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Daniel Loeb

Mar 13, 1990, 4:12:15 AM3/13/90
I'm forwarding this article by Steven Harnad since it concerns the
ideas behind an electronic journal (such as Usenet Journal of Mathematics).
Steve Harnad is an editor of an electronic journal of academic psychology.
Anyone interested in looking at his work should send the message
SUB PSYCH your name
to your local LISTSERV (or LIST...@MITVMA.BITNET)
-Daniel Loeb


From: har...@Princeton.EDU (Stevan Harnad)
Message-Id: <900312184...@cognito.Princeton.EDU>
To: loeb@geocub
Subject: Re: Journals
Cc:, jour...@nyuacf.BITNET (Jim Alexander)


Stevan Harnad
Princeton University

[From: COMMED]

Gerald M. Phillips, Professor, Speech Communication, Pennsylvania State
University (G...@PSUVM.BITNET) wrote on Commed against the idea of
"on-line journals." His critique contains enough of the oft-repeated
(and I think erroneous) criticisms of the new medium that I think it's
worth a point by point rebuttal. I write as the editor, for over a
decade now, of a refereed international journal published by Cambridge
University Press (in the conventional paper/print medium), but also as
an impassioned advocate of multiple-email networks and their (I think)
revolutionary potential. I am also the new moderator of PSYCOLOQUY, an
email list devoted to scholarly electronic discussion in psychology and
related disciplines. Professor Phillips wrote:

> There is [1] an explicit hostility to print media on computer networks.
> There is a crisis in the publishing industry because of [2] technological
> innovations, [3] TV, and second hand booksellers, and among book reviewers
> there is consternation because [4] the number of journals proliferates and
> the quality of the texts declines. I am responding to the proposal to
> establish an electronic journal, and I am responding negatively.

Not one of these points speaks against electronic journals; rather,
they are points in their favor: (1) The hostility to print is justified,
inasmuch as it wastes time and resources and confers no advantage (which
cannot be duplicated by resorting to hard copy when needed anyway).
(2) Technological innovations such as photo-copying are problems for
the print media -- unsolved and probably unsolvable -- but not for the
virtual media, whose economics will be established pre-emptively along
more realistic lines, given the new technology. The passive CRTs in (3)
TV may be competing with the written word, but the interactive CRTs in
the electronic media are in a position to fight back. (4) Word glut and
quality decline are problems with the message (and how we control its
quality -- a real problem, in which I am very interested), not with the
medium. This leaves nothing of this first list of objections. Let's go

> The book, magazine, or journal is still the most convenient learning
> center known to civilization. It is portable, requires no power supply, is
> easily stored, and one can write comments on the pages without resorting to
> hypertext.

These arguments would have been just as apt if applied to Guttenberg
on behalf of the illuminated manuscript, or against writing itself, in
favor of the oral tradition. Other than habit, they have no logical or
practical support at all. And the clincher is that the situation is
not "either/or." To the extent that people are addicted to their
marginal doodling (or to electricity-free yurts), hard copy will always be
available as a supplement.

> Furthermore, the contemplation that enters composition of the
> typical article is important. Hasty publication results in error and sometimes
> danger. I urge examination of the editorial policies of NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL
> OF MEDICINE or DAEDALUS as examples of the best editorial policies. It is
> crucial in publishing to have careful editing and responsible writing.

There is one logical error and one non sequitur here: (i) Making it
POSSIBLE for people to communicate faster and on a more global scale
does not imply that they are no longer allowed to wait and reflect as
long as they wish! (ii) Ceterum sentio: Quality control is a
medium-independent problem; I have plenty of ideas about how to
implement peer review in this medium even more effectively than in the
print media.

> I do not wish to indict users of electronic media, but I have encountered
> a fair share of irresponsible people who write out of passion or worse --
> cuteness.

The problem here is a demographic one, having to do with the anarchic
initial conditions in which the new medium was developed. "Flaming" was
what the first electronic discussion was called, and it began as spontaneous
combustion among the creators of the medium (computer hackers, for the
most part) and students (who have a lot of idle time on their hands). The
form of trivial pursuit that ensued is no more representative of the
intrinsic possibilities of this medium than it would have been if we had
left it up to Guttenberg and a legion of linotype operators to decide for
us all what should appear on the printed page. Again, the problem is
with implementation and quality control, not the medium itself.

