Thursday, February 09, 2006

Does more mean more?

This is a discussion thread on the Liblicense list, and David Goodman just posted an exceptionally good comment. Here it is, in full:

Perhaps the need for publishers to be in the filtering process at all, goes back to the days of print journals which had a fixed number of pages that they could afford to print. There was then an absolute need to select, and an obvious justification for author fees for excess pages. There was also a great temptation
to accept too many articles, and many had a waiting list, sometimes of more than a year.

Especially after the web developed, such waiting lists very often led to the extensive circulation of what we now call "Accepted preprints," to the extent that the actual publication is a merely a matter of record, every one interested having already read the preprint. Having read the preprint, most of us are most unlikely
to also read the article.

Now essentially all science journals are published in both print and electronic, and this page limitation no longer applies to the electronic version, though there is still a limitattion in processing costs. Many publishers are in fact publishing
immediately the final electronic version, such as Elsevier just announced. Everyone (with a subscription) can now read the final version right away, and the print will appear eventually.

If the electronic version were the only version, and if gold OA were adopted for paying "on behalf of the author" then a publisher could afford to publish everything that met the quality standard of the journal. The quality standard of the journal
could be determined in a number of ways.

When I was still a molecular biologist, the most prestigious journal for a article after Nature was PNAS, and printed anything sent by a Member of Academy, (there was also a page charge.) One did not want to ask one's friendly Member except for the very best work, and that was the QC.

Members themselves could publish what of their own work they pleased, and were given an allowance for page charges. Their having been chosen Members was the QC. (This is why the eccentric work of some senior scientists was published in PNAS.) The practices have been progressively tightened very much since then, but page charges remain.

There is little aggregation of content in PNAS, and none at all in Nature or Science, or, within medicine, in JAMA. This too is a possible publisher's function, but not a necessary one. Reading every article that cites one's own, is a widely used filter and removes the need for an aggregator. The widespread use of both
toll and non-toll A&I services is not journal dependent, and such services in their printed form have had a useful role for centuries.

We should all welcome the current acceptance of change in the publication system--from Peter and from other publishers.

Dr. David Goodman
Associate Professor
Palmer School of Library and Information Science
Long Island University
and formerly
Princeton University Library

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