Re: Reasons for freeing the primary research literature

From: Albert Henderson <chessNIC_at_COMPUSERVE.COM>
Date: Thu, 16 Aug 2001 13:46:03 -0400

on Sat, 11 Aug 2001 Jim Till <till_at_UHNRES.UTORONTO.CA> wrote:
> There's been much discussion, via this forum, about HOW the primary
> research literature might be freed. (By "primary" research literature, I
> mean original contributions by active and appropriately-qualified
> researchers, where new knowledge, such as novel concepts, novel data, or
> novel interpretations of existing data, are published).
> But, what about reasons WHY the primary research literature should be
> freed? Here's my first attempt at a summary of some of the main reasons:
> 1. It should be done:
> - Information gap: Libraries and researchers in poor countries can't
> afford most of the journals that they need.
> - Library crisis: Libraries and researchers in rich countries can't
> afford some of the journals that they need.
> - Public property: The results of publicly-funded research should be
> publicly-available.
> - Academic freedom: Censorship based on cost rather than quality
> can't be justified.


> What other important reasons have I neglected?

        The most important motive behind the self-archiving
        argument is that universities wish to unload the
        profit-sapping burden of conserving knowledge. They
        wish to reduce, perhaps eliminate, spending on

        The vision of "access not ownership" through technology
        started in the 1960s with the interlibrary photocopy.
        It was supported by a legislative expansion of fair use
        in the 1970s. This justified repeated rounds of
        subscription cancellations and reductions of other
        purchases (leading many university presses to question
        the viability of the monograph). Research universities cut
        their library share of spending by half or more. They
        reduced spending not only on collections but on
        services, so an interlibrary photocopy takes an average
        of 2 weeks according to an ARL study. In FY1987 total
        higher education spending on libraries dropped by $110
        million, provoking publishers to raise prices while
        giving these institutions a $110 million boost in
        profitability. Thus started the "serials crisis" led by
        the ARL two years later with its anonymous economists'
        report and accusations of publishers' profiteering and
        researchers' excessive publishing.

        It is very clear that university managers see library
        growth generated by R&D as a drag on their gigantic
        profitability. As many observers have pointed out,
        they have no real concern with excellence in research
        or education. The number of "research universities" has
        grown incredibly since 1960. Those that cannot continue
        to qualify themselves with adequate spending on
        resources should probably give up lackluster research
        and return to what does not require a huge library

        One of the alarming aspects of this history is the
        shutting down of scientific research into dissemination
        behavior and economics. In spite of provisions of the
        1976 science and technology policy act, my impression is
        that secretaries at science agencies are so unfamiliar
        with the word "dissemination" that they are unable to
        spell it. Instead of scientific studies to support
        the misnamed "self-archiving" argument, we are abused
        with the rhetoric and nonsense such as attempts to
        justify the phrase "virtually all" while citing a
        source that provides the statistic "36.87%."
        Support for "self-archiving" is made more foolish by
        the fact that, as even its most ardent supports in this
        forum have pointed out, authors are notoriously difficult
        to regulate. Whatever is made public outside peer-reviewed
        journals cannot be trusted as a general rule. Moreover,
        no one can guarantee that charlatans will not insert
        counterfeit claims of research to support their private
        commercial interests.

        Thus, the self-archiving movement not only promises
        to eliminate considerable library spending. It promises
        a sort of chaos that will undermine peer review and
        authorship. It will slow scientific progress and justify
        perpetual renewals of grants for promising research.
        No one in management cares how much duplication and
        error results from poor preparation as long as cash
        flows uninterrupted by the need to prepare new proposals.
        This, of course, helps solves the problem of what to do
        with (and how to pay for) faculty researchers whose
        grants have come to fruitful ends. The cures for cancer,
        heart disease, AIDS, etc. loom as nightmares for the
        financial managers of academe.

        Libraries have been the source of dissemination for
        researchers, a class that has not been able to afford
        to purchase all books and journals of interest for
        at least two hundred years. To blame publishers' prices
        for economic barriers is therefore not only false but
        silly. Universities have the money to spend as can be
        ascertained by their financial reports and statistics.

        Public universities usually have the obligation to
        provide public access to taxpayers. Private universities
        may charge a few hundred dollars to an unaffiliated
        investigator. By decimating their collections, these
        institutions have already short-changed the public
        and their core communities.

        A better solution to the researchers' dilemma would
        be for research universities to catch up their
        collections and stop false claims of poverty. Around
        here we call a miser who applies for welfare a "cheat"
        and he is subjected to prosecution.

        Have a nice weekend.

Albert Henderson

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

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