> I realize how important some exchanges are and I will argue
> with data and without passion for the efficacy of applying CMC to some aspects
> of classroom operation. Computerized cardfiles and other databases are
> essential to good scholarship. Networks like AMANET and similar medical
> operations provide important information conveniently. What characterizes a
> totally responsible network, however, is the willingness to spend money to
> make it work. Accumulating a database and monitoring its contents is crucial
> for uses of a network must have confidence in what they read.

These applications are all commendable, but supremely unimaginative.
The real revolutionary potential of electronic network communication is
in scholarship rather than education. I am convinced that the medium
is better matched to the pace and scope and interactiveness of human
mentation than any of its predecessors. In fact, it is as much of a
milestone as the advent of writing, and finally returns the potential
pace of the interaction -- which writing and print slowed down
radically -- to the tempo of the natural speech from which so much
of our cognitive capacity arose.

> A great many scholars (mostly untenured) rail at the policies of contempo-
> rary scholarly journals, and often they are "on target." Journals sometimes
> use an "old boy" network to exclude new and vital ideas. Journals are often
> ponderously slow and it is difficult for many people to take editorial
> criticism. On the other hand, journals protect us from egregious error and
> and libel and the copyright laws protect us from plagiarism.

But the egregious error here is to fail to realize that electronic
networks can exercise peer review just as rigorously (or unrigorously)
as any other medium. And just as there are hierarchies of print
journals (ranked with respect to how rigorously they are refereed),
this can be done here too, including levels at which manuscripts or
ideas are circulated to one's peers for pre-referee scrutiny, as in
symposia and conferences, or even informal discussion. The possibilties
are enormous; objections like the above ones (and they are not unique
to Professor Phillips) serve only to demonstrate how the entrenched old
medium and its habits can blind us to promising alternatives.

> Plagiarism is a major concern in using an electronic network. I am
> hesitant to share material that might be useful because my copyrights are
> not protected on this network. I enjoy the chitchat effect, but I have
> told several people who have contacted me about my "on-line" course, that
> I would be happy to share articles or have them come out an observe. I would
> not attempt to offer advice using this medium. It would be guaranteed to
> be half-baked and inapposite.

I have two replies here; one objective and quite decisive, the other a
somewhat subjective observation: There are ways to implement peer
discussion that will preserve priority as safely as the ordinary mail,
telephone and word-processor media (none completely immune to
techno-vandalism these days, by the way) to which we already entrust our
prepublication ideas and findings. I'll discuss these in the future.

As food for thought, consider that it would be simple to implement a
network with read/write access only for a group of peers in a given
specialty, where every posting is seen by everyone who matters in the
specialty (and is archived for the record, to boot). These are the people
who ASSIGN the priorities. A wider circle might have read-only access,
and perhaps one of them might try (and even succeed) to purloin an
idea and publish it as his own -- either in a low-level print
journal or a low-level electronic group. So what? The peers saw it
first, and know whence it came, and where and when, with the archive
to confirm it (printed out in hard copy, if you insist!). That's the
INTRINSIC purpose of scholarly priority. If some enterprising
vita-stuffer up for promotion at New Age College pries the covers off
my book and substitutes his own, that's not a strike against the
printed medium, is it?

Now the subjective point: It seems paradoxical, to say the least, to
be worried about word glut and quality decline at the same time as
being preoccupied with priority and plagiarism. Here is some more food
for thought: The few big ideas that there are will not fail to be
attributed to their true source as a result of the net. As to the many
little ones (the "minimal publishable units," or what have you), well, I
suppose that a scholar can spend his time trying to protect those too --
or he can be less niggardly with them in the hope that something bigger
might be spawned by the interaction.

