Re: Publication at LANL as involving peer review

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Mon, 19 Jul 1999 12:04:19 +0100

> On Sun, 18 Jul 1999, Murray Turoff wrote:
> It seems to me that there is a hidden assumption in the discussions
> that peer review will be essentially the same process it is now.

No such hidden assumption. Just that freeing the current peer-reviewed
literature (such as it is) is the primary item on the agenda, and
there is no reason whatsoever to couple this with untested peer-review
reform in any way, on the contrary. The latter calls for prior testing
and demonstration. The former has already been tested and demonstrated
as highly successful by Los Alamos.

> There are almost unlimited opportunities to change for the peer review
> process and I regret that not much effort is going into any
> experimentation with the process.

There is, and should be, but it should not be coupled with freeing the
literature, whose time has already come.

> 1. Reviewers use pen names in a group conference so they can examine
> the inconsistencies in their reviews and discuss them.

Fine, but a resource question: Peer review, performed for free, is already
a scarce resource as it is.

> 2. Authors are allowed to enter the peer review conference and respond
> to the reviewers.

Good idea too, if there is the time for it.

> 3. Papers are published with the peer reviews.

This is much less realistic. The referee reports are on successive
drafts, often revised several times. They would be non sequiturs on the
final accepted drafts. Nor is peer commentary to be confused with peer
review (I ought to know, having umpired both for over 20 years!)

> 4. Any reader of the paper able to vote on their agreement or
> disagreement with various issues in the reviews.

This has been much discussed in this forum (q.v.). Again, open peer
commentary is a powerful and invaluable SUPPLEMENT to peer review, but
not a substitute for it, nor a part of it -- although it is certainly part
of the broader self-corrective nature of Learned Inquiry.

> 5. Readers are allowed to attach comments to a paper so the paper
> becomes a discussion space about that paper.

Vide supra.

> 6. Readers are allowed to create links to other papers and other
> discussions related to specific issues in the paper.

Hear, hear.

> 7. Authors allowed to update and improve the paper under certain
> protocols.

Why new protocols? A paper is refereed, and if accepted, certified and
published as such, in Journal X. If/when there are corrections/updates,
they too can be linked to the certified, canonical draft, with or
without a further stage of certification of the revision (tagged
accordingly, if so). (Again, referees, who serve for free, are a scarce
resource whose time and efforts are not to be taken for granted, or

> Clearly there are new dynamic roles for "editors" in keeping
> the on going process organized. But in all these possibilities what we
> have is the review process as a continuous one.

The conduct and reporting of the Learned Inquiry is continuous; so is
its self-correctiveness. But it is better to reserve "peer review" for
the system that controls and certifies the quality of the papers
appearing in the refereed journal literature (tagged as such), and we
do better to call THAT "publication" rather than any willy-nilly bit of
vanity-press or self-advertising. (Distinguish also dilettante opinion
polls by one and all from peer commentary.)

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

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Dec 10 2010 - 19:45:35 GMT