A Note of Caution About "Reforming the System"

Stevan Harnad harnad at cogito.ecs.soton.ac.uk
Sat Feb 17 06:22:14 EST 2001


Although it is probably a better idea not to draw still further
attention to this thesis (that self-archiving is a SUBSTITUTE for
refereed publication, rather than just a SUPPLEMENT), because of the
confusion and opposition it understandably elicits, logic forces me to
reply to this:

On Fri, 16 Feb 2001, Greg Kuperberg wrote:

> On Fri, Feb 16, 2001 at 05:54:35PM +0000, Stevan Harnad wrote:
>
>   sh> And please don't reply (again) that the only reason they
>   sh> keep submitting their work to peer-reviewed journals is 
>   sh> because of the demands of tenure committees. 
>   sh> That too is speculation.
> 
> gk> In the case of most of *my* papers, it's the only reason.
> gk> There is no speculation in that.

Of course we know (since Descartes!) that (honest) SUBJECTIVE reports of
how one FEELS are never speculations; indeed they can never be wrong!
I can (honestly) feel that I am able to smash a brick because I have
mobilized the force of "Ki" in my midsection (but that does not mean 
either that that is why or how I am actually able to do it, nor even
that "Ki" exists).

As long as the actual consequences of removing the quality-controlling
"force" (I am consciously being ironical here, please do not take
advantage of it!) of peer review are never empirically tested (because
everyone keeps submitting everything for refereeing, EXACTLY as they
did before, whatever their subjective reasons for doing so might be),
the OBJECTIVE cause of the fact that everyone is still submitting
everything for refereeing just as they have been doing all along (and of the
fact that the literature, both before and after refereeing, continues
to be of the quality it has been all along) has simply not been tested.
Nothing has changed! And the most reasonable assumption is that the
cause is still the quality-control exerted by peer review, just as it
has been all along.

In other words, don't look at what Simon says, look at what he does!
And if it's exactly the same as what he's been doing all along, and
the cause of that was already known (and, let us say, that cause
consisted of external inertial forces bigger than himself), then, if he
now says he's only doing it because he has (say) "learned to detach
himself from the consequences of all my actions," then don't pay too
much attention!

Enough of this rhetoric. To turn what I have called a speculation into
an empirical hypothesis supported by objective evidence, you have to
test it, not just express a belief in it. Here is a prediction: If
researchers really did stop submitting their findings for peer review,
the quality of the literature would decline until peer review had to be
re-invented. (For the record: I mean quasi-classical, a-priori peer
review, not post-hoc "peer" commentary on an unfiltered, unanswerable
raw literature of indeterminate navigability. The current
pre-refereeing corpus, which is today all inexorably answerable to
the "invisible hand" of peer review for which it is all knowingly
destined, is NOT a test of this hypothesize.)

    Harnad, S. (1998/2000) The invisible hand of peer review. Nature
    [online] (5 Nov. 1998)
    http://helix.nature.com/webmatters/invisible/invisible.html Longer
    version in Exploit Interactive 5 (2000):
    http://www.exploit-lib.org/issue5/peer-review/
    http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/nature2.html

--------------------------------------------------------------------
Stevan Harnad                     harnad at cogsci.soton.ac.uk
Professor of Cognitive Science    harnad at princeton.edu
Department of Electronics and     phone: +44 23-80 592-582
             Computer Science     fax:   +44 23-80 592-865
University of Southampton         http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/
Highfield, Southampton            http://www.princeton.edu/~harnad/
SO17 1BJ UNITED KINGDOM           

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