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     October 12, 2001

Journal editors resign to protest publisher's policies

Forty editors of the _Machine Learning Journal_ (MLJ) have resigned from the editorial board and published their reasons in a public letter dated October 8.  The MLJ editors were frustrated by the reluctance of Kluwer, their publisher, to adapt the journal to the digital age.  They asked Kluwer to lower the subscription price and provide free online access to the articles.  Without these changes, the subscription price limited access to the very researchers whom the journal ought to serve.

Quoting the public letter:  "While these [subscription] fees provide access for institutions and individuals who can afford them, we feel that they also have the effect of limiting contact between the current machine learning community and the potentially much larger community of researchers worldwide whose participation in our field should be the fruit of the modern Internet."

Kluwer agreed to lower the individual subscription price (to $120) but would not lower the institutional price (at $1,050) or provide free online access to the articles.

Leslie Pack Kaelbling resigned as one of MLJ's action editors and began looking for a publisher willing to host a journal on machine learning more in keeping with her vision of wide and free online access.  She struck a remarkable deal with MIT Press.  She would launch a new journal, the _Journal of Machine Language Research_ (JMLR) which would provide free online access to all its articles and publish them online as soon as they were accepted.  Quarterly, MIT would publish a print edition at a reasonable subscription price.  MIT brought in the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) to use its international network of member libraries to guarantee an adequate subscription base for the new journal.  Finally, JMLR would leave copyrights in the hands of authors.  MIT would only have the right of first print publication and the right of first refusal on anthologies of JMLR articles.  MIT agreed, in effect, not to own the journal or its contents, but only to publish the print edition.  No money changes hands between JMLR and MIT.

MIT can agree to these terms in part because JMLR editors keep costs down by providing online- and print-ready copy in PDF format.  MIT is also willing to experiment with new ways of doing business in the digital age.

Once JMLR was in the cards, Leslie invited all the MLJ editors to join her at the new journal, without necessarily resigning from MLJ.  All but a handful chose to resign and join her.  Some are editors at both journals.  While the 40 resignations have taken place over the past nine months, the 40 agreed only recently to publish a joint, signed open letter.  Their purpose was to describe their grievance with Kluwer and to explain to the world that JMLR is not the raw newcomer that it might otherwise appear to be.  Hiring and tenure committees should understand that JMLR is the leading journal in the field of machine learning, even if its citation history and impact factor have not had time to reflect the eminence and experience of its editorial board.

Thanks to Leslie Pack Kaelbling for sharing these details with me in an interview on October 9.

Public letter of resignation (October 8, 2001)

[old journal] Machine Learning (aka Machine Learning Journal)

[new journal] Journal of Machine Learning Research

SPARC home page

* Postscript.  This should remind you of November 1999 when the entire editorial board of the _Journal of Logic Programming_ (published by Elsevier) resigned and created the _Theory and Practice of Logic Programming_ (published by Cambridge).  See FOSN for 5/11/01.

It should also remind you of the 1998 decision by Michael Rosenzweig and the rest of his editorial board to resign from _Evolutionary Ecology_, which Rosenzweig had launched in 1986, in order to create _Evolutionary Ecology Research_.   Are there are other, similar stories that belong on this short list?


Will FOS do harm?  More harm than good?

In the October 12 _Chronicle of Higher Education_, John Ewing argues against a thoughtless rush into FOS.  His most specific reason for caution is that small independent publishers have the thinnest profit margins and will be the first to fail in competition with FOS.  If they fail, publishing will be dominated even more than now by a narrow band of profitable giants charging high prices.  Richard Kaser made a similar argument in his September 18 contribution to the _Nature_ debate on FOS (see FOSN for 9/21/01).  Arthur Smith points out in our discussion forum that he made a similar argument in 1998.  Here are some thoughts on Ewing's version of the argument.

