Scientific communication in pre 1989 Eastern Europe

A long time ago, the early nineteen eighties in fact, I held a research studentship from the UK Medical Research Council.

And in the course of my research I read widely in physiology and ethology to understand prior work about stress, environmental influences, and learned responses to uncertainty. This was because a lot of the physiological work was carried out on fit young anglo saxon males who were either members of the armed forces or university students, and more importantly must have expected something unpleasant to happen to them.

The point being is that we know that the world is stressful and uncertain and that we (mostly) learn to get on with it, some better than others, it is just that some people do not cope very well, which results in a whole range of psychophysiological symptoms.

And because it was thought unethical to do some of the things that result in extreme stress in humans some people thought it was a little more ethical to use animals. But because of the electromechanical technology the studies were very much either/or and consequently less valuable

Computers controlling things allow for pseudo random events where you can go from ‘mostly predictable with the odd bad thing’ to absolutely random and terrifying. Needless to say humans and animals find the latter scenario very stressful.

As it was important to avoid repeating prior work because (a) human based studies were expensive and involved even then complex approval processes and (b)  and work with non human subjects was heavily restricted, one had to be sure that no one had tried to do something similar before.

So one read. And because the university where I was studying didn’t have many of the journals I needed I was given a generous inter library loan allowance.

And in they would come, photocopies from from the British Library’s document supply centre. Mostly British or North American, but occasionally French or German. And one time in a German paper, I found a reference to an interesting study carried out at the Charles University in Prague, which of course in those cold war times was the grim grey capital of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, and not a funky place with good music and better pubs.

But for the hell of it I put in a request, expecting either a rejection slip – request disallowed – or possibly a photocopy.

But no, someone at the British Library thought it worthwhile to ask the Czechs for a copy and they sent me a copy of conference proceedings that included a copy of the study I wanted to xerox it myself.

Now  at that time, journals in the west were comparatively cheap, produced by learned societies in the main, though there were a few commercial journals owned by Pergamon, Elsevier and Springer and doubtless a few others I’ve forgotten. And of course there were things like the science citation index, which is arguably the granddaddy of bibliometrics and the various reputational studies that plague us today.

But in the old east there was no such structure. Knowledge was said to be the property of the people as the people had paid for it. There were almost no journals, certainly no commercial journals, yet people still discussed and exchanged ideas and built reputations.

Now one of the concerns among researchers  about moving to publication in lesser known open source journals is the loss of impact and reputation, and consequently the ability to attract funding, so my question is, does the way scientific communication proceeded in pre 1989 eastern Europe give us a model for a world with diverse methods of publication and dissemination?


About dgm

IT professional, ex research psychologist, blogger, twitterer, and amateur classical and medieval historian ...
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