Re: Independent scientific publication - Why have journals at all?

From: Bruce Edmonds <b.edmonds_at_MMU.AC.UK>
Date: Wed, 3 Mar 1999 07:58:37 -0500

First I will answer some of Stephen's objections then summerise my suggested approach.


> That is all a journal is. The "journal" part is simply the quality
> controller and the provider of the quality-control tag.

No, a journal usually implies a holding of the published papers, including:

* copyright
* responsibility for its final mark-up and presentation
* storage on site of the paper

I am suggesting seperating these roles from the review/quality control process.

> But why should there be only one "relevant subject review board" for
> each subject

I did not intend for there to be only one board. I would have thought that there would be as many such boards as there are presently journals. Further more, if journals do not hold papers then there is no reason why different boards my validate the same paper in different ways for different audiences. Thus the reader can still make use fo the hierarchy of control-tags etc.

> But besides keeping the reports confidential, if the author doesn't want
> them publicised, what provision is there for seeing that they are heeded
> by the author?

If the author want a higher grade then they will have to heed them, just as with re-submission now.

> Refereeing is not like school grading of essays. Peer review does not
> consist of giving stars for content and presentation.

At the moment there is, in effect a one-star system - a paper is either published or it is not. I am proposing that more information be made available to the readers, so they may pick and choose in a more informed way suiting their purposes at the time. For example: I may be just looking for new ideas in using a particular technique, I could then search on low quality papers but with tight constraints on subject matter; alternatively I may want to be braodly informed of important developments accross a wide range of topics, in which case I would look for only the best papers over any topic.

> What
> referees would devote their limited time and expertise to such a free
> for all, where every draft is "published" with "stars," and there is no
> answerability to referees' recommendations

For much the same reasons as they devote their time now: control and influence over what is read, influence over the future development of the paper, prestige from being a board member (depending on the prestige of the board, of course).

> Should all those reports be posted openly on the Web? Would all (most?)
> authors want that?

Different boards would have different policies, authors (and readers) would choose. Let variety reign!

> except endless rounds of
> further star-seeking: What referees have the time to contribute to an
> open-ended free-for-all like that?

I would expect that each board would have its own policy on repetitious star-seeking, as fits its work-load, prestige, purposes etc.

> The real cost (though small) is in administering the peer review

I agree. I would think that established boards might charge per paper submission and academics keen on opening up new areas and catering for new audiences would do it for free. Boards with a low number of submissions could manage the work-load for free, ones with high-demand can presumably tap this for funds.


I am suggesting a quite different system to the current one - one where the whole process of paper-development is more open to the readership. (It is a sort of evolutionary system of knowledge development as opposed to a foundationalist one). There would be NO process of author-reviewer/editor discussion and revision, no adjudicting revisions. You would submit your paper to your chosen board and then the result would be available to the public. Any process of improvement would be public. There would be no (general) distinction between submitting a new paper and a revised version of an old one. The pressure would be on authors to submit good papers.

It would require a different attitude and way of working, much of which would merely be a public admitting of what already happens, e.g.:

* papers and thought do progress incrementally a lot of the time, the papers would reflect this, rather than pretend that each paper represents new thought

* the same papers do have different attractions, strengths and weaknesses for different audiences, so they could be judged differently by different boards (`journals' if you prefer), rather than doing different versions for each.

* you would have to accept that the public perception of your work would be less polished and fait-a-complet than as now because people would be able to see (and contribute to!) the process of the thought development rather than only have access to the finished product.

It is a further development of the existing line of thought in this forum. Not only have the distribution costs been jetisoned, but also the mark-up costs. I aggree that the archival costs are small and this is a side-issue.

Thus this would indeed be a huge free-for-all, lots of papers, lots of competing boards, free access to the information, but it would quickly evolve. If a board did not provide the quality control or the classificatory system readers want they would use another. If a board did not get the right volume of work they would adjust their criteria and system or give up. Authors would tend to send to successful boards.

The main advantages:

* the whole process of knowledge development would be open, there would be no closed author-journal discussion

* it would provide for far greater access for readers in ways which would be customisable to the readers needs

* readers would still be able to access the quality they want, but be able to set their own criteria without having to trawl throught the complete archive itself

* the system would be far more adaptive and responsive then present

* it can be set-up to reference papers in current public paper archives

* it extends the ideas of such services as Web site reviews/awards and such as Encyclopedia Britanica's commercial site selection service

* no special subscriptions have to be taken up by institutions, since costs are subsumed by academics themselves (in terms of their time)


Bruce Edmonds,
Centre for Policy Modelling,
Manchester Metropolitan University, Aytoun Bldg.,
Aytoun St., Manchester, M1 3GH. UK.
Tel: +44 161 247 6479 Fax: +44 161 247 6802
Received on Wed Feb 10 1999 - 19:17:43 GMT

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