February 11, 2008

Jonathan Dahl on scholarly societies

Jonathan Dahl, IEEE Staff Director, Sales & Marketing, is interviewed in the most recent Against the Grain. It's a substantial, wide-ranging interview, touching on a lot of topics from the history of the IEEE, it's "rivalry" with the ACM and how to keep up with trends in technology.

But, most interestingly for us, AtG asks this question:

Why should we, your customers, care about whether a society or a commercial publisher publishes a journal?

Ah, my favorite topic! If you look at all the standard quality indices, like the Journal Citation Report, journals published by societies usually rank significantly higher than journals published by commercial publishers, at least in our space. I don’t hear that being remarked on as much as it should be. What we are also
finding out is that some of the less-standard indicators, like the generation of important new patents, strongly show the dominant influence of society journals.

Let me give you an example, and we’re very proud of this: Last year, in 2006, there were over 250,000 patents approved in the U.S. for the top 25 patent companies — companies like IBM, Hitachi, Samsung, HP, Sony, Intel, etc... That’s not just their patents in technology, its all patents — chemistry patents, nano patents,
mousetrap patents, all patents. Of these 250,000 patents, 38% of them were based on an IEEE journal article. That’s a phenomenal result! In second place, with 9% of patents, was Elsevier Science. Virtually all the other patents by these top 25 patent companies were based on papers published by scientific societies — the American Institute of Physics, the American Chemical Society, the American Vacuum Society, and so on.

So you can make a strong case that the intellectual property published by the scientific societies is driving R&D discovery and, ultimately, the economy itself. Moreover, if you look at the big commercial STM publishers, many of the journals they publish are on behalf of scientific societies that are too small to publish themselves.

So that’s why you should care if you’re subscribing to a society journal or a commercial journal. University libraries can and should be discriminating customers. And I won’t even begin to talk about price!

Thats a great answer. The importance of scholarly societies is undiminished in the scholarly communications landscape for the scitech fields, and as much as we drive for change and more open access in these fields, we still need to keep in our minds that we have to support these societies as they struggle to find workable business models for the future. Unlike commercial publishers, who's first priority must be profit, societies' first priorities must be the advancement of scholarship and giving good services to their members.

Of course, when societies stray from those ideals and act more like commercial publishers, we in the broader scientific community must call them on the betrayal of that trust.

And the IEEE is certainly one of the good guys as far as that goes. I met Jonathan at the IEEE Library Advisory Council meeting last fall and was impressed by his commitment to the engineering community and to the promotion of access to scholarship.

Come to think of it, it would have been great if AtG had asked him what he thought the publishing business model for scholarly societies was going to be in 10 or 15 years. Hmmm.

via What's New at IEEE, Libraries.

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