Priced journals cannot compete with free journals, when the two sets are roughly equal in significance and quality.  If FOS journals gain the readership and recognition to wipe out priced journals from small, independent publishers, then they will a foothold to threaten the journals from the profitable giant publishers as well, even if the giants have a thicker armor of savings to postpone the inevitable.  If the big publishers eventually fail or retreat from the journal market, then it's simply not true that FOS will cause big publishers to dominate the journal market.  The worst-case scenario is not the dominance of giant publishers, but a temporary period in which the giants coexist with free journals.

But in fact, there is no evidence that FOS would hurt small, independent publishers before large ones.  In a market of expensive, inexpensive, and free journals, again assuming comparable significance and quality, there is good reason to believe that libraries will drop the expensive journals first and retain the affordable and free ones as long as possible.  If so, then big publishers will suffer first, not last.

Is it fair to assume that free and priced journals can be equals in significance and quality?  Ewing doesn't argue to the contrary but others have.  The short reply to this objection is that significance and quality depend on the editors and authors, not on the marketing, medium, or imprint.  Not only can free journals have editors and authors comparable to those at the best print journals, they can have the very same editors and authors.  It's true that it takes time for prestige and reputation to catch up with quality, but the lag time is getting shorter as librarians work together to boost inexpensive new journals and as a new generation of academics understands that the medium is not the message.

Ewing doesn't pretend to know the future and I don't either.  If his predictions and mine are both taken with a grain of salt, then it remains the case that his scenario is a risk that we can avoid only with caution.  I accept this.  The only problem lies in his implication that some FOS advocates, or journals, or publishers, or scholars are thoughtlessly rushing fundamental change.  Some calls for FOS may be less cognizant of the obstacles than others, and some FOS projects may fail.  But let's be clear:  no one is rushing the change of the conditions of journal competition.  Rushing deep changes of this kind is impossible.  Richard Kaser, in his version of the argument, worries that we will "trade in" a journal system that works acceptably for one that may not.  Both arguments assume that FOS could replace the current journal system suddenly, or before we adequately understand what is happening.  But this is far-fetched.  FOS is emerging gradually, one journal or archive at a time.  The slow pace of change provides all the time for measurement and reflection that caution requires.  We certainly have time to monitor the effects of FOS as it grows.  Those who worry about harmful consequences can help the cause of scholarly communication by looking to see whether feared forms of harm are materializing.  By all means warn us of risks that others didn't see or heed.  But don't pretend that we can't monitor our own experiment and make mid-course corrections.

Finally, Ewing argues that free online journals lack a good business model.  Volunteer labor and government support may both disappear.  True.  But there are many other business models than these to examine, including author fees, university funds, print sales, and endowments.  It's true that none of these has yet proved itself for free online journals over the long term.  But Ewing's argument assumes that the currently prevailing business plan works.  It doesn't.  Currently, authors of journal articles donate their professional labor and intellectual property to the dissemination system.  In this system, publishers stand between authors and readers, charge for access, and keep the money.  Subscription fees limit readers' access to literature and limit authors' access to readers.  This obstructs both research and education.  It might be acceptable if publishers had to stand between authors and readers in order to disseminate the literature and if they charged reasonable subscription prices.  But neither is true.  The internet makes most functions of traditional journal publishers unnecessary.  To continue to pay for these functions at the expense of reader access and author impact is perverse.  Moreover, in the last decade journal subscription prices have risen faster than inflation, faster even than health care prices.  This causes libraries to cancel important journals every year, which only aggravates the harm to research and education.  It is precisely the failure of the present business model that has stimulated the current, healthy experimentation with other business models.

John H. Ewing, No Free Lunches: We Should Resist the Push to Rush Research Online

Richard Kaser, When allegory replaces rational thought, science had better watch out

Arthur Smith, August 28, 1998 posting to the _AmSci_ forum

Discussion thread on Ewing's article in the September98Forum
(Particularly good on Ewing's argument that FOS journals lack "frills".)

