Re: The True Cost of the Essentials (Implementing Peer Review)

From: J.W.T.Smith <J.W.T.Smith_at_UKC.AC.UK>
Date: Tue, 6 Jul 1999 17:27:45 +0100

Prof Harnad, et al,

On Tue, 6 Jul 1999, Stevan Harnad wrote:

> 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.

There are problems with this algorith.

Applying it precisely would make review articles (for which the author
received a small honorarium), some editorials and all commissioned
surveys/reports (copies of which may be given away on request) 'trade' -
while novels or poems published freely on the net would be 'non-trade'. I
have nothing against novelists or poets but I don't think we mean to
include their work with scholarly articles.

Also the two categories are not absolutely mutually exclusive. For example
an author of a commissioned review article might happily take the
honorarium but his main impetus for undertaking the work involved might be
the chance to reach a large number of readers.

> > 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.

The algorith may be precise but it is flawed (as pointed out above). It
attempts to refute Fytton's argument by defining it out of existence - but
the world isn't that simple.


> 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.

This solution actually circumvents the 'Rowland anomaly' (that *real*
academic journals do not fall neatly into trade/non-trade categories) by
moving from the journal to the article as the publishing unit and dividing
these between 'trade' and 'non-trade'. It should be noted that this is
done at the cost of weakening the concept of the 'journal' as a composite
whole (i.e. that a journal is made up of parts, and that those parts
*belong* together).

However the problem could be avoided altogether if a publishing model was
adopted that separated the evaluation/quality control role from the
publishing/archiving role (making available) from the distribution role
(making aware). Strangely enough :-) this is the core of my Distributed
Journal model

The more one considers it the more this whole area looks like a paradigm
shift in action. According to Kuhn paradigm shifts start when it becomes
impossible to accept the anomalies in the current paradigm (or model). The
unacceptable annomaly in the current academic publishing paradigm is that
authors give their work away free and want to maximise access but their
publishers charge high prices and want to restrict access. Rather than
abandon a current paradigm completely the usual move is to tinker with it
in an attempt to release the tension caused by the anomaly (in this case
we are retaining the concept of the journal as set of articles whilst
making these articles freely available separately from the journal, and at
the same time trying to change the funding model for journals). However,
if a real paradigm change is required all the tinkering does is to expose
other anomalies. The 'Rowland anomaly' may be one such consequential


John Smith,
University of Kent at Canterbury, UK.
Received on Wed Feb 10 1999 - 19:17:43 GMT

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