16.247 styles of publication

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty (w.mccarty@btinternet.com)
Date: Sat Oct 05 2002 - 02:37:15 EDT

  • Next message: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty : "16.250 new on WWW: Webcast of McGann's lecture"

                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 16, No. 247.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                         Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

       [1] From: Norman Gray <norman@astro.gla.ac.uk> (61)
             Subject: Re: 16.241styles of publication

       [2] From: Willard McCarty <w.mccarty@btinternet.com> (77)
             Subject: styles of publication

             Date: Sat, 05 Oct 2002 07:04:22 +0100
             From: Norman Gray <norman@astro.gla.ac.uk>
             Subject: Re: 16.241styles of publication


    It's true that the humanities and the sciences have different publishing
    rhythms, and what Willard says amply supports the historical point that it
    is particle physics' rapid rhythm that engendered the preprint culture,
    which was in turn accelerated and broadened into the arXiv system which
    now covers much of the physical sciences and, this time under the name
    e-prints[1], other sciences and even the humanities. That is distinct,
    however, from the comtemporary claim that arXiv has prompted us to step
    back and tease apart the separate strands of what publishers actually
    do for us. It is when you approach from that direction that you realise
    (I believe) that the differences between the sciences and the humanities
    here are not fundamental ones, but differences only of (financial) degree.

    Science journal publishing is in crisis. Even with authors doing
    the bulk of the typesetting, and even with page charges, journals are
    still extremely expensive[2], and the tension between library budget
    committees and journal subscriptions is still far from equilibrium.
    That is, the _currently_ important thing about arXiv is not the speed,
    but the suddenly precarious position of publishers, who are no longer
    the core of the publishing enterprise but merely contributors to it, and
    whose contribution (administration of an imprimatur) was not hitherto the
    core of their business. Put another way, arXiv is interesting because
    it demolishes the unexamined assumption that typesetter, distributor
    and authority must all be the same entity. If the humanities haven't
    noticed this yet, it can only be because humanities publishing is so
    cheap as to be beneath notice (ahem!). Patricia Galloway made similar
    points in today's bundle (and gets the prize for being the first to break,
    and mention the two cultures).

    But this is really a historical point as well. Quite separate are
    Willard's and Wendell's suggestions that the sciences and the humanities
    have different relationships with print.

    Recall that scientists do not write papers only in the odd moments when
    they clamber up from the lab (`no lightning tonight, confound it!').
    Though there is not the delicious tension between paraliterature and
    literature that Francois Lachance referred to (also today), theorists,
    for example, will have a very close relationship with their texts,
    and will take just as much pleasure in the tactile and visual aspects
    of books and printout as anyone else.

    Also yes, papers in the sciences are short. But it is not just page
    charges that have produced this: concision and density have long been
    almost independent virtues in scientific writing. Thus, a few minutes
    per page can count as skim-reading, and an hour per page for a tricky
    paper, in some areas, would not be startling. Assimilating, reordering
    and relating the ideas are not necessarily trivial. Surely very few
    read like that on-screen.

    I say this, not to start some `my prose is more turgid than yours'
    contest, but to suggest that Willard's remark:

    > Publication in the humanities is of course quite different than that:
    > longer things, far more slowly produced, tending to present not results but
    > arguments. In general they are meant to be read in a sense or style hardly
    > applicable to the shorter pieces in physics.

    ... is not all of the story. Sometimes a paper can take as long to
    produce, and as long to read, as a book.

    Collegially yours,


    [1] http://www.eprints.org/

    [2] http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/ApJ/subscribe.html and

    Norman Gray                        http://www.astro.gla.ac.uk/users/norman/
    Physics and Astronomy, University of Glasgow, UK     norman@astro.gla.ac.uk

    --[2]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Sat, 05 Oct 2002 07:27:29 +0100 From: Willard McCarty <w.mccarty@btinternet.com> Subject: styles of publication

    I think the question (or at least one question) we need to be asking is, what kinds of publication do we want to have and find most effective as writers and readers in the humanities? We can approach an answer by saying what we think we want and by describing our actual behaviours. Perhaps both would be good; possibly the latter is more reliable.

