*Scholarly Publishing and its Discontents*

by on March 13, 2017 at 1:55 pm in Books, Education, Science | Permalink

That is the new book and also free pdf by Joshua Gans.  This is an ideal book of sorts.  He writes it clearly, says what he wants to, ends it, and then gives it away for free.  Here is part of his conclusion:

It is easy at a high level to think about how knowledge could be unbundled, but once a framework is developed, then graduate students who were learning and reading past knowledge would be encouraged to translate their own information into the new framework.  The knowledge could be freed from the bounds of journals without undermining all the curation and attribution work that goes with them.  And at the same time, a searchable database that is open by design would exist not for articles, pages, or PDFs, but for the knowledge itself.

I’m all for moving in this direction, my main worry is to wonder how much difference it will make.  Systems of hierarchy tend to reemerge in some manner or another, no matter what the setting.  And if there is one thing we have learned from the internet, it is that free entry can lead to a greater rather than lesser consolidation of interest.

I recall back in the 1990s, when my colleague Don Lavoie was so excited about organizing science by “linkable hypertext,” in a kind of new knowledge utopia, a Habermasian wet dream.  It was to be an intellectual paradise.  What we got was…the blogosphere.  Still a paradise of sorts!  And free.  But not a scientific paradise.  I’m sure some of you in the comments can explain that to the others perfectly well, whether you are trying to do so or not.

1 Thiago Ribeiro March 13, 2017 at 2:21 pm

“I recall back in the 1990s, when my colleague Don Lavoie was so excited about organizing science by “linkable hypertext,” in a kind of new knowledge utopia, a Habermasian wet dream. It was to be an intellectual paradise.”

Like the Encyclopedia Galactica.


2 AlanG March 13, 2017 at 2:22 pm

Isn’t this a bit hypocritical? Dean Baker’s published his recent work as an e-book and gives it away free. One way that professors could make college a bit more affordable is to publish their textbooks as e-books and provide them free for students. Of course the professors would have to forego royalties but the price of the texts would come way down. Look at all the first year econ books that compete for that limited market. I’m sure the fine students of GMU use Modern Principles of Economics and the fine students at Harvard use one or more of Mankiw’s books (recent price of the first year text at Amazon is $348). If the economics professors really wanted to provide an “economic” benefit, these books would be e-books. Better yet, they would let their students choose any textbook, including past editions of Samuelson’s valuable tome that I used a great many years ago. That’s the libertarian way.


3 Anonymous March 13, 2017 at 2:59 pm

Open Educational Resources exist, and are proceeding (somewhat slowly?). A new resource is created when a donor finds an author willing to work without royalty (for free or for hire). Perhaps I shouldn’t say that is unstoppable, but over the next 100 years the body of Open work should accumulate. Perhaps sufficiently to change education.


(I have not yet read *Scholarly Publishing and its Discontents*)


4 carlospln March 13, 2017 at 9:20 pm

Dean Baker’s new book is v good http://deanbaker.net/books/rigged.htm

Wonder why it hasn’t gotten a guernsey here at MR?

Things that make you go, ‘hmmm…


5 Troll me March 16, 2017 at 1:33 am

An extremely small share of college professors write books that anyone actually buys.

Most professors provide alternative options that are not costly for students. For example, listing exercises from both the current and previous editions of a test, or ensuring that the library always has a copy on hand for short-term access.


6 rayward March 13, 2017 at 2:26 pm

What libertarians I hope have learned is that institutions serve a very useful (civilized) purpose. Colleges and journals and libraries serve as filters for sharing of knowledge. It’s not a perfect filter, but nothing is perfect. It’s like the NCAA basketball tournament getting underway this week, the selection committee filtering the best from the rest, the early rounds filtering the hot teams from the not so hot, culminating in a champion that is accepted as the best using the tournament format as the best available filter. Of course, academics are as familiar with selection committees as basketball players: selection committees for acceptance in undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs, selection committees for evaluating students’ progress and student research papers, selection committees for evaluating the awarding of academic credentials, selection committees for publication of research papers, and selection committees for hiring and promoting academics. Like the filter for selecting the best basketball team, it’s not perfect, but nothing is perfect.


7 thfmr March 13, 2017 at 3:59 pm

Unlike your other examples, basketball isn’t made an utter farce by social justice.


