Re: Interview with Derk Haank, CEO, Elsevier

From: Jean-Claude Guédon <jean.claude.guedon_at_UMontreal.CA>
Date: Thu, 4 Apr 2002 18:46:43 -0500

Le 4 Avril 2002 17:28, Albert Henderson a écrit :
> on 4/3/2002 Jean-Claude Guédon <jean.claude.guedon_at_UMontreal.CA> wrote:
> > Private research universities do not dominate research. They only play an
> > important role in research, and this mainly in the US, not elsewhere. In
> > Europe, this is completely untrue.
> Harvard, Yale, Stanford, MIT, Columbia, Johns
> Hopkins etc. have played the major role in
> policy ever since the days of Vannever Bush.
> While private universities are clearly
> outnumbered and outspent by public schools,
> they appear to me to dominate what goes on
> in research.

Where are the non-US schools in this list?
Do these schools determine policy in Japan, Germany, the UK, France, Italy,
Russia, etc... Please, read before answering. What has Vannevar Bush got to
do with this? Did the Endless Frontier mark such a change in US universities?
I doubt it. And it certainly did not do anything for Europe or for the Soviet
> > Moreover, even US private universities depend heavily on public money to
> > carry on their research. NSF, DoD and the like feed MIT, Harvard ,
> > Stanford et tutti quanti.
> More so the outrage at promising excellence while
> delivering mediocrity. Why do the science agencies
> reponsible for performance permit it. The words
> 'dissemination' and 'libraries' no longer exist
> in the vocabulary of Federal science bureaucrats
> even though communication is the essence of science.

Do the best US schools deliver mediocrity? Can you prove that? As for the
Federal science bureaucrats, as you call them, do they have responsibility
for the state of the libraries where grantees work? I doubt it. But it might
be an interesting proposition to have the library budgets defined by the
research granting agencies in the US. Research administrators and researchers
might find it a bit more difficult to unload this documentation problem onto
> > Finally, private US research universities are "not for profit
> > organizations".
> Yet they report to the IRS and in the pages of THE
> the hundreds of millions of dollars. [See the issues
> Oct 23, 1998; Nov 26, 1999, Nov 9, 2001.] Even if
> the institutions do not distribute their profits
> to shareholders, they support priviliged lives of
> the financial officers who manage billions of
> dollars of assets.

Reporting to the IRS has nothing to do with profit-making status, and, once
again, with an obstinacy that cannot bring but a smile on my lips, you
stubbornly refuse to look beyond US borders. Have you ever considered that
something more than folkloric activities take place outside the US?
> The decline of library spending was not forced by
> financial neediness. It has never been publicly
> justified.

In many cases and countries, the decline of library spending has been
justified by financial neediness. And I am not even referring to Third World
countries. Ask the Japanese libraries how they feel these days, when the Yen
has lost over 25% of its dollar value in a couple of years.

As for the US private schools, one would have to examine how various costs
have been evolving to consider how libraries have been treated. And, once
again, even if the universities had all the money in the world, why should
they buy back the research results that they themselves have contributed to
creating from commercial publishers and at outrageous prices? They may wisely
decide to focus on other tasks, since universities are not purely research
institutions (and many are not research institutions at all).
> > I would also like to point out that the "hoarding" rhetoric is out of
> > bound... Soap boxes are confined to Hyde Park!
> Facts speak for themselves. Check out endowments at
> record levels, redundent financial cushions far
> beyond any need. "Hoarding" is the only accurate
> descriptive word.

I am sorry but the word "hoarding" is rhetoric. You must first demonstrate
that the financial cushions of the private universities are redundant, and do
not do so only by illustrating the fact with some well chosen examples. For
example, the ethos of science is not threatened by the occasional cheating of
a minority of scientists - a point well made by R. K. Merton ; neither is the
prudential attitude of universities faulted by a few examples that would seem
to point in a different direction. It might be possible to criticize
universities for attitudes that are too cautious, too conservative, or
whatever, but even that would have to be measured against some benchmark.
Where is that benchmark? Where is the hard statistical work that justifies
your judgments? I do not see any and, therefore, must conclude that you use
rhetoric and little else. For what reason? I do not know. But you grind that
axe with such repetitious energy that it makes one wonder what your motive
may be.
> > Whether universities have more revenue than before is totally beside the
> > point as I do not see why this extra revenue should be automatically
> > allocated to buying over-priced journals from the Elseviers of the world.
> > I would rather see universities spend their money on research or
> > scholarships.
> Dr Varmus complained that scientists were spending
> grant money on subscriptions. A study by White and
> Fry many years ago indicated that this often
> happens when the library cannot supply journals ...
> Why aren't these journals available from the libraries??

