Re: Elsevier Science Policy on Public Web Archiving Needs Re-Thinking

From: Albert Henderson <> <harnad_at_COGSCI.SOTON.AC.UK>
Date: Fri, 25 Sep 1998 16:55:25 -0400

On 24 Sep 1998 Tony Barry <> wrote:

> There is a more fundamental question which relates to the concept of a
> "final version". We are so used to the static nature of print that we have
> ingrained into us the concept that a publication _should_ be finalised.
> Electronic publications increasingly are not. Those publications which had
> loose leaf updates or periodic new editions (Handbooks, encyclopedias etc)
> have moved to evolving databases. We have changed our approach of being
> able to accept errors in a such a print product with the expectation that
> it would be fixed in a new edition, to a much more critical view of errors
> in an online document as we expect them to be amenable to correction.

There is a long tradition of errors, errata and unrecalled books. The
most influential that I know of is Derek de Solla Price's SCIENCE SINCE
BABYLON (Yale, 1961) which broadcast the Malthusian nightmare that if
growth of electrical engineering continued to double every 15 years or
so, "the whole working population should be employed in this one field
as early as 1990." (p. 177 in my 1975 enlarged edition) Price's
population and manpower figures were completely out of whack -- totally
unrelated to actual manpower statistics. The point was never retracted
although his next book called for a new approach to the science of

In the meantime, Price's diseases of science ideas have stuck to many
readers -- scientists whose critical faculties were never trained to
evaluate a sociological analysis -- and I have seen them time and

One of the quoters, surprisingly, was Daniel Bell in THE COMING OF POST
INDUSTRIAL SOCIETY. (Basic Books. 1971.) On page 181, Bell quotes
Price's example almost verbatim, not realizing that the projection
would encompass less than 8 million people by 1990 -- far less than
"the entire working population."

Bell spends some time with Price's theory but not his touch with

Price proposed some new theories in BIG SCIENCE LITTLE SCIENCE
(Columbia U. P. 1963) but never to my knowledge retracted or discussed
his innumerate calculation in print.

In the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Yearbook, David L Goodstein
demonstrates his familiarity with Price's first idea but not his later
writing. (1995)

Yale is still printing and selling the error. Why not?
It gives critics and scholars something to debate.

Received on Tue Aug 25 1998 - 19:17:43 BST

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