17.232 critical reflections on publishing

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Mon Sep 08 2003 - 01:38:13 EDT

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 232.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                         Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

       [1] From: patrick.durusau@sbl-site.org (44)
             Subject: re 17.229 critical reflections on publishing

       [2] From: ptrourke@methymna.com (89)
             Subject: critical reflections on publishing

       [3] From: Dene Grigar <dene@eaze.net> (17)
             Subject: Re: 17.229 critical reflections on publishing

       [4] From: lachance@origin.chass.utoronto.ca (Francois (38)
             Subject: Re: 17.229 critical reflections on publishing

             Date: Mon, 08 Sep 2003 06:31:30 +0100
             From: patrick.durusau@sbl-site.org
             Subject: re 17.229 critical reflections on publishing


    Norman Hinton wrote:
    >Since several people have expressed surprise or disbelief to me either here
    >or in private e-mails let me say that I have known a number of people whose
    >on-line materials have disappeared as their institutions changed computer
    >policies,e tc., usually without telling them.

    The record of lost data, including NASA for example (hardly a
    technologically challenged group), is well known.

    >I hope that all those who trust naively in the Web and the Net never see
    >their work disappear forever.

    But are our options really limited to traditional publishing or to "trust
    naively in the Web?"

    The problems of data preservation/migration should hardly be surprising to
    anyone and solutions do exist. A search on Google for "data migration"
    turns up some 111,000 "hits" and the first few pages the usual suspects
    offering data migration services.

    Granted that individual scholars may not have the expertise or resources to
    insure data preservation/migration, but that is hardly the test is it?
    Individual scholars also lack the means to undertake traditional
    publishing, or to maintain journals beyond the span of their careers, or to
    undertake other large ongoing projects that span both time and distance.
    Yet, we all know of such efforts, many of which are undertaken by
    traditional academic societies.

    To be sure, saying data preservation/migration is quite easy and in
    practice a good deal more difficult. Still, I think it is a topic that
    academic societies, in conjunction with the library community, should
    discuss. Such programs should extend to preservation of data sets that are
    not traditionally published so as to extend the benefits of access and
    reuse to such materials.

    The nature of the electronic medium does not allow for any system to
    absolutely guarantee preservation, but then neither does being written on
    parchment or clay, as recent experience has shown.

    Hope you are having a great day!


    Patrick Durusau
    Director of Research and Development
    Society of Biblical Literature
    Chair, V1 - Text Processing: Office and Publishing Systems Interface
    Co-Editor, ISO 13250, Topic Maps -- Reference Model

    Topic Maps: Human, not artificial, intelligence at work!

    --[2]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Mon, 08 Sep 2003 06:33:22 +0100 From: ptrourke@methymna.com Subject: critical reflections on publishing

    Computers, like all tools, are fallible. However, there are standard practices which can be used to minimize the volatility of electronic publication (and its other flaws). Dr. Hinton's description of those of us who are engaged in electronic publication as "dopes," while providing as his examples of the inefficacy of computer publishing anecdotes about people who do not take basic data protection precautions and incompetent academic computing center personnel strikes me as symptomatic of a poorly considered argument. One suspects that the naivete lies elsewhere than where he has diagnosed - not with ideas about electronic publication, but in our complacency that we have communicated the abilities and limitations of the technology widely enough for the practice to be accepted.

    No doubt all the data he was talking about could have been backed up to hard copy, which would remain as easy to access as any pre-electronic publication. So long as one is always careful to back all one's data up to new media and, if necessary, newer and more accessible formats, every once in a while (for vital information, I back up to a mirror drive upon creation, to CD every few months, and have migrated my backups from magnetic tape to 5 1/4 to 2 1/2 to CD - my archives go back to 1986, and I am currently shifting my main work environment to a new platform, which includes decoding all of my old documents from older proprietary formats like PFS:Write, MSWord, and WordPerfect to text and XML-based formats for ease of access in the distant future), one can avoid all of the other problems he has mentioned. More importantly, a true electronic publisher (to distinguish those who follow professional practices from those who simply think it a good idea to put some papers up on the web) provides for the easy ability for the publications it provides to be migrated to a new institution if necessary, preferably without changing their addresses (e.g., by spending the $35 a year for its own domain name; those without free hosting of course usually have to pay closer to $250 a year for the combination of hosted website and domain name, but I've found it to be a very justifiable - and deductible - expense over the years). An author should work to provide a mirror for his electronic publications, in the event that the publisher becomes insolvent. - through keeping backup copies on his own hardware and media, and even if necessary making an arrangement with a friendly colleague in another city to swap mirroring space on one another's sites or even offline hard drives. Finally, whenever possible, an electronic publisher or author should avail itself, himself, or herself of the services of caching and archiving projects like the Internet Archive (http://pages.alexa.com/help/webmasters/index.html#crawl_site).

