Archive for the 'information science' category

From the Archives: Super Crunchers: Why thinking-by-numbers is the new way to be smart by Ian Ayres

I have a whole pile of science-y book reviews on two of my older blogs, here and here. Both of those blogs have now been largely superseded by or merged into this one. So I'm going to be slowly moving the relevant reviews over here. I'll mostly be doing the posts one or two per weekend and I'll occasionally be merging two or more shorter reviews into one post here.

This one, of Super Crunchers: Why Thinking-By-Numbers is the New Way To Be Smart, is from April 12, 2008.


You know how I'm always complaining about business-y buzz/hype books & articles? How they're 1/3 repetition, 1/3 hype and 1/3 real ideas?

Like I commented to Michael not too long ago: "I find these tendencies very true of a lot of cases where I look to the business literature to understand something important about the way our culture is changing."

The book under consideration in this review, Super Crunchers: Why Thinking-By-Numbers is the New Way To Be Smart by Ian Ayres, is a business book. It says something important about the way our culture is changing. On the other hand, it is also very profoundly a popular science book about the mathematical and statistical analysis of large datasets. Yes, indeed -- this is a popular math book about data mining. And it is a very good to boot. Thankfully, not so much plagued by the repetition and hype of many of the pure business books. I suspect it may have originally been aimed at a popular science audience as much as a business audience, accounting for a slightly different emphasis.

So, what is super crunching? (p.10)

It is statistical analysis that impacts real-world decisions. Super Crunching decisions usually bring together some combination of size, speed and scale. the sizes of the datasets are really big -- both in the number of observations and in the number of variables...And the scale of the impact is sometimes truly huge. this isn't a bunch of egghead academics cranking out provocative journal articles. Super Crunching is done by or for decision makers who are looking for a better way to do things.

In other words, data mining. To it's credit the book doesn't really talk about the hows and whys of the actual mathematical analysis; it mostly concentrates on the applications and implications of these powerful tools. The core theme of the book is how do you make decisions in the data mining (I've decided to to not bother with Ayres's cutsie term and just say data mining) world: evidence or intuition? Evidence wins every time.

Some interesting points to consider: the rise of data mining tools is in large part to the drastic decrease in storage costs the last number of years, far more than any increase in processing power. On the other hand, the use of neural network technology has also contributed to better and better techniques.

The book basically goes through a bunch of applications areas and shows how each are affected by data mining -- basically showing that the evidence provided by statistical evidence beats out human intuition every time. It's an interesting examination of the nature of expertise: what does it really mean to be a human expert when math wizards can transform large data sets into much more accurate predictions about human behaviour. What's left for us to do? Of course, the human role is to decide what data to collect, what questions to ask in the analysis and how to apply the results.

Ayres looks at recommendation systems (like Amazon), data mining applications in the entertainment industry (yes, scripts and box office data are data mined, resulting in, apparently, Will Farrell), economics and government policy and evidence-based medicine (perhaps the best chapter).

To his credit, Ayres doesn't duck the hard questions all this brings up. He deals with privacy concerns, the dangers of over-reliance on programmed creativity and other interesting areas. It's a powerful technology, and while balance is needed in some respects, understanding is a far preferable reaction to change.

Instead of a Luddite rejection of this powerful new technology, it is better to become a knowledgeable participant in the revolution. Instead of sticking your head in the sands of innumeracy, I recommend filling your head with the basic tools of Super Crunching. (p.191)

A good reaction to any new technology. And I like the way he ties it in with the general innumeracy of our times, especially the media and chattering classes. A tool can be used for many purposes. Let's all be

Passionate about the need to inculcate a basic understanding of statistics in the general public. "We have to get students to learn this stuff...We have to get over this phobia and we have to get over this view that somehow statistics is illiberal. There is this crazy view out there that statistics are right-wing"...One can crunch numbers and still have a passionate and caring soul. You can still be creative. You just have to be willing to put your creativity and your passions to the test to see if they really work. (p. 215)

I recommend this book without reservation. Any library that collects math or popular math books would find it a terrific addition to their collection. Business libraries would also find it appropriate. Collections that are looking at the way technology is changing our culture would find that Super Crunchers belongs alongside books like Wikinomics or Everything is Miscellaneous.

