Re: Scholar's Forum: A New Model For Scholarly Communication

From: Ransdell, Joseph M. <ransdell_at_DOOR.NET>
Date: Wed, 28 Apr 1999 18:31:26 -0500

Larry Hurtado says:

>But we need to legitimize and make fully respectable internet
>refereed vehicles. How to do that? How do we get academia to
>get on board? How to we get heads of depts and tenure/promotion
>committees, univ. V-Ps, research grant bodies, etc., to see
>publications in refereed internet vehicles as in principle and
>eventually in fact as significant publication as the known paper

I suggest that although professional legitimization is a necessary
condition and an important one, it is not in itself sufficient, and want
to point out that Steven has already shown how that is to be done, both
through his own activity as an on-line developer and through his
discussion of peer review in general in many different papers. But
legitimation is not something that can be globally established at a
single stroke, as it were, and on the level of general administration.
Legitimization is discipline-specific, and even that describes it too
broadly: it is something that is established at the level of
professional organization which is usually referred to as "areas" (as in
"area of specialization") or "fields".

I don't think these units can be strictly defined or delimited in
practice, but academicians typically do identify themselves with some
special interest or range of interests in common with a number of others
whom they regard as their special peers and with the communicational
media in service to those particular interests (usually including but
not necessarily limited to journals). When the professional colleagues
who mediate the communication in that area by editing, refereeing,
arranging, and otherwise organizing communication within the area go
on-line, the people who identify themselves with that area will go
on-line with them, and the figures who are leading the migration will
legitimate it because they are already regarded as legitimate.
Legitimization is essentially a grass-roots phenomenon, and it cannot be
brought into existence by any sort of top-down management strategy. It
is not a matter of whether it should be or not: scholarly and scientific
legitimization CANNOT be established by any sort of top-down
administrative arrangement.

Thus when you ask "How do we get academia to get on board", and then
specify that further as getting "heads of depts and tenure/promotion
committees, univ. V-Ps, research grant bodies, etc., to see publications
in refereed internet vehicles as in principle and eventually in fact as
significant publication as the known paper vehicles?" the problem is
being stated in a way that makes it insoluble because it suggests that
we can and should do something that will persuade these people of its
legitimacy. I don't know whom you mean by "we", but that is not the
task, in any case. The task is for us -- you, me, and other faculty
taken singly -- to move what is legitimate on-line insofar as we are
personally in position to do so or to assist in doing so and leave it to
all of these people you mention to recognize legitimacy when they see
it, as they will, since it will already be familiar to them. They
legitimize nothing and the faculty is not required to legitimate itself
to them (except insofar as they are themselves faculty), but only in the
eyes of professional colleagues. This is not an insult to administrators
-- who are, after all, faculty themselves -- but a simple fact about
intellectual life, and it is implicit in the very idea of peer review,
by the way. The task of legitimization is first of all a faculty task,
not an administrative one, and it is a piece-meal task of migration,
area by area, not one that can be globally conceived according to any
general formula.

This is perhaps substantially the same as what Stevan was getting at in
his dismissal of the elaborate managerial arrangements for legitimating
new journals and the like and pointed out that the existing journals are
doing okay. Or perhaps he had something else in mind. I leave that for
him to say. But, in any case, the problem is not primarily an
administrative problem but a faculty problem. We have to do it
ourselves, one by one, insofar as we have any power to do that or to
encourage that. There is indeed something that the administration can
do, but it is not by devising a new scheme of managerial control but
rather by devising ways of providing support for the faculty who are
willing and able to do what they can to move their professional life
on-line. That has not been happening thus far in American academia, and
that is one reason why so little has been happening at the faculty level
as regards making a transition to networking.

I will not go into detail here about why faculty are so little prone to
move their activities on-line at present other than to point out that
there has to be some concrete professional motive for this particular
person here and that particular person there to go to the trouble of
going on-line, something that is discipline- or area-specific that
requires it. As a friend of mine in mathematics put it, "I'll re-tool
when I have a new task that requires it." Now, for almost any area
there probably are in fact many reasons for going on-line, but these
reasons have to be concretely relevant area by area, and they have to
relate to what are already problems in the field to which going on-line
is a solution.

To be sure, there are some general considerations that might apply in
many areas. For example, in many humanities fields the lack of jobs in
the past couple of decades in this country has resulted in the
distribution of talented young Ph.D.'s across the country to many small
colleges at remote places where they have heavy teaching loads and no
travel money and become lost to the profession as regards any continuing
communication with their colleagues, national and international, and
anyone who supposes that this loss is negligible because the best got
good jobs is . . . let me just say wrong. Indeed, there are many who
have left higher education altogether and work in all sorts of places
now. The establishing of network arrangements that could bring such
people back into vital contact with their field could generate such an
increase in productivity, if productivity is what is wanted, that the
time and expense involved in doing it would be negligible in
comparison. To do this effectively would require that the journals and
other communicational media go on-line properly, among other things, but
that, too, is not a matter of much expense except for the professional
time involved in developing on-line facilities.

Now, it is an open question as to how many journal editors and others
would be willing to put their time into this, but I am confident that
some would, and if it is not being done now it is because there is no
support for it anywhere to speak of, whether it be financial or in terms
of academic status or prestige. Who gets any reward for a mere
professional service function? Indeed, who can think in terms of
professional service knowing that any time put in on that is almost
certainly going to be cause for punishment for failing to produce
routine publications instead? The administration could do something
about this sort of thing, for example, if it realized that it is not a
matter of instituting a new administrative unit or defining a new kind
of job but simply of providing protective support for individuals who do
have some sense of professional service but never have opportunity to
practice it. There are many, many ways in which the paper-embodied word
has limited us, but it will take people in the various special fields to
figure out what, specifically, the powers of networked communication can
do to compensate for those limitations. Little of this will be done,
though, as long as there is no accommodation made for it. The
administration could enable this, but again, only so long as it is
understood that what is wanted is protective support, not administrative
control and planning.

I'll stop with the following point, of immediate importance here. The
single most important reason why nothing is happening in the faculty yet
as regards migration on-line is that administration has not yet come
down in the right way and with definiteness of intent on the question of
copyright. Nothing truly worthwhile can be done on-line until we gain
the power to put our work on-line without first having to get
permissions (when we can get them), or else run the risk of lawsuits.
Nor is it limited to that. There is also very real reason to be unsure
of one's own university deciding, without further ado, that the
development work one has done is theirs to dispose of as they will.
Issues like this in connection with intellectual property rights come up
again and again now and they are NOT being resolved in favor of the
author. Until these things are resolved and in the author's or
developer's favor there will be occasional websites of interest and use,
but mostly it will just stay as alien to academia as it is at present.

Joseph Ransdell  <> or <>
Dept of Philosophy   Texas Tech Univ.  Lubbock TX 79409
(806)  742-3158 office    797-2592 home    742-0730 fax
ARISBE:Peirce Telecommunity
Received on Wed Feb 10 1999 - 19:17:43 GMT

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