5.0178 Objections to E-Journals, Annotated (1/196)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Fri, 21 Jun 91 16:46:28 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 5, No. 0178. Friday, 21 Jun 1991.

Date: Thu, 20 Jun 91 19:58:23 EDT
From: Stevan Harnad <harnad@Princeton.EDU>
Subject: More prima facie objections to ejournals

More Objections, with annotations. -- SH
> Date:     Mon, 17 Jun 91 10:16:46 EDT
> From: Paul Gherman <GHERMAN@VTVM1.CC.VT.EDU>
> Subject:   Prima Facea
> One more objection which could be raised is that the e-journals will
> not be intergrated into the abstracting and indexing services or the
> bibliographic structure which serves the paper publications. We are now
> calling them "gray literature" in the library profession.
Are not now, or never can/will be? It seems to me that as soon as the
electronic journals succeed in demonstrating their revolutionary
potential in scholarly communication, that will constitute for the
abstracting services (and many others) an offer they cannot refuse.
Of course I agree that the services could hasten that day by indexing
electronic journals already, thereby increasing their exposure and
impact. I'm sure some can be persuaded to do this already, and others
will follow suit sooner or later. -- Stevan Harnad
> Date:     Mon, 17 Jun 91 16:41:18 EST
> Stevan: I enjoyed your list of objections to electronic journals.
> Two additional ones come to mind, although the first may have been
> covered already: "I enjoy perusing the dusty bookshelves of the
> library." I think you had a slightly more general category which
> covered it.
The "virtual" world of the papyrophile, with all of its arbitrary
correlates (dust and all), can be duplicated in principle as closely as
one might wish, in conjunction with paper-thin electronic simulation of
the printed page. My guess, however, is that, like the dead metaphors
of a language, these incidental fetishes will fade out after a while
and we will all converge on the only real object of interest in
scholarly communication: the Platanic bare-bones of the text itself.
> But how about this one: "I have no trouble getting
> published in the journals that exist, so in my view we don't need
> another journal." Perhaps this could be classified under narrow self
> interest!!!
The question is not primarily whether we need more scholarly journals,
but whether the net is a more effective medium for disseminating
knowledge. Not only do I think it is, but the revolutionary
possibilities of refereed rapid, global, interactive peer feedback make
it no contest at all. And, as mentioned, powerful software filters
together with search tools on the net make it the optimal medium for
rationally managing and monitoring the growing information glut.
> You could add the lack of diacritics or accents etc. as a major
> objection from French language speakers, such as Quebecers.
C'est une condition que est carrement alleatoire!
Stevan Harnad
> Date:   Tue, 18 Jun 91 23:08:48 EDT
> From: OKERSON@UMDC.UMD.EDU (Ann Okerson, Assoc. Res. Libr.)
> I can't remember if you used the "immoral because third world countries
> can't easily access" argument.
I certainly hope that's changing; electronic communication should
be a very high priority for 3rd World subsidy from the West, right
after food and medicine, and on a par with education and technological
help. Third world scholars and scientists cannot afford to get and
follow the paper literature. That's why they are the biggest senders
of reprint requests. Imagine what a boon anonymous ftp would be for
> Maybe it has been ever thus, but it feels as if we are headed into
> (1) an age of "accountability" where scholarship has to pay it's way
> or be patently useful; (2) an age of intellectual-bashing.
There is the implicit belief here that dollars will forever decide what
gets published, even on the net, and that that might commercialize or
skew intellectual productivity toward applicability even more. I, on
the other hand, believe that the net will FREE THE WRITTEN WORD FROM
THE TYRANNY OF THE DOLLAR and the market, even as the spoken word (if
only anyone will listen, Hyde-park style) has always been free of it
(except in political campaigns and advertising).
It's the economics of paper that makes Ann think dollar-votes will call
the tune on the net. I envision the net as virtually free, with
scholars vying for one another's EYES and minds, not for their
pocketbooks. And THAT kind of peer accountability may not be such a bad
thing (especially since an unrefereed electronic "vanity press,"
archived and accessible in perpetuum in principle, but in practice
ignored by almost everyone) can continue to preserve unsung
masterpieces for future generations that might at last hew to their tune.
> Here are some of the things librarians fretted about at the meeting whence
> I have just returned:
> 1. politics/transborder problems. The point was made that network access
> in some countries is priced at orders of magnitude above other countries,
> as governments in power try to keep knowledge and communication from the
> populace. Availability, accessibility, and pricing can be a political tool
> and, indeed, in some countries it is.