Ayres, Ian.Super Crunchers: Why Thinking-By-Numbers is the New Way To Be Smart. New York: Bantan, 2007. 260pp. ISBN-13: 978-0553384734

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Issues in Science & Technology Librarianship, Spring 2010

Another terrific issue. I'm going to list everything but the book & database reviews & reports so as not to clutter the post too much.

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Panton Principles: Principles for Open Data in Science

Here's what they're about:

The first draft of Panton Principles was written in July 2009 by Peter Murray-Rust, Cameron Neylon, Rufus Pollock and John Wilbanks at the Panton Arms on Panton Street in Cambridge, UK, just down from the Chemistry Faculty where Peter works.

They were then refined with the help of the members of the Open Knowledge Foundation Working Group on Open Data in Science and were officially launched in February 2010.

Here they are:

Science is based on building on, reusing and openly criticising the published body of scientific knowledge.

For science to effectively function, and for society to reap the full benefits from scientific endeavours, it is crucial that science data be made open.

By open data in science we mean that it is freely available on the public internet permitting any user to download, copy, analyse, re-process, pass them to software or use them for any other purpose without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. To this end data related to published science should be explicitly placed in the public domain.

Formally, we recommend adopting and acting on the following principles:

  1. Where data or collections of data are published it is critical that they be published with a clear and explicit statement of the wishes and expectations of the publishers with respect to re-use and re-purposing of individual data elements, the whole data collection, and subsets of the collection. This statement should be precise, irrevocable, and based on an appropriate and recognized legal statement in the form of a waiver or license.

    When publishing data make an explicit and robust statement of your wishes.

  2. Many widely recognized licenses are not intended for, and are not appropriate for, data or collections of data. A variety of waivers and licenses that are designed for and appropriate for the treatment of data are described here. Creative Commons licenses (apart from CCZero), GFDL, GPL, BSD, etc are NOT appropriate for data and their use is STRONGLY discouraged.

    Use a recognized waiver or license that is appropriate for data.

  3. The use of licenses which limit commercial re-use or limit the production of derivative works by excluding use for particular purposes or by specific persons or organizations is STRONGLY discouraged. These licenses make it impossible to effectively integrate and re-purpose datasets and prevent commercial activities that could be used to support data preservation.

    If you want your data to be effectively used and added to by others it should be open as defined by the Open Knowledge/Data Definition - in particular non-commercial and other restrictive clauses should not be used.

  4. Furthermore, in science it is STRONGLY recommended that data, especially where publicly funded, be explicitly placed in the public domain via the use of the Public Domain Dedication and Licence or Creative Commons Zero Waiver. This is in keeping with the public funding of much scientific research and the general ethos of sharing and re-use within the scientific community.

    Explicit dedication of data underlying published science into the public domain via PDDL or CCZero is strongly recommended and ensures compliance with both the Science Commons Protocol for Implementing Open Access Data and the Open Knowledge/Data Definition.

Authored by:

Peter Murray-Rust, University of Cambridge (UK)
Cameron Neylon, STFC (UK)
Rufus Pollock, Open Knowledge Foundation and University of Cambridge (UK)
John Wilbanks, Science Commons (USA)

With the help of the members of the Open Knowledge Foundation Working Group on Open Data in Science

And you can endorse them here.

(via Chris Leonard on Friendfeed.)

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Q&A with NRC-CISTI about their new public-private partnership with Infotrieve

As I mentioned in my previous post, I did a little Q&A about the new outsourcing arrangement that CISTI has negotiated with Infotrieve.

Q1. What's the effect on jobs at CISTI from this move?

As you may know, NRC-CISTI is transforming itself to be well positioned to serve the needs of Canadian knowledge workers now and in the future. This transformation is a major undertaking for the organization and will require a significant transition for NRC-CISTI's workforce.

NRC is working to mitigate the effect on employees by seeking to place as many of the affected employees as possible within the new NRC-CISTI or elsewhere within the NRC or the federal government. The NRC is working closely with its bargaining agents throughout the process of transformation to ensure that employees are supported to the fullest extent possible.

Q2. What will happen with CISTI's physical collections? Are they staying in Canada?

The holdings of the NRC-CISTI will remain the property of the National Research Council. NRC-CISTI is home to the National Science Library Collection, with more than 50,000 serial titles, 800,000 books and conference proceedings and over 2 million technical reports and indexed journals.

