The Cost of Peer Review

Stevan Harnad harnad at cogito.ecs.soton.ac.uk
Tue Jul 6 07:38:46 EST 1999


On Tue, 6 Jul 1999, Fytton Rowland wrote:

> Professor Stevan Harnad argued quite a while ago that the models that he
> has advocated refer to "esoteric" publications (his term), which roughly
> fit the old assumption that the authorship and readership of a specialised
> scholarly journal are the same people.  He has always recognised, I think,
> that other types of publication are different, and will continue to operate
> on a trade model paid for by a combination of income from advertisers and
> from purchasers.  Such publications often (but not invariably) pay their
> contributors too.  New Scientist would fit this description.  

Under advice from Ann Okerson and others, the "esoteric" descriptor has
now been dropped in favor of the (tautological) descriptor "nontrade,"
but in its place there is now a simple algorithm:

    Does the author (1) seek/get any revenue for his text (royalties,
    fees) or does he instead (2) give it away, seeking only the
    eyes/minds of readers?

If (1), it is trade, if (2) it is not. 

> However, Don King -- always an invaluable source of real, verifiable
> *facts* about scholarly journals as opposed to opinions and attitudes --

Thanks for the implied compliment (read on)...

> points out that many scholarly journals have a far wider readership than
> is necessarily indicated by their citation patterns.  

Citation patterns are irrelevant to the trade/nontrade distinction. So
is the size of the readership, according to the new, more precise
algorithm above.

> It isn't true to say
> that only the authors ever read the journals -- the reader community is
> often wider.

It was never true to say that only the authors read even the most
esoteric of journals. The authors (opting for (2)) always hoped to
capture more eyes/minds than that, and occasionally even managed to do
so.

But it was not just the rarefied subject matter of their articles that
had conspired against these nontrade authors, who were seeking only
eyes/minds for their texts; it was also the access barriers of (a)
paper and (b) its economics, which necessitated toll-gates -- usually
in the form of institutional Subscription/Site-License/Pay-Per-View
(S/L/P) -- which denied entry for all unpaid eyes/minds to the author's
freely given ideas/findings.

In the online era, both of these barriers to the eyes/minds of nontrade
authors' potential readership have ceased to be necessary; this give-away
literature can at last be freed for everyone, everywhere, forever:

http://www.arl.org/scomm/subversive/toc.html

> Examples would be: practitioners (physicians, engineers,
> lawyers, etc.) who don't actually do research; high school teachers; some
> of the educated lay public; and of course students, undergraduate as well
> as postgraduate.

Completely irrelevant: Tell a nontrade author trying to maximize the
eyes/minds that access his work that he should NOT self-archive it
publicly for free for all, because in some magazines some people are
willing/able to pay for it! 

> So far as really esoteric journals are concerned I think Professor Harnad
> is right; they do not belong in the commercial world at all, and an
> "author-pays" system, with a moderate charge to cover the costs of peer
> review and of maintaining the document on the WWW in perpetuity, seems
> appropriate.  

The only open question -- and, thanks to the algorithm mentioned above,
this is a matter of FACT, not opinion or attitude -- is: "Which are the
'really esoteric journals' that fall into this category?". The answer
will be loud and clear: The ENTIRE REFEREED JOURNAL LITERATURE, which
the author gives away to his publisher for free, seeking only the
eyes/minds of readers in return.

> At the other end of the scale, Nature, for example, is a very successful
> commercial enterprise, and there is no way it will cease to be
> "reader-pays" - but in any case, high circulations attract advertising
> revenue and generally help to keep cover prices down.  

Nature is hybrid. It has articles written by journalists for a fee, it
has some borderline cases in which scientists are paid a very modest
fee to provide commissioned articles, and it has the submitted, refereed
reports of new research. The solution is simple: The trade portions can
proceed apace, and the journal itself can continue to be sold via
S/L/P for as long as there is a market. But the REFEREED articles can
also be self-archived by authors for free for all.

Nature's copyright agreement regarding online self-archiving, unlike
that of Science, is closer to the right direction on this, but
eventually it will have to conform fully to the model provided by the
American Physical Society, with full online self-archiving rights
guaranteed for both the unrefereed preprint and the refereed reprint:

http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Author.Eprint.Archives/0006.html

> There is a grey area in between, where journals such as those of the
> American Chemical Society, for example, have a large sale to commercial
> chemical and pharmaceutical companies.  There is no reason on earth why
> academia should subsidise *them*, so surely a "reader-pays" system should
> stay.  The argument comes down to this:  how do we draw the lines between
> the different types of scholarly journal? -- Fytton Rowland

Completely incorrect! The fact that institution X is willing and able
to pay for an ACS journal via S/L/P is of absolutely no use to ME if I
am in institution Y or country Z, which isn't. Nor is it of any use to
the author of that article that my eyes/mind and countless others
continue to be denied access to his work because there are still others
who can afford not to be!

http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/nature.html

--------------------------------------------------------------------
Stevan Harnad                     harnad at cogsci.soton.ac.uk
Professor of Cognitive Science    harnad at princeton.edu
Department of Electronics and     phone: +44 2380 592-582
Computer Science                  fax:   +44 2380 592-865
University of Southampton         http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/
Highfield, Southampton            http://www.princeton.edu/~harnad/
SO17 1BJ UNITED KINGDOM           ftp://ftp.princeton.edu/pub/harnad/




More information about the Jrnlnote mailing list