Tomorrow's (PEERLESS) Publishing

Alexander Berezin berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Sun Jan 28 19:48:36 EST 1996

On Sun, 28 Jan 1996, Simon M. Brocklehurst wrote:

> [sniiiiiip]
> In which case, perhaps you will take it from me without
> further argument that APR (anonymous peer review)

> Personally, I don't care if it's _anonymous_ or not.  

> I just want someone to go to the trouble of filtering 
> out most of the rubbish for me, before I take the time to 
> read a whole load of papers.

This is precisely what I DON'T want ANY-one do it for me.
I have had it already for 33 years of my life (in USSR),
when GlavLit (Literature Censorship Committee, in fact, 
branch of KGB) tried to decide for us what to read. As we
all know, they (eventually) failed and PR (anonymous or not) 
is to follow to the same scrapyard on a world-wide scale, 
want we this or not.  

As for the 'rubbish', I prefer (and can) filter it (or 
rather what I CHOOSE to see as a rubish) myself. And I 
don't see it as big problem with a literature I am coming 
across. In fact, the opposite is true: there is a lot of 
what I am interested to read (definitely NOT rubbish 
for ME), but just not have time to do it and/or don't have 
a convenient access to the quoted source.

Editorial process in journals is still desirable to weed 
out OBVIOUS unprofessionalism and irrelevancies, but this 
can be fully handled by any competent editor(s) personally,
and does not require in-depth PR (anonymous or not).  

> [sniiiiiip]
> > 
> > If you have (supportive) colleagues, ask them to read
> > your manuscript and make suggestions for improvements.
>   This is of course useful to do in many cases, but does
> NOT mean that the referees aren't required.
(your correction in the above is accounted for).

For me it DOES MEAN precisely this: if my paper 
was seen (and commented on) by someone whom I trust 
as a professional, I don't need any more verifications 
and ready to publish whatever I have on my own 
judgement and risk. To beleive that on top of this
I still need another round of PR after this (after 
the competent colleague[s] made comments) is for me 
a mistrust towards BOTH (1) this colleague and (2)
myself. If there is something FUNDAMENTALLY wrong 
with my paper (PR almost certainly will miss it 
anyway), let it be later found and criticized in 
subsequent papers and/or open comment (OPEN 
subsequent comments = GENUINE peer review).
> > THIS is the way to do science, not secret bashing from
> > around the corner. (and if you don't have supportive
> > colleagues than ask yourself why not).
>   Secret bashing...?  It's self-evident that
> papers are published only when referees are supportive... isn't 
> it?! 

Too bad. There are cases (and many) when referees are
simply wrong and recommend the rejection of a paper which
nonetheless somehow becomes known and recognized as an 
importanat breakthrough later. I already gave earlier some
examples of this, and many more can be quoted.

This is why it is CRITICALLY IMPORTANT for the vitality of 
science process to reserve the right of the author to publish 
(let short version) of the paper DESPITE peer reveiew veto 
(in this case journal can, likely even must, publish signed
[ NON-anonymous ] comments of peer-reviewers along with the 
paper itself).

> And since even you've agreed that the rate at which high
> quality contributions are published is high, there doesn't
> appear to be a big problem with APR.

No, it really is (a big problem with APR). We may debate the 
rate (percentage) of 'high quality contributions', but is 
it 10 %, 20 % or whatever is not a very critical point here 
(plus people will broadly disagree on the specific assessments). 

But what IS CRITICAL for the process, is that the present 
REWARD system in science (despite many claims of the contrary) 
is heavily based on the COUNTING of PEER-REVIEWED papers 
(currency unit of academic life, if you wish). It is not (at 
least, often is not) the 'paper as such' that counts, but the 
fact that it was 'validated' by APR, especially in the environment 
of the heavily structured 'journal prestige' hierarchy (one of 
the major pillars of the power structure in science). 

In non-PR environment which is inevitably to come very 
soon (*) the fact of publishing paper as such won't count 
for much, only subseqent level of interest to it will 
provide a basis for value judgements. People will publish 
what (they bet) will produce a noticable resonance, i.e. 
wide approval/interest of the community IN-GENERAL (not 
just 1 or 2 peer reviewers, as now).   

Net result will be that you will most lieky have to face 
a much LESSER paper flood than now, not greater.

(*) there many signes of this now. I mention just one:
all academic libraries I know of are now cancelling 
journal subscriptions like crazy (peer reviewed journals,
mind you), while major publisheres keep steadily increasing 
their subscription prices. Many new (again, peer reviewed !) 
journals start every year and large fraction of them does
not survive for more than a year or two due to very low 
number of the subscribers [ it is practically impossible 
now to get the library to subscribe to ANY new journal ].

In view of this (and some other factors), the collapse of 
the traditional academic library system is likely a 
matter of just a few more years. This will FORCE people to 
resort to e-publsihng [ supplemented, perhaps, by some
kind of paper SAM-IZDAT (self-publishing), for paper fans ].
However, I don't believe the latter will be of a great use.
What is rather much more likely, are the radical changes in 
the copyright and down-loading rules.

Alexander A. Berezin, PhD
Department of Engineering Physics
McMaster University, Hamilton,
Ontario, Canada, L8S 4L7
tel. (905) 525-9140 ext. 24546


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