Re: Information Exchange Groups (IEGs)

From: Albert Henderson <chessNIC_at_COMPUSERVE.COM>
Date: Mon, 29 Jan 2001 18:42:26 -0500

on Sun, 21 Jan 2001 Jim Till <till_at_UHNRES.UTORONTO.CA> wrote:


> There were also other posts about the experiments with IEGs. I've written
> an article which had its origins in this exchange of messages.
> The article has recently been published in the journal Learned Publishing
> [2001; 14(1) 7-13], with the title: 'Predecessors of preprint servers'.
> The article is freely available (e.g. as a PDF file), via (see page 7):

Mr. Till's article provides some useful citations. His conclusions
regarding the opposition of editors to proposals such as NIH's
ebiomed project is closer to name-calling than to scholarship.

James E. Till sees science editors as the main barrier to the
circulation of free preprints. He should understand that there is
a good reason for editors' successful opposition, one that is not
as well recognized by the author as by the scientific world. Put
as succinctly as possible, the reason is that editors are responsible
for the integrity of the scientific record. Many editors feel that
they protect the public not only from poor science but also from
claims tainted by conflict of interest. Neither the inspectors employed
by various sponsors of research - who act only on complaints of fraud,
fabrication or plagiarism within the narrow jurisdiction of agency
underwriting - nor the university provosts who claim to oversee research
integrity cast a shadow on the awesome responsibility of the editors.

No one who has not performed the task of assessing and accepting
hundreds of manuscripts for publication can comprehend the potential
for poorly prepared, poorly presented, careless, biased, and
unscientific submissions. An automated preprint server would probably
accept and publish articles that would be rejected out of hand by
journal editors. Considerable research presented at conferences, for
instance, never even rises to the level of journal submission.
(Garvey, 1979 p. 136; Weber et al. 1998) Most authors disappear after
one or two successful submissions. (Price, 1975 p. 175) More than
all the other objections enumerated by Till, the incipient deluge of
garbage is the editors' source of apprehension. This prospect is the
basis of their rejection of research results that have been released
prematurely. This is particularly relevant in the life sciences,
where mathematical proofs are irrelevant, where the number of
authors is too large to call it a community, where the majority of
authors are not employed by and reviewed within government agencies,
and where commercial bias is common -often underlying even the
distribution of articles reprinted from peer-reviewed journals. We
are already swamped in a storm of scientific claims thanks to arcane
sponsorship policies that fail to support comprehensive in-depth
reviews of the research literature. As William Garvey described the
scientists' problem more than 20 years ago, "Even if they had
perfect retrieval systems they would be presented with so many
items that they could not assimilate and process them." Even the
preprint guru Paul Ginsparg admits, "There remains a pressing need
for organization of intellectual value-added, which by definition
cannot be automated even in principle, and that leaves significant
opportunities for any agency willing to listen to what researchers
want and need." (1996) The prospect of blind automation overtaking
the literature promises to add raw effluent to troubled waters.

It is not surprising that administrators perceive science editors
as motivated by selfish or commercial interests. As if reading a
Rorschach inkblot, they reveal their own miserable outlook. In this
regard, Till's irrelevant discussion of the secretive and abusive
Star Chamber - which was concerned with political power, not science
- would be amusing if so many assaults on the influence of editors
and authors did not originate from a smug cabal of powerful
bureaucrats. When I say "cabal," I refer more to a shared sub-culture
than a conspiracy. By failing to connect library spending with the
rising output of research, universities have decimated their own
once-excellent collections. This damage has undermined editors and
authors, compromised peer review; and set up publishers for complaints
about prices forced upward by cancellations and production inflation.
Now they aspire to sweep journals away once and for all with a tide of
free preprints -- the ultimate in predatory pricing disguised as the
government entitlement of university misers.

In contrast, science editors ignored financial considerations to make
their readers' needs their top priority for more than 300 years. In
particular, they have organized the chaotic interchange of letters and
other communications that, in many respects of form and function, would
be called preprints today. The proposed displacement of journals with
preprint servers clearly would be a step backward -- more costly to
the research community than presume savings in library spending.


Garvey, William D. Communication: The Essence of Science. Oxford: Pergamon
        Press. 1979.

Ginsparg, Paul. Winners and losers in the global research village. 1996.

Price, Derek J. de Solla. Science since Babylon. New Haven: Yale Univ.
        Press, 1961. enl. Ed. 1975.

Weber, Ellen J., Michael L. Callaham, Robert L. Wears, Christopher Barton,
        Gary Young. Unpublished research from a medical speciality meeting.
        J A M A 280,3: 257-259. 1998.

Best wishes,

Albert Henderson
Received on Wed Jan 03 2001 - 19:17:43 GMT

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Dec 10 2010 - 19:46:00 GMT