Arrogance, elitism, paternalism

June 29, 2015

I just read this on The Scholarly Kitchen and nearly fell out of my seat:

In an era with more access given to less qualified people (laypeople and an increasingly unqualified blogging corps presenting themselves as experts or journalists), not to mention to text-miners and others scouring the literature for connections, the obligation to better manage these materials seems to be growing. We can no longer depend on the scarcity of print or the difficulties of distance or barriers of professional expertise to narrow access down to experts with a true need.

I think this may be the most revealing thing ever written on The Scholarly Kitchen. It’s hard to see a way of reading it that isn’t contemptuous of everyone outside the Magic Circle. Ideally, the great unwashed should be excluded altogether; but if we can’t do that, then at least we must tell when what to read and how to use it. Heaven forfend that we let Ordinary People make such decisions for themselves. That is for the priestly caste to do.

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33 Responses to “Arrogance, elitism, paternalism”

  1. brembs Says:

    No, it’s not up to the priestly caste to do so, it’s up to the high-priest Kent Anderson to prevent anyone but experts of his choosing to publish in Science Magazine :-)

  2. brembs Says:

    Seriously though, lesser things (IMHO) have cost people their jobs…

  3. Mike Taylor Says:

    To be honest, I’m not sure that what Kent wrote here isn’t in pretty good alignment with the AAAS’s goals. Or perhaps I should call it the AAAAAAS (the American Association for the Advancement of the AAAS).

  4. brembs Says:

    Perhaps implicitly, difficult to argue there :-)

    Explicitly, however:

    “advancing science for the benefit of *all* people.”
    http://www.aaas.org/about-aaas
    (emphasis mine)

  5. coppenheim Says:

    Yes indeed, breathtaking arrogance by Kent Anderson. To be consistent, he no doubt also opposes votes for women because females’ brains can’t copy with political discourse.

  6. PedroS Says:

    The money quote is “We can no longer depend on the scarcity of print or the difficulties of distance or barriers of professional expertise to NARROW access down to experts with a true need.” Putting the lie to the laughable claim that traditional publishers need copyright transfer agreements to help further dissemination of author’s work.

  7. Panagrellus Says:

    From Anderson’s “Dictionary of Scholarly Communication”:
    “To publish = to narrow access by the scarcity of print or the difficulties of distance or barriers of professional expertise”.


  8. […] The publisher at AAAS/Science wrote something truly remarkable about how he sees his job. […]

  9. Mark Hallett Says:

    Right on, Mike! I hate snobbery, and when this extends to scholarship it excludes those who can make real and important contributions to science.

    Best Regards,
    Mark Hallett

  10. Bryan Riolo Says:

    The way you word your post can easily be taken as your agreement with the Scholarly Kitchen. The Mike Taylor I’ve come to know on SVPOW is not an elitist.

  11. Mike Taylor Says:

    Ha! Well, Brian, I can just about see how someone could misread my post along those lines, but it a bit of a stretch. For avoidance of doubt I do not endorse the position of the Scholarly Kitchen as expressed here.

  12. Craig Dylke Says:

    I’m glad he pointed that out, before I read some more actual science I could find ways to teach my primary kids…

  13. Frosted Flake Says:

    I am pleased you got the last word in that discussion. And that you short post so clearly encapsulated the point. Speaking as one literally cheated out of college (despite carrying three points on a full load as a freshman while living out of a knapsack), with no letters at all behind my name to impress friends, relatives or businessmen, I would like to say clearly there are some who could (would) be more if they knew more. And they don’t have tattoos on their foreheads.

    But then, you already said that.


  14. “…then they fight you, then you win.” We progress!


  15. Did any of you read the source post from which these few sentences were extracted and framed for you by Mike? The long and fairly nuanced original post was about how managing digital archives requires more responsibility and thought, mentioning the “right to be forgotten” and other situations in which persistent information online has led to tragic situations, injustice, and problems moving to new information. There is nothing in the post about paywalls or limiting access except in the sense of marking or making clear when information is outdated or wrong. In fact, the post is from 2014, and what Mike “wrote” here is pasted directly from his comment on the original post back in September 2014, proving that Mike did not “just read this on the Scholarly Kitchen,” but read it 9 months ago, and is just recycling it now — which is ironic, because the original post was about how misleading old information can be online. I guess it’s even more misleading when it’s recycled intentionally to make you think it was just written when it’s really a copy-pasted comment from 9 months ago from an old post.

