[lbo-talk] Journal Access

Chuck Grimes c123grimes at att.net
Thu Dec 29 19:50:16 PST 2011

[Posted by Ismail Lagardien]:

``Journal fees account for a significant component of universities' costs, which are being passed to their students.''



Back in the mid-90s was about the time I discovered this problem doing bibliographical research in the bioscience library. There were two significant events or aspects to this problem that were not mentioned.

One was the use of unix on big distributed computer systems with big statistics packaged that could run their own custom programs for various labs. Most of these systems were built on NSF funding in 1970s through some of the 90s when NSF pulled out and Al Gore invented the internet. I was caught right in the middle of the transition away from the UC system switch to WinSuck. My kid was hanging with the comp sci students who took over and ran the old system for awhile before the administration closed them down.

The other area was archiving and distributing recent articles in the old unix printing using the TeX typesitting and publishing system which was tailor made for big computing in math, astronomy, and physics. It was and still is the way to typeset mathematics. Mathematica is supposed to have replaced it. I doubt it really has or the AMS would use it.

Eric Weisstein put together his giant math referrence work in TeX, back in the 90s sometime. Here is a story about what CRC did with it when they tried to keep it print only:


CRC which publishes a lot of science reference works sued Wolfram. They settled for some unknown amount and Weisstein put it back up and seems to have added more referrence works in the sciences.

Tex and later LaTeX is supposed to have various modules you can incorporate to handle graphs, photos and other illustrations. All these are or were available for free and were developed by the American Mathematics Society and some other scientific societies. These programs and modules were specifically designed to be used for publishing so authors and researchers can produce copy ready articles over the internet. These days the papers can go directly to the printer. I still use LaTeX to typeset my journal because all it requires are a few lines of code at the beginning, with and ending statement at the end and out comes formatted and paginated copy. In other words it's faster and easier once set up than any commerical software. They have various document classes which include journal articles. I am not too crazy about LaTeX since it is very difficult to change pre-packaged formats. In TeX I could layout a standard page in points (72/inch) with a drafting machine and convert the text box into code with exact positions.

This took weeks using M$uck and Adobe fonts and was expensive. Whatever Stallman's politics, he did a great service to writing math with computer aided design.

All of this software infrastructure can be used to re-design scientific and lets not forget the humanities publishing. The method would start at the public higher education systems. UCB used to have an entire building on Oxford that housed full size presses. Their bindery was somewhere else within a few miles. It created all those student course catelogues and various university publications including the UCB Press publications.

I have a special fondness for this now lost system. A friend of my errant stepfather, (C.F. Macintyre, aka Mac) an ex-pat living in Mexico then back to the States with us temporarily, translated Mexican, French, and German poetry and published with UCB Press. I have his translations of Goethe, Rilke, Verlane. He was a stunning figure, hard core old bastard sleeping in the sticky afternoon in our LA apartment in a straight backed chair (blocking the backdoor) between gigs stinking of Galoises, cheap bourban, and that sour old man smell, his half moon parrots loudly shitting on our window curtains. He resembled John Ross.

I was scared to death of him at eleven. Later I found out about Rimbaud. Mac had quit teaching at UCB about the same time as Haakon Chevalier. He wasn't a communist, so it had to be obscenity. He was down on funds, got kicked out his place on Alvarado. We moved him out and I remember the 40s portable Royal and a pile of sheets on the floor. Poetry works by endless revisions.

Other big universities had similar arrangements and publishing infrastructure and could support people like Mac off the deep end of the culture spectrum.

Many (or some?) departments have editor-professors who handle individual science journals. They read the papers or have post-docs read papers and do peer review. The papers are distributed to various departments with expertise in the subject electronically, downloaded and printed out. Peer comments are returned to the editor. When he or she has assembled an issue the papers are sent to the printer.

Now if that happened to be the press across the street you can see how that would automatically get back to the bioscience library also located just up the drive from the press for practically nothing.

The sequence was the universities started cutting back their infrastructure and or sold off their journals so publishing became privatized. Elsevier and others bought up these small publishing journals some time back in the 90s.

Just checking the journal Planta. It's now under Springer, but seems to provide free access on line in an inconvenient format. At one time the editor or one of the editors ran the lab were I worked.

With all our other problems, nothing like the above will get done. Already fewer and fewer people seem to have any of these once standard skills in the arts and sciences. Book layout used to be a part of the design and architecture department. The other month when I was laying out the new shop, I took the finished ink drawing for copying at the architecture students' store. The girl behind the counter was done up in typical art student fashion, purple hair, and delicate tatoos with some piercings. I ask if she sees many hand drawn plans. Not usually. I have to explain why this is a serious loss. You develop your spatial brain with drawing and figuring out scales and dimensions.

A younger guy downstairs started at CCAC, a local art school. He's in his freshman year. I asked him if he was taking figure drawing. No. He had a full academic load. This is pretty much the same problem. You develop your sense of proporition and scale from the human body. It sets up a spatial foundation for just about every space we live in.


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