I continue to be puzzled by Albert Henderson's characterization of ideas such as NIH's E-Biomed proposal as "government intrusion."(223). Only a few short months ago, Mr. Henderson pointed out (217) that over $15 billion is spent on research in academic institutions. Where does he suppose that the vast majority of that money comes from if not from "the government" via federal grants, state appropriations, etc.? Mr. Henderson never seems willing to admit that "the government" is already a major player in the scholarly communication process. Apparently, Mr. Henderson would have us believe that the only appropriate role for "the government" to play is one of largesse; dole out the research bucks, let the faculty member (usually paid also by "the government") create the research, and then have that research handed over (at no cost to the publisher) to the "commercial market" for repackaging and sale back to the academy. But heaven forbid that it should play any other role, even though the taxpayers that it represents have a vital stake in the process as well, but one which is always overlooked. It would be too "radical," it seems, to change a system that is so heavily subsidized by "the government." Those provosts and library administrators are concerned about their fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers, Mr. Henderson; is that such a "radical" idea? Mr. Henderson's insinuation that those same provosts and library administrators are engaged in "white collar crime" is insulting, inflammatory and reprehensible. Such irresponsible statements have no place in a serious forum such as this.
225.2 BENSMAN'S RIPOSTE TO CAMERON
Stephen Bensman, Louisiana State University, firstname.lastname@example.org
In his response to the screeds by Johnson and me (220), Cameron has made several points which themselves call for responses. In making these responses I want to emphasize that I am only expressing my personal opinions, and these opinions in no way reflect official policy at LSU Libraries, particularly in respect to SPARC.
First among the points made by Cameron is his statement, "I don't believe there are any generalisations that can usefully be made about journal titles and quality of content -- even if one can agree on an objective definition of quality." One of the main themes in the writings of Robert K. Merton, a founder of the sociology of science, is that science operates on universalistic principles. Thus, he wrote (On Social Structure and Science, 1996, p. 269), "The imperative of universalism is rooted deep in the impersonal character of science." If Merton were correct, then there should be measures of scientific quality which will manifest high degrees of consensus and consistency. And, indeed, this proved to be the case in the research done here at Louisiana State University (Library Resources & Technical Services 40, 1996: 145-183; Library Resources & Technical Services 42, 1998: 147-242). For example, high intercorrelations ranging from 0.72 to 0.86 were found in the field of chemistry between LSU faculty ratings, total Institute of Scientific Information citations, and library use at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, revealing these to be virtually equivalent measures of universal scientific value. As a further indication of the universalism -- and stability -- of the scientific information system, the journals supplying the most documents from the British Library Lending Division in 1975 were also among the ones most highly rated by the LSU faculty in 1995. The fact that the dominance of US association journals over commercial ones manifested itself in LSU faculty ratings in every one of 33 subject areas is surely proof that there is something fundamental taking place.
I should also like to comment on Cameron's statement, "There are many examples of new journals ... in niche areas ... which have rapidly become highly respected and contain extremely high value material." In my approach to scientific value I based myself on philosophic idealism, particularly Bishop Berkeley's dictum that the essence of an object is in its perception. Therefore, LSU faculty ratings became my main criterion, and other measures had to correlate with them. In general, I found LSU faculty ratings of quality to be a confounding of the following factors: 1) something subjective the raters perceived to be "quality" or "utility"; 2) personal advantage or whether the raters could publish in the journal; 3) the social status of the scientists publishing in the journal; 4) the size of the journal in both its physical and time aspects; and 5) the subject comprehensiveness of the journal. It is the last point I want to focus on, because it is this point which Noll and Steinmueller (Serials Review 18, No. 2, 1992: 32-37) emphasize in their monopoly competition model.
In general, I found that the broader the subject scope of the journal, the more highly the LSU faculty rated it, because the broader subject scope made it pertinent to a wider spectrum of raters. Therefore, the two most highly rated journals were Science and Nature. Because LSU faculty ratings were so highly correlated with total citations and library use, it can be deduced that the same processes are also operative in these measures. This brings us to the problem of niche journals. An inspection of the articles in Science and Nature should reveal that although the subject scope of these journals is broad, the subject scope of the articles is not, giving credence to the Noll and Steinmueller contention that the constant narrowing of the subject scope of new journals is a device for creating smaller social hierarchies to open publication space for research of lesser quality. In their opinion -- and my research appears to bear them out -- these smaller journals are leading to the dysfunctions of monopoly competition. The smaller journals may have played an important role when the scientific information system was based upon a seventeenth-century paper technology. For example, the noted historian of science, Derek J. de Solla Price (Science since Babylon, 1961, p. 70; Little Science, Big Science, 1963, p. 73) regarded the founding of a new journal as one of the traditional ways his "invisible colleges" of scientists communicated with each other and the rise of specialized journals as marking the attainment of near autonomy by each of the separate disciplines. However, the niche journals have clearly become dysfunctional, and in the era of the Internet it seems that their purposes could be fulfilled in more cost-effective ways.
The last point made by Cameron with which I want to deal pertains to his critique of Johnson's defense of SPARC. Here Cameron makes the astute observation, "On the whole journals are not competitive with one another and it is not my understanding that the SPARC journals set out in head to head competition with other journals but maybe I am wrong here." With this statement Cameron puts his finger on the entire basis of monopoly competition and one of the major fallacies underlying the thinking behind SPARC. Scientific articles are not fungible, and therefore one journal cannot be substituted for another. Each journal comprises a little monopoly, including those that will be promoted by SPARC. The 1999 US Periodical Price Index just published in American Libraries (30, May 1999: 84-92) shows that the inflationary spiral of serials prices is continuing, and the only way many libraries will be able to subscribe to the new SPARC titles with the given level of funding will be to cancel other titles. Since the careers of many faculty members are dependent on these other titles, librarians will find themselves in the midst of a class war among scientists. A look at the line-up of the social forces involved in the infamous Heinz Barschall affair should tell them that. From this perspective the SPARC project appears to be an act of mass political suicide on the part of the ARL directors. The only way to break up these little monopolies from a politically neutral position is the adoption of a free market through document delivery.
It strikes me as highly ironical that scientists -- supposedly the most intelligent and rational creatures on earth -- have spawned an information system that is economically inefficient by every definition of this term. Until now there has been precious little science applied in the analysis of the scientific information system. However, we are now entering the age of computer information, and the one thing computers do best is count. Therefore, the first step in applying science to the scientific information system is to understand the operation and effect of the counting distributions that underlie this system. Once you attempt to do this, you are staring down the barrel of Karl Pearson and the other British biometricians who launched a revolution in probability theory in the late nineteenth century. As has been the case so often in the advance of human knowledge, it is back to the future.
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