Re: Incentives

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sun, 9 Jul 2000 23:03:02 +0100

On Sun, 9 Jul 2000, Peter Singer wrote:

> [T]hree clear instantiations of the [current] incentive system are
> university promotion committees, granting agency review committees, and
> award committees... These groups... are supposed to judge "quality"...

They judge quality, in part, with the help of prior peer review, as
implemented by the established refereed journals. (This is one of the
functions of the essential Quality-Control/Certification [QC/C] service
that refereed journals provide, and will continue to be paid for
providing.) If each paper had to be peer-reviewed afresh by each review
committee, the work of quality-control would be increased by an order
of magnitude -- rather like asking employers to re-mark the school
essays of all their candidates instead of relying on the marks they
were assigned by their universities.

Peer review is imperfect, whether exercised by journal editors/referees
or by review committees; it could stand improvement, as well as
supplementation by other new forms of evaluation, including online
informetrics. But that is not the focus of this Forum. This Forum is
about freeing the peer-reviewed literature, such as it is, now. There
is no reason to delay or side-track this immediate, face-valid
objective by coupling it in any way with untested hypotheses about
ways of improving or modifying or replacing peer review.

> Now the question becomes how does the decision of an author to submit
> her work to traditional journals versus new forms of e-"publishing"
> such as self-archiving or Biomedcentral relate to these incentives?

This is a false opposition: There IS an either/or decision for authors
contemplating "new forms of e-publishing [e.g., BiomedCentral]," but NO
such either/or decision for authors contemplating self-archiving (of
their refereed papers, published in traditional journals). They are
contemplating a both/and decision that can only increase, not decrease
the impact of their papers.

> "University promotion and tenure committees... rely on the "brand" of
> the journal in which an article was published to establish its merit
> [rather than] actually read[ing] articles and reflect[ing] on their
> worth."

See above.

> For authors to... change their behaviour and submit their articles to
> the new forms of e-"publishing", the incentive system needs to be
> modified to reward this behaviour. This is the equivalent of placing
> the food and water outside the cage or getting the horse to drink for
> those who followed the earlier metaphors on this list.

See above. Self-archiving does not require authors to "submit their
articles to new forms of e-"publishing." It is a supplement to
traditional journal publishing and does not require giving anything

> Now the question becomes how to change the incentive system so authors
> can be rewarded for "publishing" in the new ways?

On the self-archiving model, there is no need to change the incentive
system for publishing; an incentive has to be provided for
self-archiving IN ADDITION TO publishing. Part of that incentive is the
increased impact made possible by free access; the other part would
come from Universities' mounting Open Archives, rewarding their
researchers for self-archiving in them, and even providing proxies
(students or digitial library staff) to do the first wave of
self-archiving for them:

> The... university, granting agency, or award-giving body simply needs
> to state that the work itself, and not where it was published, should
> be the focus of attention of review committees

And unfortunately the proponent of this expedient needs to state where
these review committees are to find the time, money, and peers to
peer-review all these already peer-reviewed papers afresh each time.

> The current tools of number of articles, journal brand, journal impact
> factor, peer reviews can be improved. If we produce better tools, we
> will decrease reliance on the ones we have now -- especially journal
> brand -- and authors can be recognized appropriately for their work
> submitted to the new venues for e-"publishing".

By all means produce better tools; test them; and once they have been
chosen to do the job, they will no doubt be adopted. Meanwhile, we have
a job to do: freeing the current refereed literature online, now. --
Once this is done, there will be a much bigger database for developing
those new kinds of tools:

Stevan Harnad
Professor of Cognitive Science
Department of Electronics and phone: +44 23-80 592-582
             Computer Science fax: +44 23-80 592-865
University of Southampton
Highfield, Southampton

NOTE: A complete archive of this ongoing discussion of providing free
access to the refereed journal literature is available at the American
Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00):

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Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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