Re: Self-archiving downstream

From: Albert Henderson <chessNIC_at_COMPUSERVE.COM>
Date: Mon, 11 Jun 2001 17:27:39 -0400

on Fytton Rowland <> wrote:

> At 08:00 PM 6/6/01 +0100, David Goodman wrote:
> >3. The structure of the archive will encourage the growth of a layer of
> >commentaries, summaries, layman's explanations, and so on. This will
> >lead non-specialists to develop the ability to understand and read the
> >primary literature.
> I am sceptical about this. In the paper medium it was always difficult to
> persuade suitably expert people to spend their time preparing this kind of
> "tertiary" literature, even though they got paid a little for doing it --
> they get no credit in terms of tenure, promotion, etc., for doing so. I
> don't see how the fact that the archive is electronic and free will alter
> that situation so I don't agree that it will "encourage" these very
> desirable developments.

This remark reminds me of Speaker Gingrich's canny observations
to the House Science Committee, in which he called for a new
vision for science policy. [October 23, 1997] He said:

"If you first force yourself to ask the big questions, it changes
how you, later on, answer the small questions, and one of the
great problems we have is that we've built over the last 50 years
this huge engine of science and technology and engineering, which
is now so inundated with its own technical knowledge, that it's
almost impossible for it to become coherent.

"This is more than C.P. Snow's argument about "the two cultures,"
which essentially boils down to the notion if you knew anything
about science and math you were inarticulate, and if you were
articulate you almost certainly knew nothing. So those who could
talk didn't know anything to talk about and those who knew things
couldn't explain them, which explained the paramount of our whole
approach to science over the last 50 years.

"But this is a different problem. It's the problem that systems, as
they grow larger, grow so complex and hard to explain, that they
rapidly degenerate down to describing projects and tactics to
those of profound wisdom.

"That is of almost no use to us here. What we need is something very
different. We need to go back to the vision level, and ask a series
of very large questions, almost like those asked in'45 and '46, and
'47, about how--what is our purpose over the next generation or more,
how do we organize to that purpose, and how do we resource to that
purpose, and then how do we measure whether or not we're making

"And I think it's very hard to get people to rise to that level of
generality, partly because they assume it must be fluff, if it's not
hard in the sense of whatever it is you're working on recently.
And partially because it's hard. Take the totality of all the
different areas where we're currently undergoing dramatic changes
in knowledge, and try to figure out how you get those in a room. By
the time that each of them explains to the others what it is they
know, the room is exhausted by the act of having heard each other,
and you still haven't necessarily created a consensus along that
division level.

"The second point is strategy. I'm going to come back to this in a
minute. But once you-we ought to have a vision statement that's no
more than a page long. We then ought to have a series of strategies,
each of them a page at the most, too, to implement that vision.

"Projects on this level, which is a Peter Drucker and resembling a
kind of entrepreneurial model-the project is a definable delegatable
[ph] achievement. Again, it's the essence of we fought World War II,
where the responsibility was indivisible and command was single.

"You said to people, 'Go get X done,' and then they either got it
done or they didn't. You didn't just say go do things. The difference
is bureaucracies love process. The simplest example is cooking. The
bureaucratic instruction is, 'Please cook,' someone here can be
boiling water, somebody else can make bread, the third person can
make a pizza. And then call and say, 'How's the cooking coming?'


"A project, a definable delegated achievement is when you fix dinner
for 12 people for $8 a piece, Mexican food by 7:00 o'clock this evening,
again, it's the essence of how we grow a big system, because--before
we drown ourselves in shared responsibility and bureaucracy. And finally,
what do you do every day, tactically?

"I would suggest to you a couple quick things. First, we're on the
edge of an enormous worldwide dual revolution in knowledge and in

"Now the way I describe the future for America is a triangle. One
side's the Information Age; one side's the world market; the base
is American civilization and culture. And that the job for our
political leadership is to figure out how to make those three sides
of the triangle reinforce each other and work together.

"ln that framework, what I'm trying to ask you to do is to go to
the top level-Edward 0. Wilson's working on a new book which he
calls "Consilience" [ph], his argument being that in many ways
the knowledge--this is sort of the Santa Fe Institute [inaudible]--but
the knowledge base is actually beginning to come together across a
very broad range of disciplines and create some kind of resonance
that allows us to talk to ourselves.

"I would describe it very differently, and in maybe a simpler way.
I believe we need to be conceptually thinking about electronic

"That is, if you go out to NIH and say, 'tell me what you're learning
on the human genome project-tell me how many years it will be until
the average practicing doctor knows it.' The gaps are enormous. If
you say, all right, if we were to go around at the National Academy
of Sciences, and say, 'tell me the areas in which there are paradigm
level developments occurring, and let's list all of them.' How many
of those should an informed, sophisticated person know about? What's
the vehicle for knowing about it?" [snip]

        Clearly, well-informed, well-written reviews and commentaries
        solve not only this problem of coherency. The charade of
        "doing science" is exposed by evaluations of work done and
        by clarifying the work that needs to be done to get results.
        A good comprehensive review may require a task force that
        spans several specialties in order to bring perspective and
        depth to the resulting report.

        It would seem obvious to do such an evaluation before spending
        a cent on equipment, technicians, and supplies. Oddly, the
        practice is to "do science" first and ask questions later
        (if at all). That's probably why review journals are so heavily
        used and cited. That is also probably why so much research is
        of little consequence in the advance of knowledge.

        I, too, believe that this is a problem that must be attacked
        from the top by policymakers. It will take a new vision that
        comprehends the entirety of the science process and the value
        of information as an ingredient.

        In contrast, the prospect of author self-archiving promises to
        simply add to the mire of incoherence and chaos.
        Unfortunately, Speaker Gingrich stepped down shortly after
        making his statement, for reasons entirely irrelevant. The
        House Science committee went back to business as usual, to
        maximize the benefits accrued from their lobby constituencies
        in my humble opinion. Science continues to lack leadership.

        Best wishes,

Albert Henderson

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

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