Trickle-Down Infonomics

The literature is becoming something best ignored, thanks to the insurrectionists

Trickle-Down Infonomics

An insurrection — in which those assuming responsibility for maintaining the institutions and norms lead an assault on the same — has beset scholarly publishing for decades now, gradually eroding the fundamental role of third-party, independent, trusted intermediaries and their ability to mitigate scientific and scholarly findings and hold accountable the powerful forces behind both legitimate and manipulative claims.

Some of these same forces have been actively coordinating efforts to minimize interference and accountability. As I wrote in January 2021:

Here’s the scenario — a small group of oligarchs and their allies invade publishing with ideas about “disruption” and the Internet, portraying these as populist and “democratizing” ideas, when they are in fact self-serving techno-utopianism designed to further consolidate power and influence for a few rich and powerful organizations — funders, universities, nation-states, alliances — already dominating the status quo.

In a follow-up post a year later, I wrote about how the insurrectionists are obviously self-serving, insulated from the consequences or utility to readers and society:

The government of publishing — driven by norms, customs, and business models — became its most robust, trusted, and influential by serving practitioners and the public. When cronyism becomes the defining characteristic of a government . . . we end up with something we can’t trust. And if science loses trust, it’s game over.

Others have noticed a substitution of purpose as a means of insurrection, with Bret Stephens writing in the New York Times yesterday in the brilliantly titled, “Evil Clowns and Cowardly Lions,” writing about:

.  . . the ideological entrepreneurs in universities, businesses, publishing houses, and news media working almost openly to undermine the missions of these institutions — intellectual excellence, profitability, free expression, objectivity — in the name of higher social goals like representation, sustainability, sensitivity and “moral clarity.” Their aim isn’t to make their homes better. It’s to blow them up.

Like right-wing politicians they most likely would condemn, such techno-utopians (or evil clowns) are neck-deep in an asymmetrical and self-enriching form of information economics — trickle-down infonomics.