It's all a matter of scale. I'm inclined to think that for the really
creative thinker, ideas are not in short supply. It's the tree that
bears the fruit that matters: "He who steals my apples, steals trash,"
or something like that. The rival anecdote is that Einstein was asked
in the fifties by some tiresome journalist -- a harbinger of our
self-help/new-age era -- what activity he was usually engaged in when
he got his creative ideas (shaving? showering? walking? sleeping?), and
he replied that he really couldn't say, because he had only had one or
two creative ideas in his entire lifetime... (Nor was he particularly
secretive about them, I might add, engaging in intense scholarly
correspondence about them with his peers, most of whom could not even
grasp, much less pass them off as their own.)

> While serving on a promotion and tenure committee, I opposed consideration
> of materials "published" on-line in examining the credentials of candidates.
> That is an antideluvian view, I know, but in the sciences especially,
> accuracy and responsibility is critical and to date, only the referee process
> give us any assurance at all.

Too bad. Promotion/tenure review is a form of peer review too, and is
not such an oracular machine as to afford to ignore potentially
informative data. I, for one, might even consider looking at
unpublished (hence, a fortiori, unrefereed) manuscripts if there
appeared to be grounds for doing so, in order to make a more informed
decision. But never mind; if the direction I am advocating prevails,
peer review, such as it is, will soon be alive and well on the
electronic networks, and contributions will be certifiably CV-worthy.

> Interchanges like this are useful. We get a chance to exchange views with
> people we do not know and often we find some intriguing possibilities in
> these notes and messages. But I still do not know who I am communicating
> with and I have no confirmation of their data. I can use caveat emptor on
> their ideas, but I cannot give them professional credit for them, nor can
> I claim any for my own.
> In short, here is your extreme argument AGAINST electronic journals.

There is, I am told, a complexity-theoretic bottom-line in networking
called the "authentication problem." I can in principle post a
libelous, plagiaristic message in your name without being detected;
hence it will be difficult to formulate enforcable laws to regulate the
net. In practice, this need not be a problem, however, so look on the
bright side. I really am the one indicated on my login. And even if I
weren't, it hardly matters for THIS discussion (as opposed to the
future peer-reviewed ones mentioned earlier). All that matters is
my message, which can stand on its own merits as a counterargument FOR
electronic journals.

Stevan Harnad

Gerald M. Phillips <G...@PSUVM.PSU.EDU> wrote:

> Two points you did not attack were (1) the problem of protection of
> copyrights and (2) the convenience of books. Note, please that read
> only does not protect anyone so long as personal computers have print
> screen keys.

Currently, copyright is protected if you copyright a hard copy of what
you have written. Anyone is free to do this prior to every screenful,
but it sure would slow "skywriting" down to the old terrestrial pace.
In practice, however, we don't bother to copyright until we're much
further downstream: Our scholarly correspondence, our conference
papers and our preliminary drafts circulated for "comment without
quotation" do not enjoy copyright, so why be more protective of
electronic drafts? Because they're easier to abscond with? But, as I
wrote earlier, if the primary read/write network to which it is posted
consists of all the peers of the realm, and they see it first, and it's
archived when they see it, what is there to fear? What better way to
establish priority? Isn't it their eyes that matter?

Books are much more a habit than a convenience. I'm sure that if you
gave me an itemized list of their virtues I could match them (and then
some) with the merits of electronic text. (E.g., books are portable, but
they have to be physically duplicated and lugged; in principle,
everything written could be available everywhere there's a plug or
antenna, to anyone, anytime... etc.)

> Furthermore, the overwhelming number of faculties do not
> participate in networks. It is somewhat like the problem people are
> having with VCRs. Most people can learn how to play movies. Few bother
> to learn how to record from broadcasts. Most PC users really have
> expensive typewriters. I know -- it is their own fault. And it is
> probably different in the sciences, but it seems to me that designing
> access to knowledge for a minority will only widen the ignorance gap.

Computers and networks have become so friendly that everyone is just a
2-minute demo away from sufficient facility for full access. The
barrier is so tiny that it's absurd to think that it can hold people
back, particularly once the revolutionary potential of scholarly
skywriting is demonstrated and a quorum of the peers of each realm
become addicted. The "virtual" environment can mimic what we're used to
as closely as necessary to mediate a total transition. In fact, nothing
has a better chance to NARROW the ignorance gap than the global,
interactive and virtually instantaneous airwaves of the friendly

> I'd be interested in your proposals about ensuring quality. I am not so sure
> of your proposals re: read only, but I'd be happy to look at them. I am not
> a Luddite. I believe I have the largest enrollment class learning entirely
> via computer-mediated communication. And it is a performance class (group
> problem solving). It is both popular and effective, but the computer has
> been adapted to the needs of the class not the reverse. I think that putting
> journals on-line (at least at the moment) is a case of "we have the machinery,
> why not use it?"