    In an ideal world, with unlimited space and an unlimited number of dead trees, and with no expenses for the printing, binding, and maintenance of books, sure, printing a thousand copies of an article in a journal (with a well-respected imprint) on fine acid-free paper and storing it in the dry serials stacks of a thousand libraries is a less volatile way of preserving one's words than electronic publication. But the reality is that library serials budgets have been declining steadily for at least 10-15 years, that university libraries are finding the stack space taken up by paper or even film serials collections is forcing them to leave important parts of their book collections in storage and are therefore looking to switch from paper to electronic delivery, and that journals (outside the sciences, where subscription rates are so astonishingly high that a decent selection of serials rivals the personnel budget for a small academic department) are finding that their subscription base cannot afford to maintain their budgets, and that sponsors are reluctant to increase their share of the expense of publication. Meanwhile, electronic publication provides cheap distribution, easier publicity, and the ease of making and distributing backup copies.

    I could go on a bit, but would rather not. All of this should be fundamental to academic computing and humanities computing as disciplines, and indeed in this day and age to all academic disciplines - as fundamental as library research skills and citation practice are. An occasional "bah, humbug" from skeptical critics like Dr. Hinton are useful checks to remind practitioners not to be too complacent, and to remind them of areas where standard practices have not yet been developed or have been poorly communicated: but the criticisms raised in this case are largely issues in communicating and following those standard practices, and not limitations of the technology.

    Patrick Rourke co-Managing Editor, Suda On Line

    >Since several people have expressed surprise or disbelief to me either here >or in private e-mails let me say that I have known a number of people whose >on-line materials have disappeared as their institutions changed computer >policies,e tc., usually without telling them. > >And my university wiped out 10 years of my own research files (for which, >believing then in computer age PR, I had no hard copy) when it decided to >change computer companies and did not bother to inform any of the faculty >about it. > >Also, I know people whose works have been made unreachable by technological >changes -- a very good example is the old CDC machines with their 60-bit >variables and double precision arithmetic, while another is the change in >floppies, etc. I realize the WEb dopes not use floppies but I am not >willing to assume its benevolence or that of those who oversee its local >manifestations. > >I hope that all those who trust naively in the Web and the Net never see >their work disappear forever.

    --[3]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Mon, 08 Sep 2003 06:34:00 +0100 From: Dene Grigar <dene@eaze.net> Subject: Re: 17.229 critical reflections on publishing

    I have found these discussions about lost research interesting. The overall sentiment expressed is that the net is somehow responsible for the missing materials rather than the *human* element involved in its disappearance.

    I too have had online research destroyed by my university, but it was not the net that made the materials disappear but decision-makers from the ITS department and the upper administration looking for ways to "secure" the university system. Allowing faculty to run servers with open ports was not optimum. So, they closed me down. I later managed to gather my material and move them to a commercial provider where I paid $200 to host it each month.

    Needless to say, I own my own server now. It sits here on my home office and no university official can make policy over it. The bottom line is: it is not the net at fault most times, but the humans running pieces of the net affecting our work.

    Best, Dene Grigar

    --[4]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Mon, 08 Sep 2003 06:34:33 +0100 From: lachance@origin.chass.utoronto.ca (Francois Lachance) Subject: Re: 17.229 critical reflections on publishing


    Some of us trust the Internet and the WWW and all the associated resting spots of electronic ephemera to do exactly what Matt Kirshenbaum expressed as the fate of many a piece of printed matter: disappear from the horizon of collective contemplation.

    > I hope that all those who trust naively in the Web and the Net never see > their work disappear forever.

    In some circles a distinction is drawn between the work (which includes the reading and collecting of preparatory material as well as various versions) and the text. Both works and texts tend to disappear whatever the medium in which they may be fixed. It is this propensity for disappearance that attaches a certain tenor to the attention given to an author by the passing reader. Some works disappear without comment, others garner a few remarks.

    Matt's point could be reformulated in the language of gambling. If a text is to reach a desired audience or grow an audience, does it have better luck online competing for attention with other similar material online than in hard copy circulating within a coterie whose attention may lack the zest of fresh enthusiasm?

    It is a fundamental question to ask: for whom does the scholar write? Some scholars are not writing all the time for posterity but often, even most of the time, for communities of readers -- those ever shifting formations.

    In some of those communities (online or not), one can be a scholar (an intelligent reader of texts and able researcher) without publishing.

    If recent threads on a number of Web logs are any indication, the bloggers are rediscovering in their own special fashion that to write is not the same as to publish. And to publish is not the same as to invite direct feedback to the author. Sometimes to publish is to invite quotation -- and the existence of some text has only been witnessed through "machine quotation" -- those descriptions in a search engine database.

    Matt is correct. Preservation is a social question. I, for one, don't mind the ephemerality. Some scholars will build monuments; others walk and talk through and around the momuments. Me, I tend a little garden bed that can be wiped out in flood or frost (and secretly hope the seeds and cutting travel as they have travelled to me).

    -- Francois Lachance, Scholar-at-large http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~lachance

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