Re: Information Exchange Groups (IEGs)

From: David Goodman <dgoodman_at_PHOENIX.PRINCETON.EDU>
Date: Sun, 19 Mar 2000 11:04:23 -0500

The absence of "rubbish" does indeed seem to be notable. In fact, it is my
memory that the papers as submitted were essentially identical to the
papers as finally published. the only paper that I can specifically
recollect as not being published in my area was one where
 the director of my lab, who was one of the editors of the major
journal in the field, could not figure out why it was never formally
I am told that the same is pretty much true of the existing preprint
groups--is there any formal analysis of this?

The distribution in the area I was working in was limited to the
primary investigators of NSF or NIH grants in the subject. Of
course, at that time
it was _relatively_ easier to get such a grant--the acceptance rate was
substantially higher than today.
I suspect that the senior people in any field of learning (or other
human activity, for that matter) are prone to
exaggerate the extent to which the field is democratic.
The publication of papers in formal journals sounds democratic--to those
of us in institutions with major research libraries, it is--on
a world-wide basis, the situation is very different.

David Goodman, Princeton University Biology Library 609-258-3235

On Sun, 19 Mar 2000, Jim Till wrote:

> On Mon, 13 Mar 2000, David Goodman wrote:
> > Two key objections to IEGs at the time were: 1. Their exclusive
> > nature. They were available only to a small group of laboratories.
> > 2. The extremely cumbersome method of distribution and inconvenient
> > format of the material. ...
> I've obtained a copy of David Green's article in International Science and
> Technology (renamed Science & Technology after 1967) in no. 65, May 1967,
> pp. 82-88. It's a very interesting article. For example, Green (who
> chaired IEG No. 1, on electron transfer and oxidative phosphorylation)
> noted that: "A group chairman was selected whose essential mandate was to
> ensure that every active worker in the field should become a member, and
> that communication between members should be maximized". He claimed that
> the "only qualification for membership was evidence that the applicant was
> an active worker in the field" and that "Of the 725 members of my group,
> 329 were resident outside the U.S., with 32 different countries
> represented". So, it appears that the IEGs (or, at least, IEG No. 1)
> tried *not* to be exclusive.
> Green also claimed that: "At least 90% of the important papers in my field
> were being processed through IEG No. 1 before the group was terminated".
> It appears that it wasn't the active workers in the field who were
> effectively excluded, it was those who might wish to make practical use of
> the contents of these important papers, for educational purposes, or for
> applied and developmental work (such as in clinical medicine, see, for
> example, an editorial about the IEGs, entitled 'Information exchange', in
> N. Engl. J. Med. 1967; 276 no. 4: 238-9).
> Another interesting quotation from Green's article: "In the early days,
> many believed that the IEG's [sic] would be outlets for a flood of
> rubbish. This flood never materialized [for IEG No. 1]. When
> communication is to be scrutinized by 700 or more experts, only a fool
> would risk presenting on [sic] inferior article or a potboiler. The
> quality of the communications was certainly no worse than the quality of
> articles found in the published literature, and this despite the absence
> of reviewing or editorial selection". [It should be noted that David
> Green, at that time, was co-director of the Institute for Enzyme Research
> at the University of Wisconsin, and was a leader in the field of IEG No.
> 1].
> Green did not name the "executive editors of five biochemical journals"
> who [at a meeting of the Commission of Editors of Biochemical Journals of
> the International Union of Biochemistry in Vienna on 10-11 September
> 1996], "decided to reject the publication of any article that had been
> distributed previously through IEG".
> However, they are identified in a letter by W.V. Thorpe published in
> Science (1967; 155 no. 3767, 10 March: 1195-6). They were some of the
> senior leaders in their fields:
> J.T. Edsall (J. Biol. Chem.)
> J.C. Kendrew (J. Mol. Biol.)
> H. Neurath (Biochem.)
> E.C. Slater (Biochim. Biophys. Acta.)
> W.V. Thorpe (Biochem. J.)
> A note in Nature ('Preprints made outlaws', Nature 1966; 212, 1 October:
> 4) about this meeting in Vienna, includes a comment that "the editors of
> six principal journals" agreed to make recommendations to their editorial
> boards that could "put IEG out of business". I've not been able to
> identify the sixth editor (if indeed there was a sixth). The two lethal
> recommendations were: 1) not to accept for publication preprints
> previously circulated through the IEGs, and, 2) not to allow papers
> already accepted for publication to be circulated in the IEG system.
> Green suggested, in his article, that: "In retrospect, it was not the
> failure, but rather the overwhelming success of the [IEG] experiment,
> which finally spelled its doom".
> A (tentative!) conclusion of my own: a majority of the IEGs were indeed
> probably too successful, both from the viewpoint of the editors of major
> journals (continuation of IEGs would reduce their prestige), and also from
> the perspective of NIH administrators (appropriate continuation of the
> IEGs, in adequate numbers, and supported by adequate reprinting
> facilities, would be quite costly).
> What does seem very clear is that several helpful lessons could be learned
> from a thorough and well-balanced evaluation of the IEG experiment.
> --Jim Till
> Ontario Cancer Insitute, and
> Joint Centre for Bioethics, University of Toronto
> Toronto, Canada
Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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