Re: Conflating Gate-Keeping with Toll-Gating

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Wed, 31 Jan 2001 13:16:45 +0000

On Wed, 31 Jan 2001, Manfredi M.A. La Manna wrote:

> As a new comer to this forum, perhaps I am allowed to express my surprise
> at the submission, refereeing, and publishing customs in disciplines other
> than my own (economics) and at some of the "solutions" being proposed here.
> Some questions/comments in random order:

As a new comer to this forum, you may not be aware that many shades of opinion
have been aired here, in many disciplines. In particular, all the points you
raise here have been discussed before (please see the 4-year archives of the
list). Some comments:

> 1. what is the point of publishing in journals with high acceptance rates?
> As a 100% acceptance rate is equivalent to vanity publishing, surely any
> journal where the majority of submissions are published is not worth
> submitting to.

Most contributors to the Forum would agree with you on this. The
dissenters are those who think some form of open post-hoc commentary
should should replace pre-hoc gate-keeping and peer review. Please see
the prior discussion on this. The subject headers are usually a good guide.

> 2. in my discipline, editors and especially referees for top journals both
> screen effectively (btw, top journals in economics reject 80-90% of
> submissions) and add value to submissions. The problem is that the pool of
> good editors and referees is definitely over-fished and as a result in the
> last few years a bad situation (long refereeing lags) has become worse with
> the time span from submission to first reports extending to many months
> (even years!).

This too has been discussed, especially in connection with untested
proposals based on assuming that potential referees and their time are
plentiful resources, rather than the scarce resources you rightly point
out that they are.

> 3. the suggestion ventilated by someone on the forum that papers posted on
> the web could somehow be refereed by well-disposed readers, in economics is
> simply preposterous;

Not preposterous, but speculative and untested, with a good number
of prima facie reasons it would be unlikely to succeed in yielding
a literature of a quality comparable to the current one.

    Harnad, S. (1998g/2000) The invisible hand of peer review. Nature
    [online] (5 Nov. 1998) and in Exploit Interactive 5 (2000)
    Longer version:

> 4. I fail to comprehend the huge fuss being made regarding the alleged
> advantage of preprints allowing authors to circumvent the restriction on
> dissemination imposed by copyright law. All that is required is that
> authors retain copyright of their own work and allow reproductions for all
> non-commercial uses (e.g. classroom use, etc.).

And all that would be required to make your simple proposal work is that all
journals should agree to accept it when asked; many will, but some will
not, and that, unfortunately, is the problem!

> 5. My main objection to the largely spurious debate on gate-keeping and
> toll-gating is that it does not address the practical problem faced by all
> researchers (certainly in economics and very likely in many other, if not
> all, disciplines): the stranglehold on the academic journal market by a
> handful (if not fewer) of commercial publishers whose extortionately-priced
> journals are often the only reputable home for specialist papers.

There is no need to single out any particular publishers, because even
if the higher ones lowered their prices to the level of the lower ones,
all refereed research would still not be accessible to all researchers,
everywhere. Only some to some. As long as this entire give-away
literature is not free to everyone everywhere,online, research-impact is
being lost, and hence debate is not spurious.

> 6. Members of this forum may be interested in the ELSSS project (ELectronic
> Society for the Social Sciences - a non-profit-making organisation), aimed
> at providing vigorous competition to the big commercial publishers on a
> whole range of journals (details are available at
> ). Since its launch on November 13th 2000,
> ELSSS has been extremely successful in attracting support from some of the
> biggest name in economics (with about 1,000 positive responses so far),
> extensive press coverage (including full articles in The Wall Street
> Journal, The Independent, The Scotsman, THES, etc.), and support from
> Libraries Associations both in the UK and in the US. Even though far less
> expensive than their commercially-produced counterparts, the proposed ELSSS
> journals aim at generating sufficient revenues to provide adequate rewards
> to editors, referees, and authors. It is only by challenging the status quo
> in academic publishing that the academic community can start the long
> process that will eventually lead to some of the scenarios being discussed
> in this forum.

This is like the SPARC initiative and BioMedCentral, both much discussed in this
Forum (q.v.).

> 7. At the risk of being provocative, it seems to me that colleagues in
> other disciplines ought to analyse more seriously the academic journal
> market place before launching into debates about the ideal system for the
> production and diffusion of quality-controlled, peer-reviewed research
> material.

Please peruse the Archives of this Forum to ascertain that colleagues
in other disciplines have indeed been doing that (which is not to say
that this has all been resolved, or even clearly conceptualized in
people's minds).

Stevan Harnad

> Manfredi La Manna
> Dr Manfredi M.A. La Manna
> Reader in Economics
> Department of Economics
> University of St Andrews
> tel: +44 1334 462434
> fax: +44 1334 462444
> mobile: 07712 649094
Received on Wed Jan 03 2001 - 19:17:43 GMT

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