Re: PubScience under threat

From: Albert Henderson <chessNIC_at_COMPUSERVE.COM>
Date: Mon, 2 Jul 2001 18:40:22 -0400

On Thu, 28 Jun 2001, Mark Doyle wrote:

> This "gov't should not be involved" is a slippery slope. What happens
> to funding for:
> 1) Harvard-Smithsonian's ADS service
> 2) PubMed, Medline, and PubMedCentral
> 3)
> All of these are more than worthy of gov't support in my opinion
> and so is PubSCIENCE. There is no mandate that out-moded
> business models should be preserved at all costs. To be
> sure this is the real point of attacking PubSCIENCE. SIIA wants
> to push us down that slope.

        It has been a long-standing policy that our government
        should not compete with the private sector in publishing --
        no more than it should provide electricity or food for the
        general population. Proposals for such utopian services
        were sharply rejected by Congress and the Administration
        following Sputnik. The present batch of projects were
        created without policy hearings or Congressional approvals
        -- thereby doomed by their sponsors from the very first day.
        The projects cited service a prosperous elite. By virtue
        of handsome subsidies, they amount to welfare for rich,
        heavily subsidized tax-exempt institutions as well as
        for competitors abroad.

        If left to grow, it is likely that free government
        dissemination services would justify further reductions in
        university library spending. They would be seen as substitutes
        for expensive journals just as was the embrace of library
        photocopying in the 1976 Copyright Act. They also discourage,
        by their "free" or "cheap" predatory pricing, private
        innovation and investments in adequate coverage.

        The record of government intrusion in information is
        pitiful. Look at the National Library of Medicine which,
        over 100 years ago covered the entirety of biomedicine.
        By its own analysis, its coverage dropped near 90
        percent. Moreover, its service is badly outdated. A team
        of researchers was forced to wade through 10,000 cites
        1980-1995, for instance, to locate a few hundred articles
        related to "whiplash related injuries."

        Another example of government foundering is the library
        cataloging dominated by the Library of Congress's archaic
        MARC standard. It is stuck in the days when catalogs were
        located near browsable stacks; superficial catalog information
        could be tolerated. State-of-the-art online cataloging is now
        dominated by private industry:,, etc., not
        the government.
        If there is a policy cause to be taken up at the grass roots,
        it is this: Science agencies support library spending
        through grants as an indirect cost of research. Unfortunately,
        overhead support does not reflect the actual use of libraries
        or the needs of researchers. It is no more than an administrative
        slush fund. The responsibility for this probably falls to the
        university representatives who negotiate indirect cost rates
        and those who advise the Administration. But then, where were
        the librarians and the associations of scientists when these
        back-room deals cut the library user out of the picture? This is
        where reform is long overdue.

Albert Henderson
Received on Wed Jan 03 2001 - 19:17:43 GMT

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