There are two little problems: truth and authority. Academic journals aspire, or maybe pretend, to both. They assert claims to both, explicitly and tacitly. Tacitly, we collectively, the readership, pursuing REF ranking, promotion, reputation or maybe simply learning, grant journals their aspiration or conspire in the myth.
Truth and authority, as concepts, are open to debate, what they are, their ontologies and what they mean (or know), their epistemologies. Epistemology is an effort to give legitimacy and currency to a particular truth. That is epistemology is about establishing authority to tell truth. But if truth were obvious we wouldn’t need such an apparatus.
In their policy on authorial self-archiving Springer, for example, say:
the author may only post his/her version provided acknowledgement is given to the original source of publication and a link is inserted to the published article on Springer’s website…
Prior versions of the article published on non-commercial pre-print servers like arXiv.org can remain on these servers and/or can be updated with the author’s accepted version. The final published version (in PDF or HTML/XML format) cannot be used for this purpose. Acknowledgement needs to be given to the final publication and a link should be inserted to the published article on Springer’s website, by inserting the DOI number of the article in the following sentence: “The final publication is available at Springer via http://dx.doi.org/[insert DOI]”.
This assertion of finality, closure — end-of — is a claim to authority. There may be other versions about but this one is more something? Is it more true than others? Maybe something got lost in a final redaction that seemed unimportant at the time. Maybe the author added the sentence back to the article version on their own website. Authority, simply, is claimed by Springer to rent that small square of epistemic territory for at least 12 months (the embargo). And, that rent ultimately funds the global apparatus of intellectual property rights, much of which has little to do with truth and everything to do with power: resources backed by force.
Is this what publishing a journal is about? Resources backed by force? For what? Springer can make a claim for longevity and archiving that these days few universities could match. Storage, cataloguing, searching and retrieving unique authoritative versions of something (truth?) are not trivial functions. It takes armies of clerics (clerks) or other bots to comb the registries and storage. I recently stumbled back across a project report I produced in 2009, that I feared was lost to one paper copy and maybe an old hard drive sitting on a shelf because the purchased hosting provider timed out when the url registry was acquired by another and that £12/year cost got forgotten. But much that was said in the report remains (I assert) true and authoritative. Can we rely on Google to provide global archiving, search and discovery for ever? Even if the article or report persists somewhere will any current address last for even 10 years let alone a lifetime or millennium? Could we rely on our University? Have truth and authority been replaced by what can be discovered now? Given so much can be discovered now, do we need longevity among our criteria for determining authority? My next post might have to address making it across the great extinction barrier.
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