8 Troll me March 16, 2017 at 1:39 am

Ever heard of salary caps and the players union?

Do you think that the players’ union should have the right to negotiate on an equal footing with the owner’s union?


9 Troll me March 16, 2017 at 1:40 am

Or do you only like to take away the rights of workers to negotiate collectively (ro other such things) when they are already downdtrodden?


10 mad_kalak March 13, 2017 at 4:04 pm

Interesting analogy. So you say having some sort of credentialing process is better than none for the production of formal scientific knowledge. However, I would hazard a guess that in the aggregate you’re right, but when you get to academic specializations outside of the hard sciences, no filter might actually be the better side of the trade-off than having filters. Example: the replication crisis in psychology.


11 B. Reynolds March 14, 2017 at 8:25 am

“You don’t necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants or of 18 different pairs of sneakers…” –Bernie Sanders


12 Thomas March 14, 2017 at 4:22 pm

The communist crowd seems to favor an all-black uniform.


13 Troll me March 16, 2017 at 1:45 am

As long as it says “Microsoft” on it, then sure!


14 Mark Thorson March 13, 2017 at 2:47 pm

Part of the problem is that technology which gives legs to science also gives them to pseudoscience. Some of the best pseudoscience is very well referenced and properly cherry picked so that even a competent scientist may have to look twice before saying “Waaaiiitt a minute . . .”. If it’s spell-checked, properly formatted, and published in an OMICS journal, how is a layman to know it isn’t even fit to be cited as a Wikipedia reference?


15 ross March 13, 2017 at 3:24 pm

— the big, ignored problem here is recognizing factual “knowledge” from misinformation, disinformation, opinion, and superstition.

Unbundling is a much lesser problem

Academia and the internet deal much more in non-knowledge than knowledge


16 Anonymous March 13, 2017 at 3:56 pm

I have made my way through *Scholarly Publishing and its Discontents*.

The interesting thing, with respect to your “problem,” is that scholarly archives “ensure that false knowledge is removed from the system.” Wikipedia gets its strength by attempting this, and suffers periodic controversy as a result.

To contrast, “the trouble with comments” is they have no such mechanisms, and may even suffer perverse incentives. After all, if Wikipedia will not accept your definition of “a modern progressive,” there is a comment stream that surely will.


17 ross March 13, 2017 at 4:29 pm

[….. scholarly archives “ensure that false knowledge is removed from the system.” ]

Above statement is false. (Is it included in any “scholarly archives” ? )

There is NO mechanism to generally ensure that false knowledge is removed from scholarly archives, or current academic publications

Scholarly disagreements & controversies are endless. Knowledge & truth are often not obvious, while false knowledge is often strongly endorsed by supposed scholars


18 Anonymous March 13, 2017 at 4:40 pm

Do you know what an internal contradiction is, ross? It is when you say “there is NO mechanism” and then you say “disagreements & controversies are endless.”

In fact, disagreements & controversies are the mechanism, they are not endless, knowledge becomes settled over time.

There would be “NO” mechanism if there were no controversies and everyone just happily accepted incompatible facts. See psychology, or the Trump Whitehouse.


19 Anonymous March 13, 2017 at 4:50 pm

And on a technical level: http://retractionwatch.com


20 dan1111 March 14, 2017 at 2:49 am

ross overstates it, to be sure. But I think we have very good reason to believe that only a tiny fraction of “false knowledge” gets removed via mechanisms like retraction. The replication crisis in science suggests that a large percentage of all research findings are false, but very few papers actually get retracted. Most because they get very little attention. But some are likely built on with further work, without ever checking the original results.

Contra Mark Thorson, I think technology can help enable better mechanisms to distinguish true from false findings. The internet has enabled greater information about quality in many areas: for example, restaurant or product reviews. Or a Q&A forum like Stack Overflow, which enables technical content to be rated and curated by a community of experts. The internet could enable much more rapid, transparent evaluation of work from the scientific community, if the right kind of system were in place.

21 Anonymous March 14, 2017 at 6:10 am

I don’t understand that “tiny fraction” claim. Would you say that only a tiny fraction of what we think about an old science, like geology, is true?

Other than that, I think we agree, and that more formal systems do better than go-nowhere systems, like these comments.

22 Thomas March 14, 2017 at 4:31 pm

Leftist argues for more deference to authorities controlled by leftists. No need to read any of Anons hack comments.


