Perish the Publishers

DANIEL S. GREENBERG

April 08, 1992|By DANIEL S. GREENBERG

WASHINGTON. — Cervantes explains that Don Quixote was unhinged by obsessive readings in knight errantry and chivalry.

The diagnosis comes to mind each week with the arrival of a singular publication, a standard in academe, elsewhere little-known: Current Contents. It consists mainly of the tables of contents of thousands of learned journals published around the world, with seven separate editions spanning the spectrum of human knowledge.

Skimming the article titles in CC is akin to reading menus without going to the restaurants. But if a title grabs you, the full text is available from CC's publisher, the Institute for Scientific Information, in Philadelphia.

Scholarship is a booming business. But the scope, scale and sub-specialization of the knowledge industry takes on mind-scrambling dimensions in the pages of Current Contents. The latest issue of the weekly edition for the social and behavioral sciences covers 148 journals. Together they contain many more than 2,000 articles, book reviews, notes and letters -- many with fascinating headings in journals with intriguing titles. The next week will bring another CC with a similar number of entries.

Included in the current issue is a journal called the Plains Anthropologist, with a flock of articles, including one titled ''More About Mortuary Practices in the Lower Pecos River Region of Southwest Texas.'' The Journal of Interpersonal Violence offers ''Aggression Levels Following Frustration of Abusing Versus Nonabusing College Males.'' From the British Journal of Psychology: ''I Recognize Your Face But I Can't Remember Your Name -- A Simple Explanation.''

Bewitching, curiosity-arousing titles. But coming week after week, the ceaseless deluge is a barrier to going beyond the titles. The Psychological Bulletin offers ''Good Looking People Are Not What We Think.'' The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology has a timely title: ''Alternative Formulas to Predict the Greatness of United States Presidents -- Personological, Situational and Zeitgeist Factors.'' A journal titled ACTA

Psychiatrica Scandinavica includes in its latest issue ''The Psychiatrist in American Cartoons, 1941-1990.''

The American Journal of Nursing carries an article cryptically titled ''Clinical News -- Doing the CPR Two-Step.'' Similarly opaque is a title in the International Journal of Aging and Human Development: ''I Think of Ronald Reagan -- Future Selves in the Present.''

In Educational Research, there's ''Children's Views on Teasing and Fighting in Junior High Schools,'' while the journal Young Children presents an article, ''What Do Grown-Ups Do All Day -- the World of Work.'' In Library & Information Service, there's one titled ''What Are Users' Views on Seniors in the Public Library.'' -- Negotiation Journal, in an issue subtitled ''On the Process of Dispute Negotiation,'' contains an article on ''Fighting the Wimp Image -- Why Calls for Negotiation Often Fall on Deaf Ears,'' and another, ''On Offers That Can't Be Refused.'' The same issue includes a letter under the heading, ''You Can Negotiate Anything -- Even a Grade with Your Students.''

A journal named Operations Research carries a title that squeezed air travelers might want to check out: ''An Airline Seat Management Model for a Single Leg Route When Lower Fare Classes Book First.'' In the Annals of Tourism Research: ''New Horizons in Tourism Hospitality Education.'' The Journal of Retailing presents a ''Guest Commentary: Customer Responses to Rainchecks.''

Publish or perish? It is clear how that dreaded dilemma of the scholarship industry is being resolved -- with torrents of learned articles in an avalanche of scholarly publications.

The scope of subject matter extends to anything in the universe, including a wacky canine-human relationship discussed in the correspondence section of the American Journal of Psychiatry. Title: ''Folie-A-Deux Involving a Dog.''

Daniel S. Greenberg is publisher of Science & Government Report, a Washington-based newsletter.

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