Re: The True Cost of the Essentials (Implementing Peer Review)

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Fri, 14 Dec 2001 20:28:00 +0000

On Fri, 14 Dec 2001, Arthur Smith wrote:

> Obviously a service fee to authors or their institutions would help with
> our "gentle persuasion" process, but the service fee may not be small...

Service fee for what? I am advocating an eventual service fee for peer
review, but only if/when revenue from other optional products and
services is no longer enough to pay for it, because of preference for
the free (self-archived) online version. (Then the service can be paid
for out of the savings.)

> and is it actually advantageous to science to put in economic incentives
> that effectively discourage publication of clearly readable research? Do
> we really want "lower quality"? Is this an unfulfilled need?

I can't follow this. Who is discouraging what? Publishers continue to
produce and sell the enhanced, value-added product; authors self-archive
and thereby free up access to the refereed final draft. As long as the paid
version has a market and pays the bills, nothing changes. If/when the
market decides (with its dollar-vote) that the refereed final draft is
enough, some of the resulting savings from no longer paying for the optional
add-ons can be used to pay for the one remaining essential service:
peer review. But it will be paid as a service fee on outgoing papers,
not an access fee for incoming ones.

> > This means that the only remaining per-article real costs are
> > (1) dissemination on-paper, (2) any on-line enhancements by the
> > publisher (special mark-up, linking), and (3) peer review.
> By (2) I assume Stevan is referring to the copy-editing process, which I
> cited, with markup being one of the issues. Any publisher would like to
> do this cheaper if they could be sure of the same level of "quality".
> The real question, which needs to be answered not just by this group,
> but by all those within the "audience" for science, whether other
> researchers, other scholars, media, public, etc., is, what level of
> copy-editing is actually justified, on grounds of the need for
> accessibility of that scientific research?

Isn't this something the market can answer? The refereed final draft is
freed by author/institution self-archiving. If there is something in the
on-paper version, or the publisher's enhanced PDF, that is still deemed
worth buying, it will keep paying its own way. If there isn't, then
things will downsize to the essentials -- which may turn out to be
just peer review.

> Commercial companies may be more attuned to the economic justification
> for copy-editing than we are, as a non-profit. So it would certainly be
> of interest to see whether they are spending more, less, or about the
> same as us per paper on copy-editing. As for-profit entities, it's
> unlikely any company would spend much more than is absolutely necessary
> to create a journal that meets the expectations of their market. Andrew
> Odlyzko's argument suggests that they may be spending more than us - if
> so, why is that?

Good question.

> Note that I'm not worrying about freeing the literature here; if
> publishing free literature really involved no copy-editing, we would
> likely never do it, as a publisher with a historical interest in certain
> publication standards.

Do you mean APS would then not do copy-editing, or that it would then not
publish? I hope you mean the former, as peer review is still essential, and
the real standard underlying the value of the refereed research literature.

> Stevan's arguments for that are fine, and it'll
> go however far it'll go pretty much whatever we do. It may have some
> effect on the market for "quality", but we seem not to have experienced
> too much of that effect yet. But we still would like to reduce the high
> costs libraries (or institutions who may replace them in funding
> publication) have to bear, and if "lowering quality" at copy-editing is
> really acceptable, perhaps that will actually happen.

I think APS has been terrific, most especially because they explicitly
allow self-archiving even of the APS PDF...

> So, the question again: what level of copy-editing is actually
> justified, on grounds of the need for accessibility of that scientific
> research?

I think the market will be able to decide that once self-archiving has
freed the vanilla refereed version.

Stevan Harnad
Received on Fri Dec 14 2001 - 20:28:07 GMT

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