23 Troll me March 16, 2017 at 3:53 pm

How about start with the TSA, prison guard unions, and the police run-around on the poice union ban.

No more leftist deference to leftist authorites! Ban the unions! Down with the TSA, prison guard unions and nationally united de facto police unions!


24 Troll me March 16, 2017 at 1:47 am

This is why there will stlil be curators.


25 thfmr March 13, 2017 at 4:02 pm

Anybody notice Tyler’s mentions of the comment section getting increasingly salty?


26 mad_kalak March 13, 2017 at 4:08 pm

No, but I have wondered why he posts so much to a blog where at least 25% of the commentariat mocks him openly for his views on trade, immigration, borders, multiculturalism, and taste in books. I


27 dan1111 March 14, 2017 at 2:50 am

Because the commenters are almost certainly not representative of his overall readership?


28 Hmmmmmmmm March 13, 2017 at 4:25 pm

Yep: “I’m sure some of you in the comments can explain that to the others perfectly well, whether you are trying to do so or not.”


29 mad_kalak March 13, 2017 at 5:08 pm

I’m not sure what you mean by that. It’s a normal thought though. If I started a blog to disseminate my views and it becomes one of the most popular on the internet, but it also ends up being a rallying point for the dissemination of views with which I disagree, am I not actively undermining my views by providing a large platform to those who disagree? I guess it matters if I though I was converting people to my views more than the comments section makes them wonder if I was off my rocker.


30 Brian Donohue March 13, 2017 at 5:13 pm

Good for him. He has assembled quite the cast of tomato-throwers here.


31 Lurker March 14, 2017 at 6:27 am

A most civilized cast, compared to just about any other blog I have read. Except for those periods when “My Superior Leftist Values” drops in to rant about Breitbart and Fox News.


32 Rationalist March 14, 2017 at 7:36 am
33 Troll me March 16, 2017 at 1:52 am

Well the alt-left at Brietbart has been having a hard time convincing folks that they are mainstream centrist.

As for Fox’s moderate and centrist positions which give a fair hearing to multiple perspectives, all of which openly apluaded and welcomed for their contributions, they are simply too extreme to compete for the middle ground position staked out by the alt-left at Brietbart.


34 David Condon March 14, 2017 at 2:24 am

Well, I laughed.


35 Sigivald March 13, 2017 at 4:06 pm

when my colleague Don Lavoie was so excited about organizing science by “linkable hypertext,” in a kind of new knowledge utopia, a Habermasian wet dream. It was to be an intellectual paradise. What we got was…the blogosphere

What you got was not the blogosphere (I mean, you did get that, but it was irrelevant to organizing science by hypertext), but Wikipedia (and its equivalents).

Which is honestly an immense improvement over the status quo ante, for all its faults.


36 Curt F. March 13, 2017 at 4:25 pm



37 mpowell March 13, 2017 at 4:39 pm

Great point. And wikipedia does contain linkable hypertext, though it is nearly irrelevant with search. Wikipedia is generally underappreciated, I’ve found.


38 Jesse C March 13, 2017 at 4:18 pm

Indeed, not an intellectual paradise. I will gladly help by expanding on that point. You see, when one considers that a totally free information space lends itself to a “tragedy of the commons” scenario… hey I see what you did there.


39 Boris_Badenoff March 13, 2017 at 5:10 pm

Ah, yes, the necessity of filtering knowledge! Through which every single major scientific fraud of the last 40 years has passed the “peer review” process and been published in the “major” journals.

If knowledge is power, what is the authority to “filter” it? Is there really so much difference between the filtering for heresy in the Middle Ages and the filtering for politically incorrect views today? And if the Keepers of the Filters cannot detect overt fraud, what good are they? Are they a net benefit or cost?


40 Troll me March 16, 2017 at 1:59 am

The existence of fraud on the other side of a filter does not imply that there would be less fraud if the filter were removed.


41 Adovada March 13, 2017 at 5:50 pm

Since consuming and evaluating information uses resources, at some level filters and hierarchies have value. Since the amount of information that can be consumed and evaluated remians fairly constant in the short term, a higher percentage of information must be fitered out as the amount of information grows. If the supply of information grows so rapidly that adequate filtering can’t keep up, hierarchies may have even more value to those at tha top.