Q3. What's the focus for CISTI in the future? Data curation, research support? Does CISTI have library & institutional partners for these activities?

This transformation will focus NRC-CISTI's activities on high-value information and services that advance research and innovation in the areas of science, technology and health. This will include new models for delivering services which may include partners for these activities, but the overall transformation will take time to implement and it is still too soon to speculate about future partners.

Q4. Where do you see CISTI in 5-10 years?

NRC-CISTI will continue to be Canada's national science library. Our mission continues to be to contribute to an innovative, knowledge-based economy by providing high-value information and services in STM. And, our core value of delivering quality STM information services remains unchanged.

As Canada's national science library, CISTI will continue to provide information discovery and access services to Canadians and researchers from around the world. And as the NRC library, will continue to offer licensed access to information content and in-depth information services to the NRC.

We will also be continuing with our national strategic initiatives, which are a part of our national science library, including building access vehicles to showcase Canada's scientific output, for example:

  • NPArC - also known as the NRC publications archive
    CISTI has built a searchable web-based gateway to NRC-authored publications that will increase access to NRC's research output, and serve as a valuable resource for NRC researchers, collaborators and the public.

    NRC researchers author about 3,700 peer-reviewed publications each year (articles, proceedings, books, book chapters) as well as technical reports. NRC has mandated that these NRC-authored publications be deposited on NPArC. NPArC is increasing the visibility and impact of NRC research and helping researchers collaborate and innovate. NPArC uses the CISTI digital repository as its technology platform. Publications are ingested, stored, indexed, preserved and made accessible from this platform.

    CISTI will also continue to partner with other organizations to fulfill its core role as part of Canada's national innovation infrastructure:

  • Research Data Canada

    This is a national initiative addressing issues surrounding the access and preservation of data arising from Canadian research and NRC-CISTI is playing a coordination role and has launched a gateway web site that provides access to Canadian scientific data sets and other important data repositories to support this initiative

  • PubMed Central Canada or PMC Canada

    A national digital repository of peer-reviewed health science research that will provide free and open access to CIHR-funded research. CIHR has passed an Open Access mandate requiring scientists to make research funded by CIHR freely available.

    NRC-CISTI, CIHR and the US National Library of Medicine (NLM) have completed the first step in the creation of PMC Canada - a three-way agreement to partner on creating the e-repository. CIHR is funding and CISTI is providing the technology platform and tools.

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Thomson's Nobel predictions...Let the follies begin!

It's time for the annual Mocking of the Thomson session.

Check out my previous iterations of this amusing pastime: 2002, 2006, 2007a, 2007b, 2008.

Yes, I've been at this for a while, but to no avail. My main point in all this is to make clear that I don't believe that the Nobel prizes are chosen on the basis of citation count. Sure, there's going to be a correlation between the two, but the causation is extremely weak. Thomson's constant hawking of their "Citation Laureates" is, in my opinion, self-serving and wrong-headed.

And yes, they do get them right occasionally, but that's because there is some correlation. They also occasionally pick someone a few years before they actually win -- but that's bound to happen too. Over time they'll name as Citation Laureates a large number of scientists with big citation counts and over time since there is some correlation between citation counts and the Nobel, they're just going guess a few correctly.

So let's see what they've chosen this year for the list of Laureates:


  • Michael Grätzel
  • Jacqueline K. Barton, Bernd Giese and Gary B. Schuster
  • Benjamin List


  • Yakir Aharonov and Sir Michael V. Berry
  • Juan Ignacio Cirac and Peter Zoller
  • Sir John B. Pendry, Sheldon Schultz and David R. Smith

Physiology or Medicine

  • Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Carol W. Greider and Jack W. Szostak
  • James E. Rothman and Randy Schekman
  • Seiji Ogawa


  • Ernst Fehr and Matthew J. Rabin
  • William D. Nordhaus and Martin L. Weitzman
  • John B. Taylor, Jordi Gali and Mark L. Gertler

Let's see how they do this year. I predict about the same as previous years, in other words, pretty random. Some of the people they pick based on citation counts will be picked in the year Thomson guesses, some won't. Some will get picked in a later year.

