online publishing. Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers.

Harnad, S. (1990) Scholarly Skywriting and the Prepublication Continuum of Scientific Inquiry. Psychological Science 1: 342 - 343 (reprinted in Current Contents 45: 9-13, November 11 1991).

Harnad, S. (1991) Post-Gutenberg Galaxy: The Fourth Revolution in the Means of Production of Knowledge. Public-Access Computer Systems Review 2 (1): 39 - 53 (also reprinted in PACS Annual Review Volume 2 1992; and in R. D. Mason (ed.) Computer Conferencing: The Last Word. Beach Holme Publishers, 1992; and in: M. Strangelove & D. Kovacs: Directory of Electronic Journals, Newsletters, and Academic Discussion Lists (A. Okerson, ed), 2nd edition. Washington, DC, Association of Research Libraries, Office of Scientific & Academic Publishing, 1992); and in Hungarian translation in REPLIKA 1994; and in Japanese in "Research and Development of Scholarly Information Dissemination Systems" 1994-1995.

Harnad, S. (1995) Electronic Scholarly Publication: Quo Vadis? Serials Review 21(1) 70-72 (Reprinted in Managing Information 2(3) 1995)

Harnad, S. (1998) For Whom the Gate Tolls? Free the Online-Only Refereed Literature. American Scientist Forum.

Harnad, S. (2001/2003) For Whom the Gate Tolls? Published as: Harnad, S. (2003) Open Access to Peer-Reviewed Research Through Author/Institution Self-Archiving: Maximizing Research Impact by Maximizing Online Access. In: Law, Derek & Judith Andrews, Eds. Digital Libraries: Policy Planning and Practice. Ashgate Publishing 2003. [Shorter version: Harnad S. (2003) Open Access to Peer-Reviewed Research through Author/Institution Self-Archiving: Maximizing Research Impact by Maximizing Online Access. Journal of Postgrad Medicine 49: 337-342.;year=2003;volume=49;issue=4;spage=337;epage=342;aulast=Harnad] and in: (2004) Historical Social Research (HSR) 29:1 [French version: Harnad, S. (2003) Ciélographie et ciélolexie: Anomalie post-gutenbergienne et comment la résoudre. In: Origgi, G. & Arikha, N. (eds) Le texte à l'heure de l'Internet. Bibliotheque Centre Pompidou: Pp. 77-103. ]

Harnad, S. (2001) The Self-Archiving Initiative. Nature 410: 1024-1025 Nature WebDebatesversion: Fuller version:

Harnad, S. (2003) Electronic Preprints and Postprints. Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science Marcel Dekker, Inc.

Harnad, S. (2003) Online Archives for Peer-Reviewed Journal Publications. International Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science. John Feather & Paul Sturges (eds). Routledge.

Harnad, S., Brody, T., Vallieres, F., Carr, L., Hitchcock, S., Gingras, Y, Oppenheim, C., Stamerjohanns, H., & Hilf, E. (2004) The green and the gold roads to Open Access. Nature Web Focus. Longer version to appear in Serials Review: The Access/Impact Problem and the Green and Gold Roads to Open Access

Harnad, S., Carr, L., Brody, T. & Oppenheim, C. (2003) Mandated online RAE CVs Linked to University Eprint Archives: Improving the UK Research Assessment Exercise whilst making it cheaper and easier. Ariadne 35 (April 2003).

Hitchcock, S., Woukeu, A., Brody, T., Carr, L., Hall, W., and Harnad, S. (2003) Evaluating Citebase, an open access Web-based citation-ranked search and impact discovery service

Kurtz, Michael J.; Eichhorn, Guenther; Accomazzi, Alberto; Grant, Carolyn S.; Demleitner, Markus; Murray, Stephen S.; Martimbeau, Nathalie; Elwell, Barbara. (2003) The NASA Astrophysics Data System: Sociology, Bibliometrics, and Impact. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology

Kurtz, M.J. (2004) Restrictive access policies cut readership of electronic research journal articles by a factor of two, Michael J. Kurtz, Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, Cambridge, MA

Lawrence, S. (2001) Online or Invisible? Nature 411 (6837): 521.

Odlyzko, A.M. (2002) The rapid evolution of scholarly communication." Learned Publishing 15: 7-19

Smith, A. & Eysenck, M. (2002) The correlation between RAE ratings and citation counts in psychology. Technical Report, Psychology, University of London, Royal Holloway.

Swan, A. & Brown, S.N. (2004) JISC/OSI Journal Authors Survey Report.

Swan, A. & Brown, S.N. (2004) Authors and open access publishing. Learned Publishing

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