  16. Mike Taylor Says:

    I had “just read this on the Scholarly Kitchen” when I wrote this post on 30 September 2014. I didn’t post it at the time because I posted something else on that day. Then the draft languished until yesterday I thought it was time to dig out an old draft so I’d have something to feed the blog with.

    Not that I see how that affects your argument — unless you’re saying your position has changed in the last nine months, and that you no longer feel it’s lamentable that “we can no longer depend on scarcity of print or the difficulties of distance”. It would be a pleasant surprise indeed to find that you have revised your views!


  17. Again, read the quote in context. It’s about publishers taking responsibility for their archives now that they have new audiences. You’re taking it out of context, as you did in the first place. And now you’ve taken it out of context in a new way — both out of the context of a logical argument that publishers can’t be lazy about managing their archives (because the old constraints don’t exist anymore, constraints which tended to manage their archives passively for them), and out of context in the sense that this isn’t a new post but just a recycled comment from 9 months ago. Talk about managing your archives . . . you could have been clear about it, and actually I’d assert that’s a responsibility you have to your readers. At least this discussion has made it clear that you’ve pulled something out of last year and presented it as new information — and that’s one of the dangers of Internet archives and their persistence, a point made in the post we’re discussing.

  18. brembs Says:

    Now I’m confused. What should get a stamp “obsolete” because it is ‘misleading’? #arseniclife, Kent Anderson’s post about how he laments the days when texts were carved in stone on mountains to high to access, or Mike’s very recent post containing a comment from 2014?

    I’m obviously not expert enough to follow this highly elaborate discourse, so maybe I shouldn’t even be reading any of this? Why didn’t Kent Anderson write his post on paper and bury it in the Mariana Trench? That would have made misleading posts so much more difficult, only experts would have been able to access it! Not some incompetent blogger with the same name as an Elsevier employee…

    Seriously now (oops, sorry, wrong reference), what we say today is tomorrow’s archive. Newton may have been correct yesterday, but he’s wrong today – should we delete all references to Newton and instead only archive Einstein’s papers?
    I actually found very little (maybe a tee tiny bit) of nuance in the original post and a lot of the arrogant, condescending Dunning-Kruger effect Kent Anderson usually displays in his writings. But then again, with English as my fourth language, I’m likely not competent to see the nuance in the presumably elegant and eloquent prose of an English BA.


  19. So, to this point, a publisher of Darwin now usually includes a forward to put the material into a modern scientific context (for example, this 150th anniversary edition with a preface by Julian Huxley [http://www.amazon.com/Origin-Species-150th-Anniversary/dp/0451529065/]). That’s a responsible publisher, who keeps the information as it was for the sake of the historical record but recognizes the context has shifted.

    Again, the point of the post was that publishers can’t simply scan in their archives and think everything is fine. Times have changed, and the old constraints are irrelevant, so we need to rethink. Are you really against rethinking things?

    And, as to the Dunning-Kruger effect, it has two sides, as you might recall.

  20. brembs Says:

    Now actually seriously (because, apparently, exaggerating in jest doesn’t seem to drive the point home): in your post, you raise a point that doesn’t need to be raised, afaic. Anyone but little children realize that what people once wrote may not be accurate or politically correct to write today. That’s why there is an ongoing discussion, e.g. about the use of deprecated words in children’s books. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/03/arts/television/pippi-longstockings-words-to-be-modified-for-tv.html

    By raising this as an important issue also for grown-ups, particularly flagging it condescendingly as an issue for the “less qualified people (laypeople and an increasingly unqualified blogging corps presenting themselves as experts or journalists)” (i.e., not the highly trained, intelligent people like you), as I, incompetent biology professor) see it, can only mean two things (either one or both of them, actually):
    1) Until you wrote this post, you had no idea that there may be incorrect, obsolete or misleading information in archives and thought it would be a good idea to convey this novel insight to the lesser readers.
    2) Given the impending doom of imbecilic mob encroaching on the turf of the intelligentsia via the web, you thought it was high time you told the experts who manage archives that they actually have a problem they’re not aware of and that they ought to get their act together or the hordes of the internet will submit more #arseniclife papers to Science or something.

