Re: Recent Comments by Albert Henderson

From: Albert Henderson <NobleStation_at_COMPUSERVE.COM>
Date: Mon, 18 Sep 2000 17:58:33 -0400

:on Fri, 15 Sep 2000 Ken Rouse <krouse_at_LIBRARY.WISC.EDU> relied on
many unfounded assumptions when he wrote

> 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.

        This contrast of commercial and association publishers
        is as mythical as the claims by graduates of private
        universities that they are better quality than those of
        state schools. It is the class struggle all over again.

        Is there a single reliable study of "bottom-line
        versus non-profit publishers with respect to quality

        Of course not. Nor have I read of any difference
        discerned by Garvey, Herring, Merton, and others
        who have studied peer review. Nor have I seen
        anything of the sort in the congresses sponsored
        by JAMA and BMJ in recent years.

> 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.

        That's not correct. The problem with associations is that
        the individuals who often dominate politics cannot tolerate
        "outsiders." Associations force new associations and journals
        into existence. Many "radicals" seek financial and business
        services from commercial publishers who see new ideas as
        opportunities. For example, American Institute of Electrical
        Engineers drove the followers of Marconi and Tesla to form
        the Institute of Radio Engineers. AIEE and IRE later merged
        becoming IEEE, but not without driving early programmers to
        form the Association of Computing Machinery. Another famous
        example: around 1970, the American Chemical Society decided
        to not start any new journals! That was their policy for 12
        years or so, until it became an embarassment. Commercial
        publishers addressed the demand for niche publications and
        attracted many editors and authors of the highest quality.

> 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.

        As if PHYSICAL REVIEW and AIP journals had high
        rejection rates and made no money. Really!!

        By painting an entire class of publishers as
        poorer quality you sully the reputations of not
        only well-respected editors but authors. Is there
        any objective evidence?

> 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.

        Another myth.

        Conferences and their proceedings are valuable. In
        some fields, particularly applied technology, they
        are the final word. They also appear more quickly
        BECAUSE of minimal review. Including them in a
        journal issue or supplement means they are indexed
        by the major information services and accessible
        to researchers who were unable to attend.

        In some ways, Rouse's position reminds me of the
        dairy industry 100 years ago. Only cream had value.
        It was delivered to creameries every week or two
        and often was old enough to grow hair. The nonfat
        milk was discarded or fed to animals. Like cream,
        only formal papers on mainstream topics have value
        to Rouse's library. The majority of information
        exchanges "would never be purchased." In my opinion,
        this is an outworn attitude that does not meet the
        needs of the research community for rapid information,
        conclusions that take topics in their entirety,
        syntheses, and rapid communications. Saving money in
        the library undercuts research and peer review,
        ultimately frustrating progress and investments
        in R&D.

        The industrial customers of journals, who are
        generally ignored in this forum, have an
        important influence on publishers. Many want
        a high degree of service with a strong focus
        on a particular topic. That includes bibliographies,
        abstracts, reviews, editorials, meeting notices,
        news, and conference proceedings.

Albert Henderson

Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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