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

From: Ransdell, Joseph M. <ransdell_at_DOOR.NET>
Date: Thu, 6 May 1999 10:06:40 -0500

After carefully studying Stevan's response to Anne Buck's letter of
clarification about the Scholars Forum Proposal, and his subsequent
posts as well, I still find myself in complete agreement with both his
critical and his positive points, and am left only with the questions I
had earlier:

   FIRST, about what, EXACTLY, the proposal is going to be as regards
copyright policy in particular, and,

   SECOND, about whether the proponents of the proposal will be willing
to have it scaled back as far as Stevan urges, and if so what would be
left of it.

I think what is wanted as regards copyright is clear enough, though, and
I am only concerned with the second question here. And I will focus in
the present post on only one point in this connection, namely, that
Stevan is quite correct in saying that the idea of the Consortium having
an administrative function of the sort described in the Proposal must be
abandoned, and this not only because it is simply impertinent to the
problem, as he points out, but also because there is no possibility that
such a system of support could actually be established, for reasons I
will point out below. If the Proposal is still to include the idea of
forming a Consortium as basic, then the task of the Consortium has to be

(I take it that this is what Stevan is urging, in effect, in his laconic
description of the Proposal as an "archival initiative"; but I will
reserve for another message a suggestion about how that might be fleshed
out more intuitively and substantially in the interest of assuring or
re-assuring the proponents of the original Proposal that there is
something in this which is worth their further efforts. For I don't see
that they have enough reason to think so given only what has been said
thus far.)

The original Proposal is for the creation of a new administrative
system, with librarial and computer service components, at an
organizational level constituted formally by a Consortium of individual
universities, which would oversee, facilitate, and regulate academic
publication processes according to a new model of publication which
takes appropriate advantage of the potentialities of computer-based
networking. The idea is, I take it, that after the basic bugs of the
new system have been worked out in connection with a few cases which
would illustrate it nicely, there would be a publicizing of the system
as providing the facilities for publication processes embodying a new
paradigm, called "The New Model", and the member universities would then
make use of such persuasive resources as they have at their disposal to
attract the editors of existing journals of a reputable sort to use the
Consortium facilities with the permission of its administrators and to
encourage reputable faculty interested in starting up new journals to
locate themselves under the auspices of the Consortium and make use of
the facilities as well. Although universities of great prestige have
correspondingly great powers of making people offers they are unlikely
to refuse, there would seem to be no need to resort to high-pressure
tactics in persuading the right sort of people, already in leading roles
as editors of journals, to come on board what would be, in effect, The
Prestige Express, and there would seem to be no reason for those who
support their journals as readers and contributors to hesitate about
going along with this as well since there is no change in basic
editorial policy entailed by it. This done -- the most prestigious of
the journals now being based in the Consortium -- it would probably be
more a matter of establishing waiting lists for the privilege of coming
on board than of doing any more persuading.

I try to capture in the above what I think the proponents of the
original Proposal might reasonably feel to be the prospects for such an
enterprise because it seems to me that Stevan's point that existing
journals don't need to be subsumed under such an arrangement because
they are already doing a good job might mistakenly be brushed aside as
impertinent on the grounds that the question isn't whether they are
doing okay but whether they are making any moves to go online properly,
and since there is little indication that they are, why shouldn't the
prestige of the universities forming the Consortium be used to persuade
them to get on board The Prestige Express and get the migration to the
internet started at last?

I don't know how Stevan would answer that, though I don't doubt that he
is prepared to do so; but my own suggestion is that it all sounds very
good except for one thing: it is bound to occur to the rank and file of
faculty, when they understand what is happening, that academic
publication in the US is being brought under institutional
administrative control as regards its content in a way that it has never
before been controlled in this country, and the more cynical of them
will have a field day in drawing Orwellian comparisons, some of which
might in fact turn out in due time to be quite just. Now, I don't wish
to engage in any such polemics here, but I do not believe that even the
great prestige of the member universities of such a Consortium would be
capable of stopping the tongues of the critics, and that those journal
editors who didn't think it through clearly beforehand and agreed to
such an arrangement initially, with the best of intentions, will quickly
perceive that getting out of it fast is their first priority.

I suppose the response to this objection might be to say that the
Consortium can be formed under the understanding that there will be no
prejudice involved in the recognition of editorial boards which it will
support, and no control over content except such as the boards are
already providing. But what could this mean in practice? That the
Consortium will support every editorial board that requests support? Is
the Prestige Express going to be so tolerant as to allow journals
on-board which its directors believe to be potentially or actually
damaging to its prestige? I don't think so. The very thing that gives
the Consortium its clout -- the prestige of the member universities --
insures that it will pursue exclusionary policies that can and will be
construed as nothing more than power strategies of the elite for
eliminating contradicting voices by discrediting them as of inferior
rank and worth. There is no way around this, so far as I can see. The
Consortium must make choices about who to support and who not to support
and these are the choices of the privileged avowedly in the interest of
the superior, who can hardly be adjudged superior while at the same time
being recognized to be at odds in their standards with the people doing
the choosing; and thus with every choice the Consortium contributes to
the development of a continually expanding class of outraged enemies,
discredited as inferiors by exclusion, not to speak of contributing to a
continually growing class of sycophants as well.

The only way to save the idea of the Consortium, as far as I can see, is
to abandon the idea that it has any administrative or managerial tasks
in connection with the journals or editorial boards and reconceive it
instead on the model of a TASK FORCE whose task it is to do what is in
its power to encourage the migration on-line of scholarly/scientific
publication by encouraging and supporting the people who are interested
in making that sort of move, doing what is best in the particular case,
guided not by the idea that arrangements are to be made to support the
prestigious -- who need no support and who will rarely believe that they
have anything to gain by change -- but rather by the idea that those who
are genuinely interested in extending their fields or disciplines in the
direction of international networking are to be supported and protected
in their attempts to do so. To do this effectively the Consortium task
force would have to do something which nobody has done at all, so far as
I know, which is to start thinking about what the life of academic
faculty in this country is actually like in order to see why nothing
much is really happening now.

I won't belabor this further in the present message, though, because the
important thing to get clear on at this point, in my opinion, is that
the original idea of the Consortium as being the basis for a new level
of administrative control must be abandoned because it has no possible
future. In a further message I will sketch out a few things intended
mainly as supplemental to Stevan's basic conception of the Proposal as
an archive initiative, which I take to imply that the Consortium itself
should be conceived as having the function of a task force (or something
of that sort) rather than as a new and super-ordinate administrative
control system along the lines described in the original Proposal.

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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