9.709 cyberjournals: sharing in the sciences

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Tue, 9 Apr 1996 22:02:37 -0400 (EDT)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 709.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)
Information at http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/

[1] From: Bob Tinker <bob@concord.org> (102)
Subject: Re: Cyberjournals in humanities [COMMENT]

While there is no denying the evils of over-concern on priority in
scientific research, there is another side to it which is quite remarkable:
sharing. Scientific understanding is built through a chain of reasoning
that depends on a thousand different techniques and ideas contributed from
people across entire fields. By putting a premium on priority, science
compensates scientists for quickly and thoroughly sharing their advances
with the profession. One does not see the same kind of sharing outside the

>>X-POP3-Rcpt: meri@HUB
>>Return-Path: owner-h-mmedia@MSU.EDU
>>Date: Mon, 8 Apr 1996 14:20:06 -0500
>>From: "John F. Reynolds" <jreynold@lonestar.jpl.utsa.edu>
>>>>To: Multiple recipients of list H-MMEDIA <H-MMEDIA@MSU.EDU>
>>---------- Forwarded message ----------
>>Date: Sun, 07 Apr 1996 00:48:29 -0600 (CST)
>>From: H-Net Central: Humanities On-Line <CAMPBELLD@LYNX.APSU.EDU>
>>Subject: Cyberjournals in humanities
>> From: Willard McCarty <mccarty@phoenix.princeton.edu>
>> Subject: Cyberjournals
>> Allow me to draw your attention to an article in today's Globe
>> and Mail (a Canadian daily newspaper): Stephen Strauss,
>> "Cyberjournals offer faster, cheaper and fuller research news".
>> The article dwells on scientific publishing on the Web,
>> specifically as illustrated by the well-known preprint service
>> for physics, mathematics, and related fields, at the Los Alamos
>> National Laboratory (LANL, http://xxx.lanl.gov/). For fields in
>> which the speed of publication is crucial and the focus is on
>> "results" rather than verbal argumentation -- in Strauss' words,
>> "Science produces a blunt literature" -- the case seems clear
>> enough. As Strauss points out, scientific journals are
>> horrendously expensive; he cites Nuclear Physics B, at $9,909 CAN
>> for 75 issues/year, and goes on to cite rather amazing figures
>> about the profit-margin for scientific publishing. Publication in
>> print is also painfully slow, especially in the highly
>> competitive fields of the sciences, where a delay of 6 months to
>> a year is commonly known as the "molasses effect".
>> Strauss quotes Paul Ginsparg, the theoretical physicist at LANL
>> whom he credits with setting up the preprint service. Dr.
>> Ginsparg, Strauss writes, "describes his electronic repository as
>> the death blow to an exploitative system in which publishers
>> interpose themselves between the best interests of their
>> contributors and their readers. 'They [the publishers] get
>> high-quality content for free and then sell it at a high price
>> back to those who supply it,' he says." Of course the publishers
>> who read this will think somewhat differently, and I would
>> encourage them to speak out. As one publisher I know remarked
>> last Summer, everyone thinks the middleman can be eliminated, but
>> everyone has a different idea about who that middleman is. (Some
>> literary theoreticians have managed to eliminate the author of
>> primary literature; perhaps the same can be done with authors of
>> secondary literature.... Many authors have figured out how to
>> eliminate the reader.)
>> Clearly publishers play a valuable role. In the humanities
>> at least they serve, for example, as a certification or filtering
>> mechanism, and the good ones are crucial to scholarship for the
>> highly specialized skills in editing, design, and collaboration
>> that can at times approach co-authorship. We cannot know the
>> number of academic reputations that have been saved or made by
>> editors, whose names are lost among the acknowledgements, if even
>> mentioned. I'm sure that some of us have witnessed such saving
>> grace at close range. In the world of electronic publishing,
>> which for us seems regularly to be done entirely by the editor(s)
>> alone, how much of this skill is available, how much time to
>> devote to the routine tasks?
>> The question for us is, of course, the extent to which the
>> benefits obvious for the sciences apply to the humanities. Our
>> culturally-driven p-envy of the sciences is always threatening to
>> put us into the mental straitjacket of imitation, such as the
>> overemphasis on "results". In humanities computing we sometimes
>> publish RESULTS as such but sometimes not. My reference book on
>> Ovid, for example, will be the RESULT of several years' work in
>> humanities computing, but I certainly would never describe the
>> contents as RESULTS. Nothing is proved by them; rather, I hope
>> readers will agree, the basis for a new area of research is
>> established. If the book consisted of a long argument in prose,
>> the term RESULTS would be even less appropriate. To a certain
>> extent in our fields, the clock is ticking -- wait long enough
>> and someone will, I suppose, "scoop" you -- but the danger of not
>> being the first to announce some RESULT is hardly as great in
>> most of our fields. I've always assumed that no one would be
>> crazy enough to attempt what I am doing, but colleagues
>> occasionally tell me that competition is real in various areas of
>> research in the humanities. In other words, the relevance of
>> electronic publishing has everything to do with how we construct
>> our scholarly way of life. Faster/cheaper may be the proximate
>> cause of leaping from print into the cyberjournal, but having
>> lept one discovers richer complexities. Let us have commentary on
>> these here.
>> Willard McCarty, U Toronto <mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU>
>> Date: Sat, 6 Apr 1996
>> From: Humanist list

Robert Tinker, The Concord Consortium Educational Technology Lab
37 Thoreau St., Concord, MA 01742
508-369-4367, fax: 508 371-0696
bob@concord.org http://www.concord.org
Revolutionizing education with appropriate technology.