42 Troll me March 16, 2017 at 2:03 am

Problems of too much information, and information filters related to this, are studied in former communist societies where the government had too much information compared to the ability of adminsitrators to decide who/what to control and when and how.

Probably academic work related to information management under Stalin and those who followed him would be more relevant than whatever considerations were previously made in free countries.


43 Zach March 13, 2017 at 6:09 pm

The trouble with completely free access is that one of the major use cases of scientific literature is something like “what is a standard approach that I can use here without screwing up the things where I’m actually adding value?” So you need some sort of operational definition of research which is high enough quality for you to devote your attention elsewhere.


44 derek March 13, 2017 at 8:39 pm

What is the problem? That weird ideas get promulgated? Maybe one ought to get out a bit more.

When isolated places like Newfoundland got access to cheap paint in any color they wanted, people painted their houses in bright garish colors. It was a major improvement on cod blood or raw wood. After a generation or two the bland earth tones and neutral colors that are common in more prosperous areas become the norm; a great stagnation of sorts.

A few years ago I was curious about image processing and did some research and coding, finding myself on well trodden paths where I would run into a question and find someone had found the answer. It was available in detail and volume, all it took is some curiosity. I fail to see the abundance of scientific and technological information as a problem. Of course it is over the heads of most people, but is that a problem?


45 efim polenov March 13, 2017 at 11:08 pm

“I am sure some of you in the comments…” last line made me laugh. I think in a year or two there will be some movie that the young millennials of our day will think is classic when they are old – probably not a movie I will watch, but how many 50 year olds in the 30s saw half of the movies we now think are great — and there will be a line in there somewhere where a guy or gal who blogs is sitting at a roadside restaurant in one of the more scenic counties of Oklahoma (more trees at the riversides and a little more vividness in the greenery on the surrounding low hills under that blue sky with those big clouds) and says something like what you said with “I am sure some of you in the comments….” and someone else says “but do you care” and the response is “not for more than a minute or two a day” and then “actually, not for a minute or two on a bad day, not at all on a good day”. (On the other hand, Latin studies are in better shape now than they were in 40 years ago, and number theory is doing well with internet crowd sourcing, and all of you can come up with other examples. I just wanted to say something supportive of Tyler C. and Alex who heroically have put up with so much obnoxiousness in their comment sections…I would have trashed the commenting section as soon as the obnoxious comments reached 10 percent. Well at heart I am not an educator) Well even Pushkin admitted that 10 percent of his stuff was not worth reading even once. I have read books of 200 pages without regret because there were a few good lines and maybe even just one wonderful unrepeatable paragraph.


46 efim polenov March 14, 2017 at 12:00 am

Skip this if you don’t care about 50 year old sitcoms::: “I do have one announcement. Due to technical difficulties beyond our control, the Partridge Family will not be appearing today. However, Miss Bancock, the beloved phys-ed coach, has agreed to step in and tell us about her crusade to get women into Professional Hockey.” …. cross=talk ….One, two, three, four … Ladies and Gentlemen, the Partridge Family //// (Bah, ba bah ba, bah ba bah ba ba, ba, bah ba Ba BaH ba….Last night, in the middle of a good dream…I think I love you, isn’t that what life is made of, etc. ” Sitcoms, too, had their golden moments.


47 Hazel Meade March 14, 2017 at 11:14 am

The biggest problem with the internet right now (IMO) is that credible science, and journalism for that matter, is behind paywalls, while complete garbage is easily accessible for free, and often is the first link that pops up in a search engine. Fake news and fake science have been going on for years, since the internet got started really. The best counters to this we have come up with are Wikipedia and Snopes, but they can hardly keep up with the web of fake science and true believers, which have evolved to the point they have their own interlocked networks of “sources” – a full scale alternate reality based on conspiracy theories and narrative shaping.
The scientific community has often taken a hands off approach to this, not wanting to sully themselves by debating the drecks of the internet, but the lack of any response has only allowed misinformation to proliferate and be taken seriously by the credulous and naive.
One of the best things I saw happen was when Popular Science debunked the 9/11 Truther theories. The true believers weren’t convinced but it was the kind of information, presented in laymans terms, that a casual curious observer could find and read and understand what the actual scientific community thought of this.
More of that would help a lot, but there’s an army of relatively scientifically literate people out there who would be willing to help if they could actually link to and quote real scientific sources. With all the actual science behind paywalls it makes it very hard.


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