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

From: J.W.T.Smith <J.W.T.Smith_at_UKC.AC.UK>
Date: Mon, 12 Jul 1999 21:15:16 +0100

This note is a response (but not a direct reply hence I am starting a new
thread) to comments in earlier notes by Stevan Harnad (and others).

Why must Referees be unpaid? I can understand they cannot be paid directly
by the author (or author's institution) as that could lead to a conflict
of interests but why can't they be paid something for their work/time?

As Prof Harnad has pointed out there is a scarcity of referees and I would
go on to argue this can only be exacerbated by the fact they have to be
both knowledgeable in their field *and* have the time to do this unpaid

If there is to be the significant growth in research and publishing Prof
Harnad expects (and I entirely agree with him on this) when researchers in
less well off countries and institutions have free access to the academic
literature (once we have escaped the limitations of the 'reader pays'
model) then we may need to have 'professional' referees. Otherwise we may
find there is a bottleneck with far too many papers looking for too few

Is the idea of a professional referee so wrong? We have professional
arbitrators for example but no-one would argue they are biased just
because they are paid.

One could argue that paying referees must increase the cost of peer review
overall but must it? It seems to me we have a similar closed community
situation to the one we have with academic journals. The argument for
up-front payment for the quality control / certification phase - QC/C (to
use Prof Harnad's phraseology) is that the academic community *as a whole*
will save more by not having journal subscriptions than it will pay out on
QC/C and archiving. In a similar way, I would argue, the academic
community *as a whole* pays for the 'free' time academic referees spend
refereeing. What is more, since only the more senior researchers/academics
tend to have the free time to take part in this process their time is
exceptionally expensive. If we paid more junior researchers (or those
just retired?) to do some of this refereeing we could both relieve part of
the impending bottleneck problem and take some of the load off the senior
researchers thus giving them more time to spend on their primary work. I
realise there would be a net increase in overall spending but there would
also be an increase in research done since the senior researchers would
spend less time on this 'unpaid' work. In addition this money would go to
those on the lower salary scales - a useful but unplanned bonus of this

I realise this is a simplistic analysis since there must be times when
only those at the very forefront of research in a specific area can judge
another's work. However not all research is truely ground-breaking and it
could be judged by lesser mortals.

Summary - If we are to question (overturn?) the fundamental assumptions of
the 'reader pays' model for academic publishing maybe we should also
question some of the associated assumptions like non-(visible)payment for
refereeing activities?


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

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