Recent Comments by Albert Henderson

From: Ken Rouse <krouse_at_LIBRARY.WISC.EDU>
Date: Fri, 15 Sep 2000 10:37:32 -0400

In a recent communication (9-11-00) Albert Henderson defended the role of
traditional print publishers as the guarantors of quality control. In so
doing he did acknowledge that "Publishers could do more to speed their
processes and improve their standards." This is doubtless true of all
publishers in some degree, but what's missing is any mention of the very
distinct records of bottom-line versus non-profit publishers with respect to
quality control. Since Mr. Henderson, I understand, is a frequent consultant
for for-profit publishers the omission is perhaps not so surprising. There
is no doubt but what quality control has been a major concern of the
non-profit, largely society publishers since they were founded. I would
argue in fact that their fixation on quality when their journals were
overwhelmed by the tremendous expansion of STM research after 1950 or so
was a significant factor leading to the current crisis in scholarly
communication. In their determination to publish only the best, they
failed to respond to the need for new outlets for new and expanding fields.
Enter the commercial publishers. Let's give credit where it's due. The new
commercial journals fulfilled a real need and for a time they were even
great bargains, but an inherent conflict of interest soon became apparent
in many cases. The for-profits could not help but notice that the more
they published, the more money they made. Sorry to say, this had serious
implications for quality control. To be sure, there are a number of
commercial journals which maintain very high standards. In general these
tend to be journals that are associated with a society whose reputation is
invested in the continuing quality of the publication. Unfortunately,
there are many more examples of high cost commercial titles of very mixed
quality. Particularly offensive are those that contain a high percentage of
conference proceedings, many of which would never be purchased by libraries
if they had any choice in the matter. Various contributors to this forum
have commented on the resistance of scientists in some fields (chemistry,
for example) to Steven Harnad's proposals for exploiting internet
technology to "free" the scholarly literature. A modest way to begin
breaking down that resistance, I believe, might be the following: the
establishment by professional societies of servers that would make all the
conference papers produced at their meetings freely available electronically
to all who need them--and in a timely fashion! This would pre-empt the
present one year or more lag in the publication of conference papers in
print journals.
Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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