Re: Recent Comments by Albert Henderson

From: david henige <dhenige_at_LIBRARY.WISC.EDU>
Date: Mon, 2 Oct 2000 10:06:10 -0500

Henderson begins his reply by describing "documented," "appropriate,"
"logical," and "understandable" as "objective" notions. At the risk of
seeming postmodern, I will have to argue that *not one of them* can be
"objective" either in the sense that they mean the same thing to every
observer or that they account for every consideration. The facile
notion that "scientific" and "objective" are interchangeable terms is, I
believe, no longer commonplace even in the scientific community.

The argument about economies of scale certainly has been bruited here,
there, and everywhere, but pardon me if I find it nonsensical. For over
twenty-five years I have edited a journal that has a circulation of less
than 500; it runs to about 500 pages per annual issue and costs
subscribers less than $40 an issue. Why? Simple; most of the
preprinting work is provided FREE because of a belief the the
dissemination of knowledge and argument should not be a bottom-line

The real question is not economies of scale but economy AND scale. For
instance, what are the costs that are debited to a particular journal
and are they as low as they can be (which brings up other issues that I
discuss below).

As to the "relevance" of Barschall's conclusions, let that be determined
by the varied and various reactions of interested parties.

Henderson 's complaint is that Barschall "covertly" represented an
interested party. Secrecy is a dangerously two-edged concept for the
commercial publishers to bring into play here. For my part, and as a
historian interested in why and how things happen, I would very much
like to see following:

1/ financial details concerning the costs--necessary and otherwise--of
all the higher-priced journals published in the commercial sphere

2/ correspondence and 1099 forms (oh yes, they are neede!) for and
between commercial publishers, editors, and members of editorial boards
concerning remuneration in order to determine whether such expenses are
appropriate and necessary--to use a couple of loaded terms.

3/ the results--and the underlying methodology--of any tests carried out
by commercial publishers, particularly any that have been subjected to
the same scrutiny as Barschall's

4/ any internal correspondence dealing with any and all of these
issues--similar to that, perhaps, uncovered in the investigations of
tobacco companies

Without these data, no one is able to use such terms as "covertly" and
"parlayed" and "some old rivalry," however much they might suspect their
reality. I'm pretty sure that not only historians but librarians would
like some of these details in place of interminable assertions are to
altruistic motives.

I don't doubt that innovators have problems in most fields. Just the
same, the journal I began was--and is--non-mainstream, but I found no
difficulties in securing the aegis of a professional organization back
in the mid-1970s. Was I just lucky? Good? Or was it simply that there
were no commercial publications knocking at my door with offers I
couldn't refuse.

The argument that universities failed to fund libraries adequately
enough to subscribe without fuss to whatever journal at whatever price
came down the road is sheer sophistry. Why should they have? Why
should universites--especially public universities--support the notion
of cost-sufficiency in a world otherwise dominated by marketplace
values. True, it is not the fault of commercial publishers that
librarians bit many bullets over many years and generally made no
concerted efforts to apprise the contributor-users of the
non-marketplace-priced journals. The addiction to complete runs and the
reluctance to cancel standing orders--or publishers' gerrymandered
series--meant that monographs became the victims, with all the

What strikes me as decidedly odd in all this is the postmortem fixation
with the work of Henry Barschall. Henderson is determined to argue that
Barschall came to his work with a predisposition to find what he did
find. I for one agree entirely with that premise. But that is hardly
the issue. No one--myself and Henderson included--does *not* come to a
set of circumstances without a sense of what is to be accomplished and
this is nowhere more true than when wielding numbers. The question
though is to what degree such biases affect the outcome.

No work of quantitative that I know of has been subjected to more
grueling and sustained scrutiny than Barschall's study. The result of
all this scrutiny: he *demonstrated" what he set out to demonstrate.
This can only lead us to conclude that the data he sought were there for
the finding. In contrast, most such extended stdismally failed tests put
to their work.

I don't know whether Barschall was paid for his work--nor for that
matter whether Henderson is being paid for his--but again, payment is no
*necessary* indication of biased results. In the early years of African
historiograpohy, many ingenuous fieldworkers sought information from
informants by paying for it. This was bad practice and could only
impugn the flood of results. HOWEVER, if further scrutiny demonstrated
that certain data were correct, the issue of payment then falls into the
sociological rather than the epistemological domain.

Any number of similar examples might be adduced, but why pile Pelion
upon Ossa? The point is simply that impugning Barshall's motives is
wasted effort and a very poor substitute indeed for impugning his
Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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