Re: Council of Engineering and Scientific Society Executives '99

From: Hal Varian <hal_at_SIMS.BERKELEY.EDU>
Date: Sat, 10 Jul 1999 08:48:02 -0700

On Sat, 10 Jul 1999, Stevan Harnad wrote:

> (2) Unlike all other literature, their authors write these papers to
> report their ideas and findings, not to make money on their texts. All
> they want is to reach the eyes and minds of a maximum of fellow
> researchers, present and future, once their findings have passed peer
> review.

I think that this point is wrong. I would claim that most authors write
to present their ideas and visions, not to make money. The evidence is
the highly skewed distribution of income from writing. Like artists and
actors, only a very, very small fraction of trade authors make money from
their writing. I conjecture that their motivation is more often glory or
recognition, just like academics.

By way of evidence, let me point you towards the US Dept of Labor
Occupational Outlook Handbook, writers and editors section, where it is
asserted that the average starting salary for writers and editorial
assistants in 1996 was $21,000. Writers with more than 5 years of
experience make more than "more than $30,000". These are not substantial
sums for highly educated workers! Freelance writers earn much, much less
on average than professional authors; they can't be in it for the money.

However, I don't think that this claim has any impact on the rest of your
argument. After all, all you need to assert is that academic authors
aren't in it for the money---whether other authors are or not is
irrelevant to your claims. It does suggest that if the rest of your
argument is right it will apply more broadly than just to academic

Hal Varian, Dean voice: 510-642-9980
SIMS, 102 South Hall fax: 510-642-5814
University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720-4600
Received on Wed Feb 10 1999 - 19:17:43 GMT

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