Re: Publication at LANL as involving peer review

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 13 Jul 1999 20:55:19 +0100

Joseph Randsell thinks self-archiving in LANL, and its sequelae, may
constitute a new form of peer review. I disagree, but first a
straightforward error has to be corrected:

LANL (The Los Alamos Eprint Archive) does NOT just consist of unrefereed
preprints. It started that way, but by now, in Year 8, authors are
annually archiving both unrefereed preprints AND refereed final drafts,
and, quite naturally, swapping the latter for the former once it is

This makes the question of whether what is going on in LANL is some new
form of peer review incoherent: Classical peer review is exerting its
FULL, usual quality control functions on the final drafts in LANL.

(There are no figures yet on proportions, but I hope the stats engine
will soon distinguish unrefereed preprints from refereed reprints:

Second, Joseph has partly misunderstood my "invisible hand" argument:
The point is that the unrefereed preprints deposited in LANL are mostly
exactly the same ones that are being concurrently submitted for
refereeing. Papers knowingly prepared to be answerable to classical
peer review are ALREADY more constrained than those that are simply
destined for the vanity press (as all papers would be, if peer review
were abandoned -- or if mere vanity-posting were simply rebaptized as a
"nouveau peer review")

Last point: What Joseph thinks may be a new form of peer review rather
than peer commentary IS just peer commentary: What else could it be?
Peer review is not just a red/green light; it is corrective peer
feedback to which the author is systematically answerable (as enforced by
the peer-editor) BEFORE the work can appear tagged as "Refereed" (in
Journal X.

It is that "Refereed" tag that guides the reading of ALL the readers of
the refereed journal literature. They do not have to dredge through the
raw submissions, 90% of them destined for rejection by the best
journals, and 10% destined for varying degrees of revision before
appearing. How could this ADVANCE sign-posting be done AFTER posting?

LANL contains the raw drafts as well as the refereed ones. (Moreover,
Physics may be the field in which the difference between the raw and
final drafts is the smallest; the causal role of this in the fact that
it all happened in Physics first will have to be analyzed by historians
of science.)

When the Physics community uses the unrefereed preprints in LANL, it is
doing what it used to do in the paper medium too: Certain people's work
you know can be trusted, and you want to know about and build on it as
soon as it is available. That is not a new form of peer review. It is
just the Physics preprint culture.

The refereed papers in LANL are used the same way all refereed papers
are used. Nor do they become refereed papers in virtue of a new form of
LANL peer review that has transpired between the archiving of the
preprint and the archiving of the reprint. The refereeing has been done
the classical way, and LANL archives the result.

Nor do I believe that LANL has given rise to a new, still more
preliminary form of pre-preprint (at least not to any significant degree),
a precipitous-preprint that is not the same as the classical preprint,
the one that is usually the same one that is concurrently submitted to a
journal for peer review. So there is no "nouveau peer review" shaping
any pre-preprint to preprint transformation either.

Let me close with a review of what I actually meant by the "invisible
hand" metaphor:

(1) It constrains preprints to be drafted on the presumption of
answerability to classical peer review, through conventional journal
submission, usually concurrent with archiving.

(2) It underlies the transition from unrefereed preprint to refereed
reprint IN LANL.

(3) LANL has not REPLACED classical peer review, it is completely
parasitic on it, but it has produced an invaluable SUPPLEMENT to
classical peer review, making the unrefereed literature immediately
available on an unprecedented scale, and making open peer commentary
possible too, both for preprints (to help shape the final draft) and for
the refereed final drafts (making revised post-publication corrections
and updates possible).

Stevan Harnad
Professor of Cognitive Science
Department of Electronics and phone: +44 2380 592-582
Computer Science fax: +44 2380 592-865
University of Southampton
Highfield, Southampton
Received on Wed Feb 10 1999 - 19:17:43 GMT

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