Re: Journals are Quality Certification Brand-Names

From: Ransdell, Joseph M. <ransdell_at_DOOR.NET>
Date: Wed, 2 Jun 1999 19:04:09 -0500

This is a comment occasioned by what Arthur Smith said -- more of the
nature of a qualification than an objection -- about taking due account
of the costs that are implicit in authors doing their own archiving,
publishing, etc.:

> But what is worse is that people who would otherwise be doing research and
> teaching, or who would otherwise be support staff enabling those crucial
> activities, are now engaged in the work of publishing to the detriment of the
> time available for teaching and research.

Let me explain why I think this might have to be qualified. One of the
things I had to learn the hard way is that doing network development
work (which I understand to be doing a variety of sorts of construction
of publication and communication facilities and practices, including the
development of a telecommunity of users of the facilities) is not
activity of a sort which people in the humanities usually know how to
relate to because it does not fit into any of the categories of activity
they take for granted as they understand them: teaching, research,

But we have to start with something more basic to understand what is
happening in this respect. Outside of the hard sciences, there is
little or no reward for any work done in network development in so far
as it concerns research in particular, as distinct from teaching. (In
spite of the fact that a research faculty can never be persuaded to
change their professional lives in order to improve the teaching
situation -- that approach has been tried for nearly two decades now and
produced negligible results -- this is where all of the rewards and
incentives have been and still are.) To change the faculty you have to
change their lives as researchers and, of course, networking now offers
marvellous opportunities to do that for people in every field. But to
do that, basic network development by professors themselves must be done
because the basic tools, chiefly in the form of websites with the
relevant facilities for purposes of research, have to be built.
(Document archives are essential but by no means all that is required to
attract people into networking practices, as far as the humanities

But who is to build them? Obviously it must be the profs in the various
fields and areas of research who know what sort of site to build, what
sort of facilities and resources it should contain, and so forth,
because they understand the problematics, the aims, and the mores of the
field. You can't just call up an expert website builder in computer
service and say "Build me a website!" because they don't know what is
and is not important for this and that field and discipline. Only the
active inquiring members of these fields can do this, and it has to be
done experimentally, not from a single a priori vision of what is wanted
or needed.

Question: is this sort of development activity research work? Let me
add another question to that. If in a given science you have to have an
instrument of a certain sort in order to proceed further in your
inquiries in that field, do the scientists call up an expert instrument
builder and say "Build us an instrument that does such and such and let
us know when you are finished. Thanks." I don't think so. An
instrument of inquiry in the sciences is surely crafted out on the basis
of theoretical and experimental understanding of the state of inquiry in
that field at that time and of the problems which its use promises to
solve, and brought to some minimum state of perfection over some period
of time in which it is still under construction. I know that Charles
Peirce, a philosopher-scientist whom I am especially interested in,
built his own pendulums when he was working as a geodesist, helping to
perfect the pendulum itself as a geodesic instrument in doing so, and
built a number of other instruments as needed. I don't see how it would
be possible to hire an outsider who was simply an instrument maker to
come in and build the instrument. It must be that even now scientists
who are themselves on the leading edge take some time out to cooperate
in constructing the instrument, maybe not literally putting it together
physically but at least overseeing everything going into it that is of
any importance.

So is that research? I really don't know how this is handled in
physics, say, and the question is a genuine one to Arthur Smith or
whoever else wants to respond to it. Is it a part of a research agenda
or is the construction of "mere" instruments regarded simply as time
wasted professionally, something best done by others, so that the
scientists who are involved in it are regarded as doing something other
than what they really should be doing as researchers?

Well, I can tell you that in the humanities they don't know what to make
of work on instruments at all because the instruments of humanistic
research are all of the nature of texts or facilities for producing and
accessing texts. The technology of the paper text is, in other words,
the equivalent of the technologies of the particle accelerator and
laboratory instruments in general in the hard sciences. Books and other
such bearers of print are the instruments of observation for the
humanities. But the technology of the book, as paper-embodied test,
was developed into its final or near final form so long back that it
never occurs to humanists that the various forms of texts and the
organization of libraries and publishing facilities are their
instruments, and so the humanists naturally assume that when it finally
does come that is time to disturb their routines and go on the internet
in a serious way -- there is no serious involvement with it now, by and
large -- it really is just a matter of calling computer service and
saying "Okay, we've got a little spare time to make the move. Fix us up
with a website with whatever we need -- the librarians can probably help
you on that -- and then give us a call when you are finished and we'll
make the move then. Many thanks!"

