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re: Monopolies in publishing: defining quality

Heather Morrison appropriately raises the very important problem of
providing adequately for the publication of research in fields with
relatively few workers. These subjects has never been adequately provided
for by the commercial publication system in the past, nor will they be in
the future; they have always required subsidies. The subsidy has come in
many ways: publication by museums or by institutes, direct publication
grants, publication at a loss but cross-subsidized by other titles, or
publication at very high prices paid by a very few institutions.

I would suggest that in the future these publications would be essentially
published as open archives or other informal publication pathways. This is
already the case in some fields such as plant biogeography, where the most
valuable sources are now organization web sites.

I would never say that only widely read or cited material is of high
quality. I would say that within a field where there is hghly cited and
read material, the least widely read and cited items within that
particular field are likely to be of very low quality.

I would similarly never say that only material likely to be widely read
deserves dissemination. I would say that commercial or quasi-commercial
publication makes economic sense only for such material. I think Heather's
examples demonstrate very well why we need alternative publication
channels; as I see it, we are in fundamental agreement. I agree that there
are many possible alternatives for such publication, and I do not mean to
suggest that I know which ways will be best.

I refer also to recent discussions of the problems of book publication in
the humanities, such as in the Chronicle of Higher Education; this
situation is even more difficult in other fields than the sciences.

On Thu, 17 Jul 2003, Heather Morrison

> Can quality be defined as what people are willing to pay for and what
> people are likely to cite?
> In some cases this is undoubtedly true, but I would suggest that this is
> not a universal principle.
> Some areas of research receive much more funding than others.  In some
> cases, this is an accurate indication of the importance of the research
> (e.g. HIV/AIDS attracts lots of research dollars, as it should), whereas
> in other cases factors other than the real importance of the research are
> at play.  For example, scientific areas that appear likely to yield
> economic benefits for a geographic area are more likely nowadays to
> attract funding than basic research.  Opportunities to receive research
> funding can be an incentive to cite articles in these particular areas.
> The differences are much greater when comparing different academic
> disciplines.  STM commands much more research money than areas like
> education or child care studies; but are they really less important?
> Another reason to hesitate on associating citations and willingness to pay
> with quality:  in traditional scientific disciplines, is it not the case
> that those who are following the latest paradigm are more likely to
> succeed on these measures?  If it becomes even more difficult for the
> pioneers to share their ideas, does this stifle innovation?
> a personal opinion by,
> Heather Grace Morrison