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RE: UKSG Usage Factor Research - an Update

Establishing a 'usage factor' (UFO?) is perhaps an academically 
interesting thing to do, but as a measurement of value? It's an 
unholy idea, potentially compounding the misery of improper use 
of the impact factor.

John Ewing, Executive Director and Publisher of the American 
Mathematical Society, last year published in the Notices of the 
AMS an article entitled "Measuring Journals" which discusses 
impact factors and usage statistics 
(http://www.ams.org/notices/200609/comm-ewing.pdf). I quote: 
"...while usage statistics are only *slightly* useful, their 
misuse can be *enormously* damaging" [his emphasis].

Statistics are funny things. The decline of the birth rate in 
Western Europe coincides with the decline of the stork. Imagine 
the possible conclusions if you don't understand what's behind 
the statistics (though they may confirm long-held beliefs). Usage 
statistics have to be understood before they can be used to come 
to any meaningful conclusions, if ever.

Even if we do understand user statistics sufficiently, how 
reliable can they really be? Not very, is Ewing's conclusion. We 
have to be extremely careful when we use such 'objective' 
quantitative data for qualitative conclusions. Ewing further says 
that "Distrust of 'subjective' scholarly judgment is a modern 
disease -- one that is profoundly anti-intellectual." I would add 
that blind trust in 'objective' measurements is equally 
profoundly anti-intellectual.

Suppose we can be confident that we understand the statistics, 
does usage determine the value of journals and articles in the 
first place? I'm aware of the adage publish or perish, but not of 
one that says 'read or rot' or 'download or be damned'. Isn't the 
value therefore more in the availability of a publication than in 
its usage? Isn't there a strong value element of 'just-in-case' 
in scientific literature (like the value of insurance -- where 
you'd probably avoid actual 'usage')? Isn't there a strong value 
element in just making sure that research results are properly 
recorded (like the minutes of important meetings -- they are not 
often read a lot, but it's crucial that they are made)? The 
'minutes of science' as I used to call it in the mid-nineties?

Isn't it so that a manuscript with 'potentially' interesting 
information is only made 'actually' interesting if the outcome of 
a process of peer-review shows that it's been formally accepted 
and acknowledged by the scientific community as worth adding to 
the body of literature, and labelled as such (with a journal 
imprimatur)? And isn't there then more value in the label it 
carries (imprimatur, certification, however one calls it) than in 
the information itself (which may well already be out there in 
cyberspace and often is)? And isn't that mainly a value for 
authors (remember: publish or perish) and their careers and 
future funding prospects rather than for readers (remember: 
there's no read or rot)?

As an information exchange, many journals may already have lost 
their role. The internet is definitely taking over. But 'usage' 
of a journal as a formal recording and validation service has not 
disappeared. Arguably, that service is more valuable now than 
ever, given the difficulty of establishing the integrity of 
information available on the web.

In my view that means that the economic underpinning of journals 
by placing a monetary value solely on download usage is outdated. 
Much of the monetary value should, instead, be placed on the 
service of formally publishing the material. In an 
'author-side-payment' model that is explicitly the case and such 
a publishing model also means that open access, i.e. universal 
availability, can be the natural condition of the formal, 
officially published articles, whatever their usage.

Jan Velterop

-----Original Message-----
From: owner-liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu on behalf of Acreman, 
Sent: Fri 3/9/2007 2:32 AM
To: liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu
Subject: UKSG Usage Factor Research - an Update

**with apologies for cross posting**

Towards the end of last year, UKSG commissioned some research 
into the feasibility of establishing a Usage Factor as an 
alternative measure of the value of a scholarly journal. (see: 

The project has been divided into two phases and phase one, a 
series of in-depth interviews with key stakeholders has now been 
completed. Phase 2 is a brief, web survey (one for librarians and 
one for authors) designed to obtain a wider response to some of 
the key issues and to verify, or otherwise, some of the 
conclusions from the in-depth interview phase.

On behalf of the project team working on this, I would be 
grateful if you were able to take a few minutes to complete the 
survey, which can be found at: 

It is our intention to present the findings of both the in-depth 
interviews and the surveys at the forthcoming UKSG Annual 
Conference in April and in order to allow enough time for 
responses to be analyzed, we would be grateful for your response 
by Friday 30th March.

A completely separate survey for authors is also being undertaken 
and if you are willing to help disseminate this to researchers in 
your institution, please email the following link to the survey 
to your contacts: http://www.uksg.org/survey/authors.asp

Bev Acreman