For many days we have been discussing #scholpub on the GOAL mailing list, run by Richard Poynder. Some important issues are coming up and there is now a healthy divergence of views which RP runs well. I’ll talk more later, I hope.
In the time between trying to content-mine PDF (yes, more later), I thought about the tragedy of the academic commons. We have 10,000,000,000 USD (count the zeros) or mainly public money and student fees to “buy” the #scholpub we produce. That’s a sizable market. It’s not as large as many, but quite enough to run competently and for the benefit of everyone.
Including the #scholarlypoor
But we don’t. #scholpub is the most inefficient “market” in the world. (No, perhaps arms procurement is worse ). I’ll analyse more in a later post. Hint, here’s the answer to my question:
“What’s the difference between Elsevier and British Gas (or Central Trains, or Scottish Power or umpteen more)?”
Answer: There is no regulator for #scholpub.
I wondered why. Basically because academia is 10,000 institutions all going in different directions.
In molecular sciences these particles obey a Maxwellian distribution. Some fast, some slow, some east, some west, some north, some south, some up, some down. Occasionally they bump into each other, but they are basically uncoordinated.
And they give rise to the laws of thermodynamics. The analogy that follows has some merit – I am still working it out – feel free to contribute: The laws in their formal form are not easily accessible but there’s a witty synopsis (http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Thermodynamics )
0 You have to play the game
- You can’t win; you can only break even.
- You can only break even at absolute zero.
- You can’t reach absolute zero.
Law 1 says you can move resources (heat and work) around and that you conserve energy
Law 2 says that there are inefficiencies in the system (loss of useful energy) which only disappear at absolute zero (the lowest possible temperature)
Law 3 is obvious
So I thought – there is ten billion dollars in the system. It can be moved around. There are inefficiencies in the system, but if we work together we can achieve high efficiency, And then? The sad truth. So I proposed 3 laws. They are raw, you are welcome to tune the wording. But they are roughly based on the three laws of Thermodynamics and perhaps there is a zeroth here:
0. There is a lot of money in the academic #scholpub system
1. We can change the system by moving money around
2. To do this academics must collaborate
3. Academics will never collaborate
And when I published them Jan Velterop came up with the lovely “Laws of Acadynamics”. Thanks Jan.
Now there is a way to get round the Second Law. Maxwell’s Demon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maxwell%27s_demon ) . A superintelligent being that bats individual molecules around. Organizes Universities to point in the same direction. Yes, we need a Maxwell demon.
But haven’t we had a Maxwell Demon already in #scholpub?