    Neither of the two options make you look any better. But then again, as you point out, I’m likely not expert enough to understand what you write anyway, so my drivel is just a point in case of being aware of one’s incompetence.

    Sorry, I couldn’t stay serious all the way down, but I hope I managed for long enough to get the point across this time.

  21. Mike Taylor Says:

    It’s nice to have Julian Huxley’s introduction to the Origin. That’s real added value.

    But, really? You imagine people need to be told that a 150-year-old book no longer represents the state of the art?

    The most useful service publishers could provide along these lines would be three (or maybe more) sets of links alongside each article: to subsequent articles which have (A) corroborated it, (B) contradicted it, or (C) built on it.

  22. Marcin Says:

    @MikeT:
    That actually is a visionary idea, pretty doable with a single click in the Internet era. Similar applies for the (necessary/helpful) literature managers / citation templates used for a given paper. #StayingSupportive

  23. Mike Taylor Says:

    Well, Marcin, the actual technology is obviously trivial. The problem is with obtaining a database not only of what cites what (what database exists, but , predictably, is proprietary), but of how it cites it. Building that would be a huge crowdsourcing exercise.

  24. brembs Says:

    If we had this:

    http://bjoern.brembs.net/2015/04/what-should-a-modern-scientific-infrastructure-look-like/

    a citation typology would be included (obviously). Now guess who’s the greatest obstacle to this kind of infrastructure?

  25. Andrew Stuck Says:

    “We can no longer rely on blahblahblah to narrow access?” So when natural scarcity fails, we have to create artificial scarcity so we can make people pay through the nose?

  26. Mike Taylor Says:

    That’s how I read it, Andrew, yes. (Although note that Kent feels this quote misrepresents his position — see his earlier comments.)


  27. Kinda funny to see so much heat emanating from a post that the blogger obviously thought was not an important enough issue to raise for 9 months and only then produced because he had nothing of more interest to report

  28. coppenheim Says:

    Well I for one am glad that Mike got round to commenting on that appalling post by Kent Anderson, late as the comment was, because it drew my attention to something I was not previously aware of. And for all Kent’s protestations about being quoted out of context, he has yet to refute what Mike first said about Kent’s specific remarks, so perhaps he can tell us clearly now: is he in favour of restricting access to scholarly materials without added commentary to just experts in the field? It’s an easy enough question.


  29. @coppenheim hear, hear!

    And, I might add, a caveat that this discussion only makes even remote sense in the case of medical journals: no one’s worried that old papers in physics, maths, chemistry, history, economics, etc etc shouldn’t be gazed on lest our eyeballs melt with the incorrectness of them all.

    On the other hand, if outdated and incorrect economics papers were locked away never to be read except for trained experts who recognised subtle falsehoods when they saw them, then maybe the world would be better off :-)


  30. Personally, i’m still appalled they printed the bible in the vernacular!

  31. Frosted Flake Says:

    The whole point of writing in Latin was to take religion away from people, then sell it back to them. When you can read it yourself, very soon you know as much or more than the priests do. And then what are they going to do for money? WORK?

    And it is happening again, ‘The Big Paywall’ is coming down, but this time it is reality that is up for grabs.But we are still talking about the money, not the knowledge.

    With a bit of luck, we can do it again later, with the actual money. Think it through. Money is created by lending it. It gets paid back with interest. Two big questions. Where does the interest come from? And who winds up with the money in the end?

  32. Chase Says:

    Kent, your argument is invalid when you state that Mike presented your post as if it were newly published. He provided a link to your original post for goodness sake! In fact, the link is one of the first items which greets you in Mike’s post.


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