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

From: Albert Henderson <NobleStation_at_COMPUSERVE.COM>
Date: Mon, 25 Sep 2000 22:24:23 -0400

ON Fri, 22 Sep 2000 David Henige <dhenige_at_LIBRARY.WISC.EDU>
asked some good questions:

> 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
> made.
> 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
> bother?

        Clearly, the norms of science require objective
        criteria such as a documented foundation, appropriate
        methodology, logical conclusions, understandable writing.
        Mathematics must be provable. Once accepted for publication,
        a paper continues to be read and the work evaluated.

        Insofar as dissemination, some say that channels targeted
        to special interests are more effective than those
        that deliver lots of unwanted material. Others emphasize
        economies of scale. Each argument has some merit and
        each type of channel may be more appropriate than
        alternatives in certain circumstances.

> 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.

        That's a fair question, asked and answered many
        times over. The first part of the answer is in
        the level of service and the size of circulation
        that diffuses first-copy costs. A journal published
        for 100 customers will cost them each more than a
        journal published for 1,000 costs each of its
        subscribers, although the total first copy cost may
        be the same. The second part is that it is never
        "roughly the same merchandise," however, as a close
        inspection would reveal.

It almost induces one to think of the word "monopoly,"
> doesn't it?
        When a corporation prepares a literature review for
        internal use, it is not only a monopoly but a trade
        secret. Copyright and patents are monopolies, just
        like other property. Such monopolies attract
        investment and are therefore sufficiently in the
        public interest to be supported by the Constitution.

> 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.

        It is as sound as a mathematical proof. But is it
        relevant? What court has said it is a reliable basis
        for purchase, renewals, etc??? Judge Sand's opinion
        certainly raised a red flag.

> 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.

        The problem with Barschall is that, as a Director
        of AIP, he covertly represented the interests of
        a major physics publisher. By having him on your
        library committee, your boss put a fox in charge of
        the chicken coop.

        Barschall parlayed that opportunity into claims of
        "scientific findings," awards from various library
        associations, etc. In the process, he abused the
        ITALIAN PHYSICAL SOCIETY mercilessly -- perhaps
        stemming from some old rivalry. Bias or not, his
        workmanship was incredibly sloppy. He claimed, for
        instance, to find the averages of non-existent
        numbers! Any twelve-year-old knows better. [read
        more in my article "Lawful Misconduct" in THE
        SCIENTIST 12,2 p. 7-8 Jan 19, 1998]
> Even an outsider can only be amused by Henderson's attempt to portray
> the terms of the debate as those of "class struggle."

        Yes, thanks. I thought the idea was ironically amusing,
        given that neither public universities nor commercial
        publishers think of themselves in terms of "class struggle."
        The term is certainly apt when you consider the hubris of
        elitism that goes with the undeserved abuse meant to
        compete and deprive the victims of opportunities.

> 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.

        Thanks for proving my earlier point. Your last assertion
        is an example of those petty "class struggle" myths based
        on (and requiring) ignorance of the facts.

        History documents rather clearly that commercial publishers,
        starting with Henry Oldenburg, have always been important,
        valued members of the scientific community. Even the vaunted
        PHYSICAL REVIEW was first published by Macmillan, well before
        the American Physical Society was founded. Any doubt about
        this will be resolved by examining the first 100 years of
        Elsevier, Akademische Verlagsgesellschaft (ancestor of
        Academic Press) also come to mind as having imprints with
        historical precedence.

> 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
> forms?

        The answer is that when proponents of novel research
        are snubbed and shunned by their colleagues, they
        are welcomed by commercial publishers who are willing
        to underwrite expenses for years before seeing a
        profit. What other options, short of starting their
        own association, do they have? Many new commercial
        journals simply represent the failure of associations
        to address the needs of their members.

        No 1099s needed.

> 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.

        What I meant was that the policy of not starting
        any new journals became an embarrassment (thank
        you so much for the spell check) for the American
        Chemical Society when other publishers' new
        ventures provoked loyal members. The members
        probably demanded to know why ACS was sitting on
        the sidelines while important data was being
        disseminated by its "competitors." Wouldn't you?

        My impression was that ACS had suffered from the
        political influence of editors who thought they
        could monopolize editorial power and finesse the
        librarians who were complaining not only about the
        general proliferation of new journals but about ACS's
        two-tier pricing!
        Universities would easily keep pace with the demands
        of R&D if they would recognize that libraries are a
        part of science and budget accordingly. When they have
        done this it worked. Several hundred years of library
        growth kept pace with the exponential doubling of
        journal articles until the Faustian bargain was made,
        turning management of higher education over to
        non-faculty professionals.

        When universities fail to budget adequately for libraries,
        as they have since 1970, they simply make the research
        community miserable. Are the larger university profits and
        administrative expansion worth the trouble? Yes, of course
        they are -- but only to the management team. What does an
        administrator care about the troubles of researchers,
        librarians, and publishers? What influence does the academic
        senate have any more?

        Thanks for reading my text and for your comments.

Albert Henderson

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

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