SL 667

Chobani’s founder Ulukaya donates $700 million to refugees.

Is academic publishing a huge scam?

The death of Aylan Kurdi has finally created some awareness of the refugee problem. We’ve got a huge mess on our hands. Europe can’t send the refugees away, but it’s going to create huge problems. Huge. Massive and expensive supports for these people, most of whom can’t integrate easily into the modern economy. Healthcare. Food. Housing. And the inevitable Backlash. It’s going to destabilize Europe. The middle eastern nations won’t take them. With all the normal people leaving, Syria is going to enhabited by crazy people with big guns. We’re trying to avoid a war, but we’re going to end up there anyway. Not good for this mom of a teenage son.

17 thoughts on “SL 667

  1. Having just gone through the process of getting a contract for an academic book, I thought the article neglected a couple of points that are important. First of all, many reputable presses publish books on this model, and it’s not a bad thing. There are 300-400 academic libraries in the world that will buy anything academic from a reputable press – obviously mileage may vary on what you consider reputable. This is great for me, because when I identify a chapter that I want from a book on St. Petersburg church archives in the 19th century, I can ILL it and there’s one in the region. I don’t have to pay the $100 or $120 or $150 for it.

    With the good presses, you get feedback on the book at the beginning of the process – in my case two experts in the field reviewed my proposal anonymously and were extremely helpful – and also at the end, before they make the final decision to publish it. It is definitely true that other presses will expect you to find your own reviewers and that they will do it entirely out of good will, so this is a problem.

    What all four publishers that expressed interest in my book said was that if there is a demand for the book in paperback – or maybe even if you just ask them – they will do a second printing in paperback 18-24 months after the hardback is published and the libraries have bought it. So if someone wants to use it in a class, there will be that option. One press – it’s lower prestige, but produces some good books that I have used in classes – charged a $400 “subvention” fee but immediately issued the book in paperback for $30 and gave you more royalties to start out with. (They stressed that this was not “pay to publish,” as $400 would not cover many of their expenses. Tomato/tahmato? Maybe. But I bought it.) If the book were usable for a class – not just your own, but was actually one that would be accessible to an undergrad audience – you could cover that fee fairly quickly.

    Obviously I’m assuming that we make no money from the book. This may seem crazy to a non-academic, but given that part of my job is to do research and write, I’m fine with that. A few of my colleagues who write on hot-button issues or another hot topic – the Islamicist, the Civil War historian, etc. – may actually make some money off of their books. But I’m happy to produce work in my niche and be read by colleagues, grad students, and maybe advanced undergrads. I think it has broader applicability, but I’m mainly contributing to a close reading of a particular history. In my view, it’s valuable to have that book out there in the world.

    1. I thought the article on publishing was a bit over-wrought. Not that there aren’t problems in academic publishing even if you stick to the reputable houses, but I don’t think anybody needs a newspaper article to know that any publisher sending around requests for books isn’t scamming somebody. I wasn’t aware anybody seriously considered using them unless they were completely out of the loop (most of the really aggressive ones are from Asia, with a thin layer of western window dressing) or totally desperate.

      Highly specialized knowledge is always going to have a small audience and thus higher costs per unit. It would certainly be better to have something other than a group of private companies serving as the intermediaries, but nobody pointing out open source systems seems to have anything to say about how to move to one except that somebody else is supposed to render their own work pointless by publishing it somewhere where none of the 300 people who need to know what it says know to look for it.

      I also found it strange when they trotted out he figures about the cost of research in the context of an article about book publishing. Nearly all of that research is in the journals. It’s the disciplines without much direct research funding that write the books.

  2. I’ve also been thinking a lot about the refugee crisis, and it finally got me to sign up for a monthly donation to UNICEF. The thing about the Chobani CEO made me wish I was rich enough for my contributions to really make a difference.

  3. Syrian refugees are not going to destabilize Europe. However many choose to stay for however long will present challenges, mostly local, but unless all of Europe’s leaders are as ridonkulous as Orbán (and Merkel has already showed how it’s done right), this is not going to be a serious problem. That a Hungarian prime minister should come out in favor of border fences and being ghastly to refugees is particularly galling, in light of 1989, when Hungary played a key role in opening the Iron Curtain, and 1956, when many tens of thousands of Hungarians fled their country in the aftermath of rebellion and repression.

    1. I have four words for you:

      Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev

      They were refugees.

      Taking in refugees from Islamic hot spots can backfire spectacularly.

      1. Seriously? The U.S. has had hundreds of thousands of Muslim immigrants since the late 1800s, some from Syria, some from other parts of the world. This includes Syrians (though some Syrians are Christian). You might be able to name a few Syrian-Americans criminals, but what percentage of those who are here now turned out that way? Are they proportionally more likely to commit crimes than people of European descent? The Irish? The Germans? The Italians?

        John Wilkes Booth’s father came over from England – we should probably have cut those English off too.