What do you think?  Post your thoughts to the FOS discussion forum.
(Anyone may read; only subscribers may post; subscription is free.)



* On October 10, the International eBook Award Foundation announced the second annual Frankfurt eBook Awards.  The top two prizes in non-fiction went to Steven Levy's _Crypto_ and Eric Nisenson's biography of Miles Davis.  There is no special category for academic or scholarly non-fiction.  It appears that all the winning ebooks were simultaneously published in print.

* The California Digital Library (CDL) and Berkeley Electronic Press (bepress) have become partners.  Bepress has developed software tools to facilitate the creation, editing, and management of free online journals.  Under the new agreement, CDL will make these tools available to researchers at the University of California.  Because the bepress tools work with eprints.org software, we should soon see some new free online journals and OAI-compliant archives from California departments and research centers.

* Adobe Systems has announced that it will use Info2clear technology to improve the security of PDF ebooks.  The press release doesn't say so, but this is presumably a response to Dmitri Sklyarov's proof that existing PDF ebook security can be broken.

* Adobe has also announced an international version of its ebook reader.  It is supposed to be the only ebook reader for books in German, French, or Spanish that runs on both the Mac and Windows.

* Collection EgoDocuments of Montpellier has announced what it calls the world's first free, continuously edited, web-passive ebook, an online edition of _Le Journal du chevalier Marie Daniel Bourrée de Corberon_, originally published in Paris 1776-1781.  "Web-passive" here simply means non-interactive.  The editors plan to make a future edition the book interactive, drawing on a database to answer user questions about Bourrée de Corberon's life and travels.  The present edition has a very useful set of links from the text to explanatory notes and images of people or places mentioned in the text.  The boast that the book is "continuously edited" apparently means that new links of this kind are continuously being added.
(Thanks to Ellen Fernandez-Sacco for bringing this to my attention.)

* OCLC has announced that WorldCat now has more than 500,000 records for digital resources --out of 48 million records for print and digital resources combined.

* The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has approved the Dublin Core Metadata Element Set.
(The announcement has not yet appeared on the ANSI, NISO, or DMCI sites.)

The approved metadata element set is online here.

* Can free online access be *too* accessible?  Federal law requires that criminal records be publicly available.  Before the digital age this meant that they were available to anyone willing to visit the courthouse and riffle through paper files.  In the digital age it meant free online access.  But recently the federal government decided to remove criminal records from the internet in the name of privacy.  The question whether free online access is excessive even for public documents has also come up with voter registration records, bankruptcy records, and the financial disclosures of public officials.  (PS:  These are nice examples of quantitative changes that become qualitative changes.  For scholarship, we welcome the qualitative changes that come with quantitative increases in speed and ease of access.  But for criminal and voting records, is the qualitative change undesirable or just unsettling?  Must we have two categories from now on, "publicly available with ease" and "publicly available with difficulty"?)


New on the net

* The National Security Archive (NSA) has launched a free online series of September 11th Source Books.  The NSA is a non-governmental non-profit organization with a two million page archive of other security documents dating back to 1985.  Its new September 11th Source Books consist of primary source documents which it has obtained from the government through the Freedom of Information Act.

* The Open Language Archives Community (OLAC) is a newly created international organization of institutions and individuals assembling a free online OAI-compliant archive of resources on language and linguistics.  The archive will officially launch in January 2002.

* The U.S. Department of Energy has launched the Energy Citations Database, a free online archive of bibliographic citations to federally sponsored scientific research on energy.  In a small but growing number of cases, the citations include links to free online full-text.

* The government of Australia has launched a free online archive of Australian science and industry information.  This supplements its earlier archives on Australian agriculture, business, and culture.

* The American Association for the Advancement of Science and Science magazine have launched a free online archive on the science of aging, the Science of Aging Knowledge Environment (SAGE KE).