The idea is to have a vertical (peer expertise) and a horizontal
(temporal-archival) dimension of quality control. The vertical
dimension would be a hierarchy of expertise, with read/write access for
an accredited group of peers at a given level and read-only access at
the level immediately below it, but with the right to post to a peer at
the next higher level, who can in turn post your contribution for you,
if he judges that it to is good enough. (A record of valuable mediated
postings could result in being voted up a level.) A single editor, or
an editorial board, are simply a special case of this very same
mechanism, where one person or only a few mediate all writing privileges.

That's the vertical hierarchy, based on degrees of expertise,
specialization, and record of contributions in a given field. In
principle, this hierarchy can trickle down all the way to general
access for nonspecialists and students at the lowest read/write level
(the equivalent of "flaming," and, unfortunately, the only level that
exists among the "unmoderated" groups on the net currently, while in
today's so-called "moderated" groups all contributions are filtered
through one person, usually one with no special qualifications or

So far, even among the elite, this would still be just brainstorming,
at the pilot stage of inquiry. The horizontal dimension would then take
the surviving products of all this skywriting, referee them the usual
way (by having them read, criticized and revised under peer scrutiny)
and then archiving them (electronically) according to the level of
rigor of the refereeing system they have gone through (corresponding,
more or less, to the current "prestige hierarchy" and level of
specialization among print journals). Again, an unrefereed "vanity
press" could be the bottom of the horizontal hierarchy.

> And please address the issue of those of us who make our living out of the
> printed word and fear plagiarism above earthquakes and forest fires.
> Gerald M. Phillips, Pennsylvania State University

I imagine that a different system of values and expectations will be
engendered by the net. One may have to make one's reputation
increasingly by being a fertile collaborator rather than a prolific
monad. I think interactive productivity ("interproductivity") will turn
out to be just as viable, answerable and rewardable a way of establishing
one's intellectual territory as the old way; it's just that the
territory will be much less exclusive, more overlapping and
interdependent. That's the cumulative direction in which inquiry has been
heading all along anyway.

As to words themselves: I think it will be possible to protect them
just as well as in the old media. The ones who are really able to use
the language (like the ones who have really new ideas or findings) will
still be a tiny minority, as they are now and always will be, and we'll
know even better who they are and what they have written. It'll be
easier to steal a few of their screenfuls for lowly use, but, as
always, it will be impossible to steal their source. As to the rest --
marginal ideas and marginal prose -- I can't really work up a sense of
urgency about them; it seems to me, however, that it will be just as
easy as before to make sure they get their dubious due, in terms of
their official standing in the two-dimensional hierarchy.

Stevan Harnad


Mar 20, 1990, 3:53:51 AM3/20/90
In article <>, (Daniel Loeb)

>I'm forwarding this article by Steven Harnad since it concerns the
>ideas behind an electronic journal (such as Usenet Journal of Mathematics).
>Steve Harnad is an editor of an electronic journal of academic psychology.

>From: har...@Princeton.EDU (Stevan Harnad)
>Message-Id: <900312184...@cognito.Princeton.EDU>
>To: loeb@geocub
>Subject: Re: Journals
>Cc:, jour...@nyuacf.BITNET (Jim Alexander)
> Stevan Harnad
> Princeton University

One point not addressed in that long and interesting posting was Figures.
One picture is worth 1000 words, they say. How are the diagrams to be put
in the UJoM? In applied mathematics at least most of us find them essential.
J Fluid Mech comes from a Dept of Applied Maths and Theoretical Physics
for example; every issue has numerous line drawings, some b&w photos,
many issues have colour photos, and holograms have appeared.

John Harper Maths Dept Victoria University Wellington New Zealand

Phone: (+64 4) 721 000 Fax: (+64 4) 712 070
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