Not For Sale: Scholarly Communications in Modern Society

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University

          In the past thirty years, scholarly publication has seen the emergence and cresting of one technological revolution, and, within the past five years, the emergence of a second. The first harmed the quality of scholarship and restricted access to it. The second technological revolution promises to repair the damage.
          The first revolution is the advent of PC based "desktop publishing." The second is PC mediated telecommunications (a.k.a. the "internet").
          My father was a printer. In the late 1960s his union struck against the early incursion of computers into the composing room. He never worked another day as a printer; when he retired in 1972, the International Typographical Union was broke--he lost all his retirement. His was the first trade completly wiped out by the computer revolution. I was publishing two books in the late 1960s: one with Prentice-Hall, another with a University Press. Both were thoroughly and rigorously reviewed by anonymous colleagues at the request of the publishers--because publication then was a major financial investment. One was set into type by printers like my father in North Ireland.
          In 1974, I witnessed the emergence of the first technological revolution. While editing a book of papers for SAGE Publications I visited Beverly Hills CA and saw how mini-computers in a small office above a drug store on Beverly Drive were changing the face of scholarly publication. Books could now be printed with the expectation that they would sell well under 1000 copies and make a profit.
          Today, scholarly publication is in the hands of commercial publishers like Elsevier, Springer, Kluwer, SAGE et al., who publish literally thousands of books and journals each year with profits--by some estimates--of over 40%. And, the stuff is scarcely reviewed at all. More junk is being published today in the name of scholarship and fewer and fewer institutions (libraries) and individuals can afford it. (Notice how Kluwer--to pick one typical example operates. Last week I received a MS from a secretary to an editor whom I'd never heard of who was responsible for the journal Policy Sciences. Please review the MS, it said, and telefax your review to us within three weeks and return the MS by mail. No return envelope was enclosed. If you can not meet the deadline, the letter warned, please pass the MS on to a colleague who could review it! What gaul! And all this from a publisher of dozens of scholarly journals which it sells at a rate of $200 for 300 pages a year to libraries and $50-60 to individuals.) The motive is clear; the means are obvious; the opportunity abounds.
          Commercialization is ruining scholarly communication. The solution is simple: computer-mediated telecommunications of scholarly work controlled by scholars working in universities--not university presses--making work freely available to everyone as a public service. I'm talking about the internet, if you didn't recognize it.
          I have published for seven years, completely by myself--no secretary, no graduate assistant, no budget--a peer refereed journal in education policy analysis that anyone can access for free on the internet. And many people do; 1,000 persons a weekday from all over the world (Malaysia, Korea, Bulgaria, Brazil and on and on). The journal competes with three other journals in its field whose combined subscriptions total about 4,000. One article in my journal has been downloaded 25,000 times in three years. A national survey of home schooling was published in my journal on March 23 and will surpass 5,000 downloads this week.
          I have edited three journals on paper, going back to 1968 with RER. None of them has had peer review even remotely approaching the quality of what my editorial board gives me on my electronic journal. (If Ken Strike will forgive me for divulging that which could not possibly do him any harm, his article in my journal two years ago received 14 peer reviews in two weeks; he said it was one of the most rigorous and helpful experiences of his publishing career.)
          Twice I have turned down offers from foundations to support my policy journal. I could not accept the money and continue to argue that commercial publishers have no right to charge what they do for journals and books. We, the scholars who write, can and should take control of our reviewing and publishing, and make the fruits of our labors freely accessible.

Note: Summary of my remarks at Session 6.31 "A Dialog About Electronic Forms of Scholarly Communication" of the American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting; Monday, April 19, 1999