* The Johns Hopkins medical school with support from the Sloan and Wood Foundations has launched a Center for Civilian Biodefense Studies.  In addition to providing news and conferences, it hosts a small but presumably growing online archive of published articles on relevant scientific topics.

* Sabawoon Online has launched Afghanpedia, a comprehensive free online guide to the history and geography of Afghanistan.

* The proceedings of the June conference in Amsterdam, Change and Continuity in Scientific Communication, are now online.

* In August a group of individuals and organizations responding to a public invitation launched the BioMed Archives Consortium in a meeting at MIT Press.  The plan is to provide online access to biomedical research.  The archive plans to support itself by charging institutional subscriptions.


Share your thoughts

* The U.S. government has decided that the internet isn't secure enough for its critical and classified communications.  Richard Clarke, the new presidential advisor for Cyberspace Security, has proposed the creation of an alternative network called GovNet.  The General Services Administration is asking the private sector to make suggestions on how to implement GovNet so that it meets its specs, and even to bid on its construction and maintenance.  Public comments and submissions will be welcome until November 21.

Postscript.  Here's hoping that this has no FOS implications.  Right now the federal government is one of the most generous providers of free online scientific and cultural content.  As proposed, GovNet will handle only other sorts of data.  But we know that the military experiences "classification creep" and that some government agencies have already deleted scientific information from their web sites, thinking it to be helpful to terrorists (see FOSN for 10/5/01).  Any content that migrates from the public internet to the new GovNet will cease to be accessible to researchers, teachers, and students.

* If you think you've missed some Requests for Comments (RFC's) for internet standards and protocols, check out the free quarterly, _RFC Sourcebook_.  The current issue covers July-September, 2001.


In other publications

* In the October 10 _USA Today_, Edward Baig criticizes digital encyclopedias that force students seeking information to wade through advertisements or even sign up for commercial services in order to get it.

* The October 9 _Library Journal_ has a brief, two-paragraph report on the Forum on Publishing Alternatives in Science held at the Johns Hopkins medical school on October 1.  One statistic revealed at the forum:  between 1986 and 1999, the consumer price index rose 49%, the cost of health care rose 111%, and the cost of scholarly journals rose 175%.  During the same period the number of scholarly journals increased only 55%.  (PS:  Did any FOSN readers attend this forum?  I'd like to see a more detailed report.)
(Free registration required.)

* In the October _EContent_, Sylvia Lacock Marino describes Discussion Miner, new software to read online discussion groups, summarize them, and package the summaries to sell to advertisers who want the latest dope on the zeitgeist.  I once read about a financial version that crunched through stock trading discussion groups in order to summarize investor beliefs in real time.  This was based on the plausible theory that the stock market goes up and down according to people's beliefs about whether it will go up and down.  Would an academic version be useful only to social scientists doing field work on academic communities?  Or could you get useful meta-analysis from the distillation of academic chat?

* In an October posting to _GigaLaw_, Bob Pimm reviews current U.S. law to summarize what rights are held, and not held, by authors of ebooks.

* In another October posting to _GigaLaw, Doug Isenberg analyzes the DMCA's anti-circumvention clause and some of its lesser known provisions.

* In the September issue of _Ariadne_, Susi Woodhouse describes the UK's People's Network and the New Opportunities Fund's program to digitize academic content.

* Also in the September _Ariadne_, John MacColl summarizes some of the presentations at a June ACM/IEEE meeting in Roanake on digital libraries.

* Also in the September _Ariadne_, John MacColl, Marieke Napier, and Philip Hunter summarize each presentation at a July meeting in London to find ways for JISC to help advance the cause of OAI.

* In September, the JISC/DNER E-Book Working Group posted its paper on strategy and issues, written by Hazel Woodward and Louise Edwards, to the web.

* In the August issue of the _Journal of Digital Information_, David Miall and Teresa Dobson summarize research suggesting that readers are less able to concentrate and reflect when reading hypertext than when reading text without hyperlinks.


