Friday, May 22, 2015

Can We Have Too Much Collective Knowledge?

More to the point is can we have too big of a record of collective knowledge that it is no longer useful? Barbara Fister recently discussed some of the pitfalls of publishing. Specifically, she mentioned an article by Luc Rinaldi that exposes the issues with peer review:
  • Some journal publishers are allowing papers to go to the head of the peer-review line if they are paid for the expedited service. This undermines the purpose of peer review by creating a limited pool of reviewers who will turn their reviews in quickly if the authors pay for the service. This is, in part, to satisfy those who need CV lines stat and can afford it in journals that carry a prestigious publisher’s brand (such as Springer/Nature) but publish anything that passes the review process.
  • Scammers have set up loads of pretty obviously fake pseudo-journals and conferences
  • Reviewing articles is a lot of hard work, gets little recognition, and often fails to spot problematic scholarship. There may be better ways to filter out bad scholarship, but we can’t agree on what they are.
  • People living outside Europe and North America want the credibility of peer-reviewed scholarship, but may not be familiar with or respectful of the rules.
  • Because we now have new models for financing publishing and many new publications are being launched, it’s hard for scholars to keep up with what’s legitimate. 
And Fister added her own issue, which is that there is too much scholarly publishing overall. I’m not saying we should quit doing research, but maybe we should be a little more selective about what we feel needs to be part of the record. For one thing, it’s getting harder and harder to consult the record, as bloated as it is. It’s incredibly costly, both in terms of the time we put into writing and reviewing it and developing and sustaining systems for sharing and preserving it all. It also means that people are so frantically gathering up metrics of our productivity that we have less time to think, and some of our best thoughts require fallow time.

All of these issues with publishing and peer review and the bloated record make a strong argument for the continued need of librarians. It's harder to vet reputable information because of things like sham journals, and it's harder to access relevant information because there is so much of it being produced. One part of the evolving role of librarians means staying abreast of these issues and bringing this knowledge to our patron base. 

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