Twelve individual or group nominations for a total of 25 different people named. To be better than random, I'd say 25% of this year's citation nominees (either by group or individuals) need to be correct. I'll give half marks if some of this year's Nobelists were citation winners in previous years.

Thomson's Nobel home page is here and the list of their nominees here. Their not entirely convincing explanations and rationalizations on their methodology and results are here and here.

Once again, I would like to emphasize that I have nothing against the scholars whom Thomson has "nominated" and wish them well. I certainly don't mean to cast a negative light on their contributions to their fields at all. My beef is not with them, but with Thomson's misuse of their citation data.

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W. P. Scott Chair in E-Librarianship at York University

Sep 28 2009 Published by under academia, information science, job, librarianship

Here's an amazing and fairly unique opportunity for a research-minded librarian who wants to significantly advance her or his research program. The appointment is for up to three years and the starting date is somewhat flexible.

Here's the terms of reference for the position:

  • Each appointment to the Chair will be a limited term appointment for up to three years.
  • A committee will be established to undertake a search for the Chair.
  • The selection will be based on the quality of the proposed research program along with evidence for the successful completion of the research proposal.
  • The successful candidate must have at least a master's in library science or archival studies from an ALA accredited university.
  • The successful candidate would be an active and valued member of York University Libraries with office space, personal computer equipment, conference/travel funds and access to library and campus support systems.
  • The holder of the Chair (the Chairholder) will be required to provide an annual report of research activities to the University Librarian.
  • The Chairholder is required to provide W.P. Scott lecture or symposium relating to the theme of their research. This would be open to the professional library community.
  • The Chairholder is required to provide a presentation to members of York University Libraries and others on the results of their activities.
  • The Chairholder will have at least one opportunity to meet with members of the Scott family in a setting that is agreeable to both parties.

And here's the ad itself:

Position Rank: Contractually Limited Appointment
Discipline/Field: W. P. Scott Chair in E-Librarianship
Home Faculty: Libraries
Home Department/Area/Division: Scott Library
Affiliation/Union: YUFA
Position Start Date: January 1, 2010
Position End Date: December 31, 2012

York University invites candidates to apply for a limited term appointment of one to three years to engage in groundbreaking, interdisciplinary research and development that will advance libraries. The W. P. Scott Chair in E-Librarianship provides an exciting opportunity to accelerate the development of e-librarianship in support of research, teaching, learning or scholarly communications. The research may be interdisciplinary, with a context that is broader than academic librarianship. The areas of research should be of mutual interest to the candidate and to York University Libraries so that both benefit from a close working relationship.

A strong commitment to research in any relevant area of e-librarianship such as: e-learning, digital collections, collaborative web spaces, social software, interactive and integrative online services, semantic web or cyberinfrastructure is required. The Chair must have demonstrated success in directing and conducting research or a large project. As a member of the YUL complement, the successful candidate will contribute in an area of the libraries suited to the candidate's area of expertise.

For further information about the Research Chair please see:


  • Minimum of an ALA-accredited M.L.S., Master's of Archival Studies, or recognized equivalent.
  • Further post-graduate degrees or related work experience is preferred
  • Record of research achievement or demonstrated experience with project management
  • Excellent oral and written communication skills
  • Ability to work independently and in collaboration with others
  • Excellent organizational, analytical and interpersonal skills

The E-Librarianship Research Chair position is a contractually limited appointment of one to three years at the Adjunct Librarian level. Librarians at York University have academic status and are members of the York University Faculty Association bargaining unit ( Salary is commensurate with qualifications. The position is available as early as January 1, 2010. Preference will be given to candidates available to start by September 30, 2010. All York University positions are subject to budgetary approval.

York University is an Affirmative Action Employer. The Affirmative Action Program can be found on York's website at or a copy can be obtained by calling the affirmative action office at 416-736-5713. All qualified candidates are encouraged to apply; however, Canadian citizens and Permanent Residents will be given priority. Temporary entry for citizens of the U.S.A. and Mexico may apply per the provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

York University resources include centres relating to gender equity, race and ethnic relations, sexual harassment, human rights, and wellness. York University encourages attitudes of respect and non-discrimination toward persons of all ethnic and religious groups, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

The deadline for applications is October 15th, 2009. Applicants must send a five-page letter of interest relating their qualifications and outlining their proposed project, a current curriculum vitae and the names of three referees to:

Chair, E-Librarianship Research Chair Appointment Committee
York University Libraries, 310 Scott Library
York University, 4700 Keele Street
Toronto, Ontario, Canada M3J 1P3
Fax 416-736-5431

Applications should be sent by mail, e-mail, or fax with a hardcopy following by mail.

