date: 2013-06-24 12:20
Notes on Farkas-Conn's From Documentation to Information Science 1), chapter 3.
The returning question: are there technological solutions to various problems in scholarly communication? In the 1930s, Davis thought that microfilm technology would “'unlock the written literature'” and “break the log jam of scholarly publications” (p. 48). There's no doubt that technology, then and now, has unlocked the written literature and much more, but has it broken the log jam? Hardly. That log jam is the result of various other issues – few of which have anything to do with scholarly communication or with technology – and more to do with social, economic, and psychological factors.
In the summer of 1935, Davis explored the concept of publishing scientific journals on microfilm with Thomas Midgley, Jr., chairman of the board of the American Chemical Society (ACS). The idea appealed to Midgley. He had been disturbed that journal editors were bringing “pressure on authors for brevity” to reduce publication costs, allowing less and less space for theorizing and speculation, which, in turn, would bring about the stagnation of science. He thought that a periodical such as the Journal of Physical Chemistry published on microfilm could provide an arena for specialists to exchange “speculative thought” (pp. 44 - 45).
The above passage indicates an additional, important note on why bibliometricians and others often look at article length, or why it should be examined under certain types of inquiries.
Relevance to today: the role that non-standard formal and informal scholarly publication formats and media (e.g., blogs, data repositories, institutional / subject repositories, etc.) can play. In a sense, these passages provide historic warrant for other outlets.
The service “was a central depository of manuscripts that were too voluminous, highly specialized, 'or not of sufficient general interest … to be published under existing publishing conditions” (p. 49).
Science editors liked the idea: some were enthusiastic. Within a few months after the service was started, forty-three editors indicated their willingness to cooperate with auxiliary publications. *Chemical Abstracts* was the first abstracting service to participate (p. 49).
On the other hand, since the auxiliary service was not meant to provide material that would be widely read (unlike some of the examples mentioned above), perhaps the historical warrant needs further inquiry:
In his [Davis] view, careful editing was justified for journals of large circulation serving many readers, but the highly technical and detailed material likely to be submitted for auxiliary publication would be read by very few people and thus did not warrant rigorous editing or even perfect typing“ (p. 50).
In fact, the above passage indicates that the auxiliary service is wholly unlike today's alternative, informal modes of publication — because some of these modes (e.g., blogs) have the probability of being highly disseminated and read because of their accessibility. The question then, as Davis was concerned with (see next paragraph after above quoted passage), is what validity do alternate modes of publication have in the scientific community? Only if the scientific community assumes them to be valid, should they be measured with respect to that scientific community's values. Otherwise, they may be measured for other reasons, e.g., the dissemination of scientific findings to the public.
Note: a test for scientific validity in the altmetrics community seems to be based on the dissemination, as can be measured, of a piece of work and not strictly on the value the scientific community places on the work, as assessed and regulated in the usual manners. It is yet clear how dissemination is a measure of scientific validity (here I'm reminded of work related to impact that is negative, e.g., Nicolaisen's The J-Shaped Distribution of Citedness 2)). This identifies the altmetric assumption: that worth is based on dissemination. Here library and information science (and not one or the other but both jointly), with respect to their role in the knowledge of dissemination, have played important roles in identifying the things (variables, qualities) that hinder dissemination. But the identification of those *things* has served a purpose – to promote dissemination in regulated ways. An important question: does (or has) regulating the description of information maximize its dissemination?