Re: The True Cost of the Essentials (Implementing Peer Review)

From: David Henige <dhenige_at_LIBRARY.WISC.EDU>
Date: Fri, 22 Sep 2000 15:01:44 -0400

Although a semi-outsider, I find the debate between Henderson and Rouse
fascinating, less for its contextual implications than for the character
of the argumentation itself. Let me first delcare two interests.
First, I work in the same library system as Ken Rouse; second, my field
is history and therefore well outside (whew!)some of the arguments being

Still, one does not need to be in the STM stable to recognize the
pointlessness of arguing respective "quality" here. Let's face it, even
the scientists would be unable to determine an "objective" set of
criteria to determine inherent "quality" and then to find an equally
objective method to apply it and finally to disseminate it. So, why

We have no choice in this instance then but to call "quality" a wash.
The question then becomes, if none of the antagonists can demonstrate
that they publish better quality materials than the others, why does one
party (guess who?) charge so much more for roughly the same
merchandise. It almost induces one to think of the word "monopoly,"
doesn't it?

And it is just here of course the other Q word comes into play. While
not one usually to sing the praises of quantification, here it can
legitimately serve as a tie-breaker. This, I gather, is the burr that
abrades certain parties in the dispute. Regardless of the "bias" of
Prof. Barschall, several courts at least have shown that his
quantitative methodology is sound. After all, we all recognize that the
Chicago Cubs' announcers are Cub-friendly, and this might affect their
read on various things. But it hardly affects onfield play. In other
words, bias is not necessarily a fatal flaw. If it were, we all would
"know" even less than skeptics imagine we know.

Even an outsider can only be amused by Henderson's attempt to portray
the terms of the debate as those of "class struggle." And the outsider
might be tempted to laugh out loud at the notion that the downtrodden
commercial publishers represent the underclass, or, in terms of "class
struggle," the proletariat. Desperately frivolous statements like this
can only have the effect of destroying whatever credibility there might
otherwise be in a given argument.

Personally, I think it is much too kind to argue (per Rouse) that the
commercial publishers altruistically stepped in when they perceived a
failure of nerve on the part of academic publishers. To be sure, they
were quicker off the mark, more attuned to the spoor of the dollar, but
it is a matter of blaming scholarly organizations (and not just those in
STM) for shortsightedness. It is time to correct the prescription by
seeking aggressively to recapture what the scholarly community gave up
without a struggle so many years ago.

Henderson notes that "[c]ommercial publishers . . . attracted many
editors and authors of the highest quality." What is missing from his
formulation are the reasons for this. Could we have more details? 1099

Finally, Henderson speaks of the "embarassment [sic]" that scholarly
organizations must have felt at the inability to keep pace with the
demands of the publish-or-perish system. Maybe they did--or maybe they
just hoped to stem the tide of more and more about less and less.
Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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