I can answer fairly general questions about the position.

Update 2009.09.28: Bump to the top with only a couple of weeks left to apply.

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More books and reports on the future of academic libraries

I haven't done one of these in a while, so there's quite a backlog to clear.



As usual, if you know of any reports or books that I might have missed, please let me know either at jdupuis at yorku dot ca or in the comments.

BTW, here's a list of all the related posts:

And yes, I have been (slowly) working on a master list of all the books and reports I've mentioned in those posts.

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Friday Fun: Werewolves & Wikipedia

No, I don't mean the werewolf entry in Wikipedia, I mean the use of Wikipedia by werewolves.

You see, I recently received a review copy of The Werewolf's Guide to Life: A Manual for the Newly Bitten by Ritch Duncan, Bob Powers and Emily Flake.

As you can imagine, it an imaginary non-fiction book helping new werewolves to cope with their newly transformed lives -- it talks about work, romance and all the rest. I'm not quite finished it yet, but it's very amusing and definitely worth a look if you like that kind of thing.

What struck me, though, is something from the entry on figuring out when the full moon is every month; for werewolves who want to keep their status secret and not alarm their community, you have to know this so you'll know when to lock yourself up.

The authors recommend several standard reference books such as The New York Times Almanac and the Eldridge Tide & Pilot Book. Fine.

But check this out:

The Internet: The information superhighway is almost certainly going to have what you need. Sadly, it also offers a great deal of inaccurate, copied, or unchecked information. Make sure you double- and triple-check your information. Wikipedia won't cut it this time.

Cool. I may even use this quote in my IL presentations.

After all, would you trust Wikipedia with your life?

What website would you recommend to werewolves who need accurate info on lunar phases? The US Naval Observatory?

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From the Archives: Ebook Business Models

During my summer blogging break, I thought I'd repost of few of my "greatest hits" from my old blog, just so you all wouldn't miss me so much. This one is from November 7, 2007. It generated quite a few interesting comments, so you might want to check back at the original post. My feeling on a lot of these points has shifted a bit with time, so I'll probably revisit the topic in the fall.


This is a topic I've been thinking about a lot recently, as we (at York and as a profession) start to move in a coordinated way to making ebooks an important part of our collections. What's the best way to acquire ebooks? How should we pay for them? What should our access models be?

Note to ebook vendors: in the end, I want your products. I think that it is practically inevitable that we will be moving to an online-only model for most of our book purchases over the next decade or so. But, I need you to listen to me (and all my colleagues) and learn what works for us not just what is easy to monitize for you.

And there are vendors with business models I like: Morgan & Claypool, Safari and Knovel to name just a few.

Now, this post is mostly about where I would like to see things going in the near future. I'm going to make some more sweeping long term wishes at the end, but right now I'm concerned with the next few years and months and how I would like to see vendors constructive their offerings.

Some thoughts:

  • Collections, annual license. Title by title, one time only. I'm mostly ok with that model.

  • Big collections need to be really cost effective. Basically, you want to suck up my entire mono purchasing budget by locking into a huge annual licensing fee for a huge collection of ebooks. This doesn't work for me. It may be easy but it's not cost effective because it's really restricting me from purchasing stuff from other publishers that might be more appropriate for my niche programs.

  • Hello? You already sold me that in print. Charging the same amount for an ebook as for a print book on a title by title basis is crazy. And wrong. Let me benefit from the fact that you still cover your costs for production via selling me the overpriced print. Don't sell me the same item again at the same inflated price. Give me prices based on print only, online only and both. Both should be about 125% of print. Online only should be about 50-75% of print.

  • And don't try and resell all me your old crap either. A lot of collections inflate their title counts with a lot of old content. Yeah, I know, getting money for those is gravy for you. For us, paying for those titles again is a crime. Either don't include them (my choice) or make it very clear in your pricing scheme that I'm not paying much (if anything) for them. Ten to fifteen year old IT or engineering books are often of limited use. But you know that, right?