Catching up

* In April 2000, Ray Siemens and colleagues undertook a study of the use, perception, and credibility of electronic journals in Canada.  They based their analysis on published literature in North America and Europe and on questionnaires they sent to scholars, publishers, and university administrators.  Their reports are now online.

Ray Siemens, Introduction and overview

Jean-Claude Guédon, Peer review and imprint

Michael Best and Elizabeth Grove-White, Copyright issues

Alan Burk, James Kerr, and Andy Pope, Archiving and Text Fluidity / Version Control

* Jean-Claude Guédon's historical perspective on the digital revolution in scholarly publishing, and the commercial counter-revolution, is now online.  He concludes with five reasons to support the Open Archives Initiative and a call to librarians to play a central role in the continuing revolution.  The paper is a revised and enlarged version of a talk originally given at ARL's Creating the Digital Future Conference in Toronto in May.


Following up

* The URL I published last week for Audiobooksforfree.com worked when I wrote my article on it but didn't work the day I mailed the issue.  The site is getting more than two million hits per month and its database engine cannot handle the traffic.  The URL is not dead, just periodically dormant.  The company promises better service in three or four weeks.

* In the last issue I described the self-censorship practiced by several government agencies and private organizations.  In the October 9 _Search Day_, Chris Sherman reminds these agencies that much of scientific information they deleted because it might be useful to terrorists is cached by Google for all to retrieve and use.


Topica.com, the email host for this newsletter, will be down for maintenance for 24-26 hours starting tomorrow, October 13, at 8:00 am PDT (4:00 pm GMT).  If you visit the site e.g. to search or read back issues, don't be deterred by the "Under Maintenance" message.  Just come back later.  Sorry for the inconvenience.



If you plan to attend one of the following conferences, please share your observations with us through our discussion forum.

* IT in the Transformation of the Library
Milwaukee, October 11-14

* Collections & Access for the 21st Century Scholar:  A Forum to Explore the Roles of the Research Library
Washington, D.C., October 19-20

* Intellectual Property Rights in the Knowledge-Based Economy
Washington, D.C., October 22

* International Conference on Dublin Core and Metadata Applications 2001
Tokyo, October 22-26

* e-Book Lessons:  From Life-Cycle to User Experiences
Waltham, Massachusetts, October 23

* Fourth Meeting of the [NAS] Committee on Intellectual Property Rights (only parts are open to the public)
Washington, D.C., October 23-24

* Copyright Issues in the Electronic Age
Waltham, Massachusetts, October 29

* Paperless Publishing:  Peer Review, Production, and Publication
Washington, D.C., October 30

* The XML Revolution:  What Scholarly Publishers Need to know
Waltham, Massachusetts, November 1

* Information in a Networked World:  Harnessing the Flow
Washington D.C., November 2-8

* Electronic Book 2001:  Authors, Applications, and Accessibility
Washington D.C., November 5-7

* Content Summit 01:  Funding opportunities for European digital content on global networks
Zurich, November 7-9

* Internet Librarian 2001
Pasadena, November 6-8

* Setting Standards and Making it Real (on Digital Reference Services)
Orlando, November 12-13

* First Annual Meeting of the Text Encoding Initiative Consortium
Pisa, November 16-17

* ARL Workshop for Publishers:  Licensing Electronic Resources to Libraries:  Understanding Your Market
Philadelphia, November 19

* European Forum on Harmful and Illegal Cyber Content
Strasbourg, November 28

* Digital Media Revolution in the Americas
Pasadena, November 29 - December 1

* 4th International Conference of Asian Digital Libraries
Bangalore, December 10-12


The Free Online Scholarship Newsletter is supported by a grant from the Open Society Institute.


This is the Free Online Scholarship Newsletter (ISSN 1535-7848).

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Peter Suber

Copyright (c) 2001, Peter Suber

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