Posted by: soniahs | September 15, 2010

Exam reading: “Intermediation and its malcontents”

My last core reading- and an appropriate one to end on. Robert Jensen’s “Intermediation and its Malcontents” is about the importance of (not-for-profit) publishers in the academic publication ecosystem. It’s appropriate because it provides me a segue into the material on my next reading list, which is about the public communication of science. One of the big PUoS issues is: how much intermediation should there be between scientists and the public about scientific issues? And one of the key services that Jensen claims that publishers provide is intermediation.

Now, Jensen’s paper is about humanities publishing, but some of the ideas are the same in scientific fields. And while he’s obviously trying to argue the case that publishing houses (like his) provide essential services as intermediaries, there’s a wide range of opinion on the proper place of intermediation in science communication. But more on that later…

Summary: Jensen focuses on the value that’s added to academic publishing by publishers (small-run non-profit presses), mainly: validation, coordination, authority, and promotion. When adding e-publishing to a press, things to consider are cost-sharing (for editing & staff to be cost-effective, he claims you need to be running at least 6-8 journals), the need to choose an appropriate platform, and planning to track electronic copies and paper inventories. Jensen feels that traditional print-based models of writing are best for many scholarly works, and this is unlikely to change. He discusses several cost-recovery models: subscription, print on demand, timed access, free archives/pay for new issues, and free new issues/pay for archive access. He advocates a “sustainable” scholarly publication infrastructure it intermediate between scholars and the public. As support, he outlines several ways in which publishers add value in a less-intermediated world: specialists are efficient, they can tailor works for specific audiences, and vetted material is better than non-vetted. He suggests that close interaction between academic groups interested in e-publishing is vital. These include librarians, techies, publishers, departments, and individual scholars.

Comments: Claims that volunteerism for e-journals is reaching its limit- not sure how this claim has held up. Gives long anecdote about the effects of the fall of Communism on Czech presses as a cautionary tale to compare to the e-publishing “revolution”- this is more of a metaphor than a direct parallel, but many of his concerns are probably justified re: radical changes without a plan. Almost as an aside, he ends with a discussion of the stifling nature of current copyright law, and urges non-profit publishers to stop siding with for-profits in lobbying efforts.

Links to: Bolter (decline of authority in online publishing); Liu (similar tone of justification for humanities disciplines in a digital world); Lessig (copyright wars)

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