  • It's not necessarily "The more the merrier." I don't need 800 HTML books in my IT ebook collection. I need good and up to date information on HTML, which I don't measure by title count. Don't try and pretend having 800 makes your collection better. All those books just clutter search results both in our catalogue and in your interfaces.

  • Let me unbundle. It's my job to choose the right stuff for the needs of my users. If I'm a small school or supporting niche programs I need to be able to break down big collections into smaller collections to make it cost effective. And by smaller, I don't mean ones that will still cost me 10s of thousands of dollars.

  • Let me choose. I don't mind choosing title by title. After all, it's what I do for print books anyways. This is the logical extension of unbundling. I will commit to spending the time if you give me the flexibility and make it cost-effective for me.

  • Let me replace. Out with the old and in with the new. In a lot of subjects, having ebook versions of multiple editions of a work just clutter up the search results with hits. I don't need them and let me expunge them from the collections. I do the same thing with the old print books, by the way. It's called weeding.

  • Ebooks aren't print books. A bit about the future. Most vendors' models right now is basically to move print books into the online environment with little or no change or enhancement. But ultimately we need to recognize electronic texts aren't print text. They are used differently, discovered differently and should be constructed differently. Like I said above, I don't need 800 HTML books. What I need is one good source of information on HTML that covers everything.

    This is what an scitech ebook can be, a good source of information on a topic. Up to date, reviewing the literature, covering a topic comprehensively at multiple skill and knowledge levels, annotatable, sharable, copy and paste-able, blogable, citable, authoritative yet responsive and mashupable. We need to reimagine the scholarly monograph in the scitech fields, to find a business model that works, that rewards creators and meets the needs of readers. If it's something I'm going to pay for it needs to be better and easier to use than the free web, although I'm not sure I yet understand how I would evaluate that. Certainly, there has to be a compelling reason that students and researchers would use it rather than the free web, and I'm not sure what the range of those compelling reasons is yet either.

Add your own in the comments! I'm sure we all have thinking about ebooks and have ideas to share about making ebook business models fair and sustainable.

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ACM responds to the blogosphere

Scott Delman, Group Publisher of the ACM, has responded to my post earlier this month on society publishers and open access. That post generated some very good discussion in the post comments that are well worth checking out.

Delman's article is in the most recent Communications of the ACM (v52i8): Responding to the Blogosphere.

Here are some excerpts, although Delman's article is so interesting that I wish I could quote the whole thing.

The fact that ACM charges both for access to the published information in its Digital Library and also extends the courtesy of "Green OA" to its authors is actually less important to me (while both are important aspects of what we do) than the fact that ACM and many other association publishers serve as well-intentioned caretakers of the scholarly record. I have spent too many hours trying to identify the "most up-to-date version" of an author's article on his or her Web site or digging through the various related institutional repositories to identify a specific version of an article to believe that any other system at the present time offers the advantages of publishing with learned societies.

When I say that all association publishers are essentially OA publishers, I mean this from the perspective that associations and their corresponding communities are one and the same. In my opinion, the question should not be how will society publishers justify their existence in the future, but rather how can they be better at marketing themselves and promoting the valuable work that they continue to do. Publishing will always have a cost, whether it relates to print publications or publishing information online. In most well-researched articles I've read on OA, all parties generally tend to agree on this. The real question is where is this money best spent and how. As a longtime publisher who has worked for both for-profit and a leading association publisher, I feel strongly that this is where any debate should be focused, and I am confident that the most valuable and well-run professional society publishers will in the long run continue to prove their worth to the scientific community at large.(Emphasis mine)

I agree with most of what Delman says, perhaps only differing in terms of the language I would use.

What's most interesting is his emphasis on marketing the societies's role as a kind of gatekeeper for the scholarly record -- the place that the scholarly publishing financial infrastructure should support with their funds. It would be interesting to see some more detailed speculations about how he would organize this: would it be through continued library subscriptions or perhaps through author charges or something else entirely.

Most of all, it's great to see a society society publisher engage in the conversation!

(BTW, I blush slightly to be mentioned in the editorial of the CACM as "John Dupuis, the esteemed Science & Engineering Librarian from York University in Toronto, on his blog Confessions of a Science Librarian." Both for the kind words and, you know, it is CACM!)

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