Re: A Note of Caution About "Reforming the System"

From: Greg Kuperberg <greg_at_MATH.UCDAVIS.EDU>
Date: Sat, 17 Feb 2001 16:30:08 -0800

On Sat, Feb 17, 2001 at 11:22:14AM +0000, Stevan Harnad wrote:
> Although it is probably a better idea not to draw still further
> attention to this thesis (that self-archiving is a SUBSTITUTE for
> refereed publication, rather than just a SUPPLEMENT), because of the
> confusion and opposition it understandably elicits,...

I think really this is our biggest point of contention: Whether reform
of peer review is a dangerous distraction from the e-print revolution
as you think it is, or whether it is integral to the e-print revolution,
as I think it is. The claim that e-print archives might have no direct
effect on peer review is a hard sell for BOTH believers and skeptics, at
least in mathematics. I have talked to skeptics in mathematics before.
If I maintained your line I would sound like a slippery liberal-centrist
politician. I would be a Bill Clinton or Ehud Barak figure who stands
for reform but pretends not to. It's just not my style.

With the benefit of experience, the objection to your claim can already be
read from your own terminology. How can you call peer review "a priori"
if it comes after contribution to the arXiv, which is so much better at
distributing papers than journals? What is it prior to? When I write
a new paper, I first arXiv it and then I submit it for peer review.
Empirically peer review for me is already "post hoc", whether it extends
an "invisible hand" into my research or not.

Even if you don't like me giving myself as an example, it is certainly
not true that "everyone keeps submitting everything for refereeing".
I gave an example before: The arXiv article q-alg/9709040, by Maxim
Kontsevich, isn't published. This is hardly a forgotten, rejected draft
either. Kontsevich is famous, and the result in that article is one of
his crowning achievements. Indeed, q-alg/9709040 has earned a far more
prestigious form of peer review than journal publication, since it was
read and recognized by the Fields Medal committee. Prestigious though
it may be, it is also "post hoc" from any viewpoint.

I have never interviewed Kontsevich to get his opinions on scholarly
communication. I think that he isn't interested in that topic and
that he harbors no particular skepticism about journals. He does still
publish most of his papers. But I also believe that Kontsevich hasn't
gotten around to publishing q-alg/9709040 because he has been from the
yoke of promotion. My theory is that he might publish it somewhere if
he had some free time, but he's busy with new research, and anyone who
wants it can get it from the arXiv.
  /\  Greg Kuperberg (UC Davis)
 /  \
 \  / Visit the Math ArXiv Front at
  \/  * All the math that's fit to e-print *
Received on Wed Jan 03 2001 - 19:17:43 GMT

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