Another way of putting this would be to say that the humanists regard
the computer service people and librarians as their servants -- I don't
think that will come as a shock to librarians, at least -- and
consequently do not regard it as quite seemly, really, for one of their
own to be doing this sort of thing. I am not personally complaining, by
the way. My departmental colleagues treat me with due respect and
regard my networking activity as something they should approve of, and
they do, but that is because they know me and trust me personally, not
because they understand that what I am doing really is a part of my
research agenda. How could it be? Purely instrumental work of that
sort is essentially the work of a servant, subprofessorial in type,
excusable in my special case because of the special considerations they
are aware of in connection with the scholarly material I am concerned
about, but there is no generalized understanding there. I am in fact
one of the fortunate few in academia who has been able to put other
things aside and do network development and not get trashed for my
trouble. It has cost me, but what it has cost me I can afford. But no
non-tenured prof can do that, and by the time people get tenure,
whatever idealistic visions they might once have had that would lead
them into something like network development are usually long

This is why nothing changes in much of academia except at an
unacceptably glacial pace. Indeed, I see something of a reactionary
resistance to it developing, if anything. The faculty cannot normally
put ANY time in on what they would have to do if the transition to
networking as part of their daily professional activity were to take
hold. Only a handful of protected mavericks can do that sort of thing,
and there are not enough of us to make any real difference. The point
of the present message is to pinpoint only one of what may actually be a
number of different hidden roadblocks on the path to the realization of
the potentialities of networking. In this case it is the assumption
that network development activity, which I understand to include the
technical side of publication, falls below the range of acceptable
activity in the academic field.

Now, back to Arthur's remark quoted above. My earlier point was that I
am fairly sure -- but I put it as a question -- that Arthur would regard
instrument building as a respectable part of research, or at least as a
respectable part of the activity of a researcher, in contrast with the
situation in the humanities where the instrument builder is not regarded
as doing anything appropriate to a professor at all because the
awareness that building the basis for textual publication is comparable
to constructing scientific instruments is completely missing. But I
now want to raise a further question about the sciences. Is the
building of communications instruments (e.g. publication facilities,
etc.) actually different in type from building laboratory research
instruments? Is the communicational process of the working scientist
something apart from the actual activity of inquiry so that the
instruments of communication are NOT instruments of observation of the
subject-matter? For example, are the physicists who observe what went
on at the Fermilab in the research for the top quark, say, only those
who were actually there? Are all the rest, who learn of it only through
the Ginsparg archive, say, cut off in a logical sense from the
observations there? Is the difference really that fundamental or is it
even a difference of logical importance at all? Or is it true, rather,
that the Ginsparg archive is also an instrument of observation -- an
instrument enabling observation of experimental results to feed into the
thought and behavior of the community of physicists -- much as the
humanist's books are instruments of observation of their
subject-matter? The use of what is observed is very different, but that
is not the point, it seems to me.

 If that is so -- and of course you may not agree that it is -- then it
seems questionable that you should assume that the physicist who devotes
some time to developing the instruments of communication, e.g. those who
develop the Ginsparg archive, or the physicist who, in order to use the
archive must take responsibility for certain aspects of publication
which others could be doing (such as publishers), is doing something
that is somehow not a part of the proper activity of the physicist as
such, which seems to me implicit in what you are saying. I don't mean
to quibble or misrepresent your intention by exaggeration. I understand
your point, and of course one wants to turn over everything merely
menial to others to free people up to do focus on their talent and
vocation, but isn't there something amiss in the way you are drawing
that distinction between what is and what is not a part of research?
The humanists don't realize it but they have lost an enormous part of
their powers as researchers by refusing to take responsibility for their
professional instruments by denigrating concern with the instrumental as
such to a status below the professional level. This has left them
staring dumbly at the web screen saying: "What is that all about? What
does that have to do with me?"

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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