        I’m not saying that there’s no danger that someone who is now or will be a terrorist could get in. Obviously monitoring the influx of refugees is challenging. But this is a huge humanitarian crisis. The Boston Marathon bombing killed three people and wounded 200-300. It was terrible, and terrifying for those in Boston (I know some of them) for several days. There are (by CNN’s count) more than 4 million Syrian refugees – people who have actually managed to get out – following a civil war in which 250,000 have died. If you take some time to see what their lives were like in Syria, and what their lives are like in refugees camps, it’s staggering.

        And although this shouldn’t be our first thought, how are the refugees fleeing the horrors of ISIS and the Syrian government going to feel about the United States if it is willing to take them in? What’s the criminal to loyal-American-citizen ratio going to be? What is it usually among refugees? (Chechens are hard to assess, since there are so few of them.)

      2. af said:

        “I’m not saying that there’s no danger that someone who is now or will be a terrorist could get in. Obviously monitoring the influx of refugees is challenging. But this is a huge humanitarian crisis. The Boston Marathon bombing killed three people and wounded 200-300. It was terrible, and terrifying for those in Boston (I know some of them) for several days. There are (by CNN’s count) more than 4 million Syrian refugees – people who have actually managed to get out – following a civil war in which 250,000 have died. If you take some time to see what their lives were like in Syria, and what their lives are like in refugees camps, it’s staggering.”

        The bigger the problem is, the less possible it is to sort effectively and quickly through all of those 4 million people. It’s pretty much guaranteed that the US will be bringing in a sizable number of ISIS personnel in the confusion.

        “And although this shouldn’t be our first thought, how are the refugees fleeing the horrors of ISIS and the Syrian government going to feel about the United States if it is willing to take them in? What’s the criminal to loyal-American-citizen ratio going to be? What is it usually among refugees? (Chechens are hard to assess, since there are so few of them.)”

        I’m sure that non-Muslim minorities from Syria are quite likely to be future loyal citizens. However, it would be very unwise to assume instant loyalty from Muslim Syrians without bona fides. Honestly, we’re not that amazing and life in the US can be very alienating for newcomers even under the best of circumstances and there just happens to be a ready-made ideology available to exploit those feelings of alienation.

        ISIS has also proved so successful in recruiting Western-born youth to come fight in Syria and Iraq that it’s only a matter of time before they realize that they don’t need to be buying plane tickets for Western youth–the Western youth can be organized at home to commit violence here. Bringing over a critical mass of “refugees” could make this very easy for them.

        I think it’s very unwise to just bring in a bunch of Muslim refugees from Syria and hope for the best.

      3. Perhaps a better comparison would be the influx of Italian immigrants in the early 20th century. Not only were they violent anarchists, but they were also papists! How un-American.😉

        Ecclesiastes says there is nothing new under the sun….

      4. Your present fears that Islamic people should be kept out of the U.S. are similar to the arguments why Jewish refugees were not allowed in our country in the 1930’s.

        Although, somehow, now that you’ve looked at the evidence, it seems that you approve of those industrious and capable Jewish immigrants. But now, it’s the Islamic folk we should be scared of.

        Here’s a short article comparing the two prejudices or the fear of allowing Jewish refugees in the 1930’s versus the fear of Syrian refugees today:

        http://www.juancole.com/2015/09/whether-refugees-syrians.html

        The author points out the Steve Jobs’ father was an immigrant from Syria.

        Since you seem comfortable deciding what is best for our country and who to include or exclude I’d like to claim that same right. If I had to make the decision I’d happily trade you and your life here in the U.S. for all the benefits of Apple computers. I don’t find your contributions to this country to be quite up to my standards.

    2. Leo Szilard, Billy Wilder, Albert Einstein, Franz Werfel, John von Neumann, Edward, Teller, Stanislaw Ulam, Vladimir Nabokov, Enrico Fermi … the list of notable refugees who have made immeasurable contributions to the United States is a very long one.

      1. Do you have a similarly impressive list of high-achieving refugees from Islamic hot spots?

        Because so far, you’ve primarily made the case for taking in German, Polish and Russian-born refugees, Jewish refugees, refugees with doctorates, and Nobel-laureate refugees. Weren’t the bulk of people on your list a pretty big deal before they arrived in the US? Einstein had gotten a Nobel Prize in physics in the early 1920s and arrived in the US in the early 1930s. Nabokov had also had quite a career in Western Europe before arriving in the US (he wrote The Gift in Berlin in the mid-late 1930s). I don’t have time to look up your other guys, but there is a definite pattern…

  4. I recently received an email from an academic publisher listing new books in one of my areas of interest. I thought that one abstract appeared really promising until I read that the book totalling 150 pages was retailing for $150USD. That’s a dollar a page and I can’t believe the book is worth that.

    I have heard from people in publishing that academic journals and books are where the money’s at. Why waste your time publishing trade or popular titles at a low margin when you can make a substantial mark-up for less investment on academic books that enough libraries are certain to buy? Here in Canada, that certainty is fading with our recession and poor exchange rate but the game still goes for enough other over-endowed and undiscerning research libraries. I’d rather see thoughtful examination of what’s being published and at what price points but that won’t happen any time soon.

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