The binding problem: A new encyclopedia entry

The conventional encyclopedia: old and unimproved!
Here is a preprint of my entry for the The Sage Encyclopedia of Perception with headword “The Binding Problem”. The hardcopy version of the encyclopedia will be a massive 1100-page tome with hundreds of contributors. Sadly, this is very much a conventional, 20th-century era encyclopedia—the style guide prohibited me from referencing the original papers I was referring to. The only way I could point the reader towards the original research was to say things like “Smith has shown …” or “In 1980, Treisman proposed …”.

Perhaps this encyclopedia style made sense back before the internet, when limited space might prevent actual referencing, and anyway the average reader had no ability to access original papers. So Britannica had an excuse to adopt their lofty tone which almost gives the impression they created all the knowledge themselves. But writing in 2008, to me it felt unconscionable to describe all these discoveries in an academic publication without giving credit where it’s due. So in the preprint I’ve posted, I’ve added all the references in as if it were a modern academic publication. And I’m posting this now, a good 10 months or more before the encyclopedia is actually published. I expect that ten months from now, the entry may be embarrassingly out of date.

Sage has dozens of encyclopedias like this in the works, all of which presumably have these major shortcomings of long publication lag and impoverished referencing, but apparently they still think they will make money. They are charging $450 for the Perception volume my entry will appear in!

To me, the open-access approach exemplified by Scholarpedia is the only way to go, because:

  • It is free. So the readership is tens or hundreds of times larger.
  • It is published nearly instantly, so it is not already out of date the day it appears.
  • It does not kill trees.
  • It is easily updated.
  • Its authors have no incentive to undermine it, as I have done to the Sage Encyclopedia so that my work can be seen by those who are unwilling to pay $450 for it! By the way, posting a preprint as I have done is almost always legal.

Finally, online publishing projects like Scholarpedia do not have arbitrary word limits, which would have allowed me to avoid apologizing to those whose work on binding I left out because of the arbitrary limit in this encyclopedia. But there is evidence that overall, I omitted things fairly: I’m upset about me leaving so much of me out (e.g. Holcombe 2008; Holcombe & Cavanagh 2008; Holcombe & Judson 2007; Holcombe & Cavanagh 2001).

Alex O. Holcombe (2009). The binding problem The Sage Encyclopedia of Perception

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