All of these are important questions, but surely not prima facie
objections to scholarly e-journals! Any objection that is just as
applicable to paper, phone and TV is not a prima facie objection
against the net. Dictators can and will control and abuse anything
and everything. Perhaps the bright side of the ubiquitous mischief
that computer viruses and their concocters have made is that 3rd world
hackers will be able to break out of the government's control of
information as easily as Western hackers have been able to break into
Let's develop the net first and worry about freeing it from all possible
political and economic constraints afterward.
> 2. The A & I services have not been very progressive about picking up
> materials in "alternative" formats, specifically electronic formats. It's not
> just a matter of HOW something is cited, but that the citation be found in
> a standard reference tool.
Let's make them an offer they cannot refuse (see above on the same
point). And standardization is crucial in practice, but trivial
in principle.
> 3. At the MLA (Medical Library Association) meeting, medical practitioners
> expressed a concern that some clinicians were looking at text out of context,
> i.e., looking at the piece that was available electronically (like the
> abstract, or that part that was called up via the keyword search) rather
> than the entire text, to draw conclusions or make decisions.
The net is no more responsible for the blinkered use clinicians make
of information than paper is...
> 4. Librarians worry a great deal about archiving and permanence. Who can
> say, they say, that the files of PMC or PSYCOLOQUY will remain available
> for a great deal of time, if the editors decide to fold up shop. Who will
> undertake to make sure this stuff exists? Further, who will ensure that it
> exists in a readable format? The world is full of examples of "high-tech"
> media of 10 and 20 years ago which are unreadable, because the equipment
> which was used at the time the information was created, is no longer main-
> tained. This suggests a systematic re-copying or updating program. NASA,
> for example, copies all its satellite data rotationally every 3 years or so
> onto new and compressed storage media (state of the art) so that the data
> can be retrieved. This is a federally budgeted, planned, and highly expensive
> process.
Backups, backups, backups. Trivial.
> 5. This is the only thing I truly worry about. That in an electronic
> publishing and retrieval environment, against the backdrop of our "free-
> market," "reward-the-entrepreneur," financial accountability, and redneck
> (anti-intellectual) society, those materials which sell would be the ones
> solicited, published, and maintained. The electronic environment provides
> a way of reinforcing scholarship for profit's sake rather than for knowledge's
> sake.
Answered earlier: The net can free scholarship from the arbitrary financial
constraints associated with paper publication.
> In truth, I believe that all the problems listed as PF arguments apply in
> some degree to the paper environment. All that electronic-ing does in most
> cases is magnify the problem or accelerate the pace with which it descends
> upon us. I believe we are hurtling into a rapid communication mode without
> having resolved some of the fundamental concerns in the more sedate paper
> format.
Problems that are equally applicable to paper are not prima facie
objections to the new medium. Nor do they need to be raised or solved
before we can begin to exploit the revolutionary potential of the net.
-- Stevan Harnad
> Date: Wed, 19 Jun 1991 11:10 EDT
> From: EMJ69%ALBNYVMS.BITNET@UACSC2.ALBANY.EDU (Ted Jennings, Ed Ejournal)
> Stevan - I thought of one more "objection" to ejrnls: they are free. No
> control over membership, readership, circulation. The "problem" is
> seldom expressed (except as a quizzical "how do you manage ...?"). I
> think it is there, though, embedded in a latent\default assumption that
> without $$ there is no (seldom any) motivation. Ergo, "free"
> circulation of ideas is bound to fail. Ted Jennings
I assure you that scholars have plenty of $$-independent motivation to
disseminate their ideas and to communicate with one another. Peer
review is the only "control" this motivation and productivity needs.
This is not the popular or trade paper press: This is Plato's Academy.
The dollar was always an interloper there, an unfortunate byproduct of
the older means-of-production of knowledge: Paper, printing, mail,
bookstores, libraries, and their associated expenses -- all incidental
to the production and sharing of knowledge. There's no need for any of
that any more in order to allow scholars to communicate their ideas and
findings. (Besides, if, like psychotherapy, net communication will have
to have a price tag in order to make people value it, so be it: it is
certainly not a problem in principle to find someone who is willing to
accept money for it...)`
-- Stevan Harnad