    As a reader of scholarly books and articles my actual behaviour goes something like this.

    I always look for material online and am *very* grateful to find articles there, because this means that at least I can get started without going to the library. (Although the research library within reach, the British Library, is very fine indeed, getting there is a chore, using it requires on the average half a day, the stacks are closed, books cannot be removed from it and photocopies are *very* expensive.) I print out whatever I find online, because reading on screen is neither convenient nor particularly pleasant, read the printouts mostly (as I do books) while travelling on public transport (ca 1+ hr/day actual reading time for 4 days/week). Most of those I bother to print out are drafts or co-publications of things that have appeared in print; anything very good leads me to seek out the printed version, because more care has usually been put into it; its context is often worth knowing about; and the physical care and rereading of codex-bound material is considerably easier.

    (I am speaking in terms of convenience here, but in the midst of a very busy professional life, convenience often makes the difference between doing something and not doing it. I can exhort myself to greater effort, and I can heed my own exhortations, ignoring inconvenience, but I'd think that the steady inconvenience of doing something will in most cases effectively block it from being done.)

    Anything worth reading for research purposes is of course worth the effort to take notes. Articles already in electronic form can of course be searched for particular phrases &c, and I often in fact do this across that part of my hard disk where I keep such things -- to find where someone said a particular thing in a clear and memorable way. (I hear that scanning pens have improved greatly, that students who regularly work in the Bodleian, for example, use them to avoid the high cost of photocopying there; I may follow their example soon.) But most articles and books are not already in e-form, so I do a fair amount of transcribing in my note-taking, for which I use a Palm (with Quickword) -- a brilliant device which has transformed my note-taking practice all to the good. Rarely I take notes at home, when I use the fold-out keyboard with the Palm; otherwise I write in the script of the machine, which I can do very rapidly with few errors. The machine aside, however, nothing can beat the convenience for note-taking, where and when I do it, of a bound book -- a matter of size and binding.

    So the style of publication that fits best into the way I work is, for example, the practice followed by the historian of technology, Michael Mahoney (Princeton). It would seem that everything he publishes on the history of computing, or a great deal of it, appears in penultimate form on his Web-site and in final form in print. Such a style allows me rapidly and conveniently to find what I need, verify its worth without stirring from my study, identify and acquire the physical book. May his practice spread.

    My practice as a writer follows the same pattern. Because I want to communicate even more than I want to do interesting things with e-publication, I prefer to get my stuff into print. I also of course want to work toward the best research rating for my department, which in practice requires going for print. I find the finality of the printed product helpful in getting me to get things right, at least once.

    (Allow me to note the danger here of becoming more committed to a particular ideology of publication than to communicating with real readers as they currently are. I'm all for improving the world, of course, but at the same time I'd argue that the most important question is how best to communicate to living readers.)

    So, everything online and in print is my cup of tea. But of course my cup of tea is based on an adjustment of what I do (read and write) to the things and ways of the world as it is. It isn't wholly a product of desire, though it does work very well. Nevertheless observations about the brilliance of codex technology need to be separated from the sometimes less than admirable behaviour of some publishers. And some writers -- who, as Nancy Weitz remarked, write to be cited. Of course one tends to read them, if at all, for their citations!

    Again, I put it to you that we need to ask what would suit us best. Then we can work toward it. I don't think the Ginsparg mechanism, however suitable to working particle physicists, wins our (non-existent) MacArthur.

    Yours, WM

    Dr Willard McCarty | Senior Lecturer | Centre for Computing in the Humanities | King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS || +44 (0)20 7848-2784 fax: -2980 || willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk | w.mccarty@btinternet.com | www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/wlm/

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Sat Oct 05 2002 - 02:56:28 EDT