What is the relationship between my remark above and your pulling Varmus as a
response. Do the scientists buying journals on their grants come from elite
private US schools or from public schools or both? Could you prove that White
and Fry - and I must admit I have not read this particular study - have the
right or the unique explanation for this behavior. King and Tenopir in their
most recent book on e-publishing refer to studies showing that the use of
journals quickly decreases with the time it takes to access them. If this
explanation is accepted, other reasons beside the "poverty" of the libraries
can be adduced to account for the practice decried by Dr. Varmus. Note in
passing that the argument I just adduced above is not necessarily the only
one available. It appears here just to show you that the correlation between
a practice of subscriptions from grants and the poverty of libraries is far
from being establihed. Many scientists simply like finding their five
favorite journals in their labs, even though the same journal is available in
a specialized library, five minutes away.

> > Finally, where did you ever get the fact that universities have cut their
> > library spending in half?
> Where have you been, my friend? There have been studies
> documenting the decline of library spending since the
> 1970s. Indeed, the Association of College and Research
> Libraries revised its standard, calling for libraries
> to receive 6 percent of the budget, to the current
> vague determination. Jacques Barzen proudly mentioned
> the 6 percent figure twice in THE RESEARCH UNIVERSITY
> (1968). The figure is now below 3 percent.

This is relative spending, not absolute and, for starters, you should have
clarified that point; otherwise, it becomes difficult to follow your writing.
Second of all - and to repeat myself -, do all university expenses grow at
the same pace, thus ensuring them a constant part of the total budget? I
doubt it very much. For example, how have lab equipment prices fared compared
to scientific documentation? Both are needed by research, of course.
> The Association of Research Libraries itself collected
> detailed figures for more than a decade before making

That is a more precise reference. Thank you. But, even admitting all what you
claim - which I am far from doing, of course - you still have not made the
case that would show how the budget of a library should behave across a
couple decades, relative to the total budget of a university. My
understanding is that private US universities still own some of the finest
research libraries in the world. Are they imperfect? Of course! Are the
purchases insufficient? Perhaps, but let me first see some serious facts and
arguments about this, given that no library can afford to buy everything.
> > The problem, Mr. Henderson, is that you come back and back with the same
> > faulty arguments over and over again, as if you were a soldier obeying
> > some kind of orders to stonewall whatever is stated on e-publishing lists
> > that does not conform to the business logic of large commercial
> > publishers. Haven't you noticed that this attitude has already
> > discredited you in the eyes of most of the readers of this list? This is
> > perhaps the reason why you responded to me personally and not to the
> > whole list. As you can see, I am responding to you with the whole list in
> > attendance.
> 'Discredited' indeed! The facts are on my side.
> You can read my more extensive analyses in:

I will appreciate your sending me offprints (or digital versions) at my
e-mail address or my snail mail address (see signature at the bottom of the
> 'Information Science and Information Policy'
> SCIENCE 50:366-379. 1999]
> 'Undermining Peer Review' [SOCIETY 38(2):47-54.
> 2001],
> 'Information Science versus Science Policy'
> [SCIENCE 289:243. 2000], and
> 'The Growth of Printed Literature in the
> 20th Century' [in SCHOLARLY PUBLISHING, edited
> by Abel and Newlin. Wiley 2002] as well as
> many other respected publications.
> I wrote to you in addition to the list because
> Steven often feels that my aim, that libraries
> should be financed as if they were a part of
> research and education, is so dangerous to his
> movement that he must censor my comments.
> Indeed, if libraries were properly supported,
> every scholar would have whatever resources
> they needed.

I have been following this list long enough to know a little more about that
point. It is not the first time we cross swords, Mr. Henderson and I know how
you seem sometimes to go into automatic pilot and keep on hammering the same
statements, irrespectively of what people oppose to your thinking. Stevan's
attitude is to cut out the repetitive and I believe he is right, even though
I got cut off myself over a year ago.

This said, I do not think anyone is against increasing the libraries budgets
significantly, so long as this does not simply feed the business plan of a
few, large commercial publishers. I am afraid - and I believe many feel the
same way - that if you instantly doubled the budgets of libraries - this is
what you implicitly urged, is it not, when you referred to the 6% figure -
you would immediately see the price of journals shoot up to take advantage of
this unexpected windfall.
> Thanks for contributing.

No need to thank me, really. But I would thank you if I got the feeling that
you read opposing arguments really seriously.
> Albert Henderson
> <>

Jean-Claude Guédon, Ph. D.

Jean-Claude Guédon
Département de littérature comparée
Université de Montréal
CP 6128, Succursale Centre-ville
Montréal, Qc H3C 3J7
Tél. : 1-514-343-6208
Télécopie : 1-514-343-2211
Courriel :
Received on Fri Apr 05 2002 - 01:15:18 BST

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