Peer Review, Peer Commentary, and Eprint Archive Policy

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sat, 9 Mar 2002 12:18:45 +0000 (GMT)

On Sat, 9 Mar 2002, [identity removed] wrote:

> We at the University of [identity removed] are in the very early stages
> of creating an eprint repository (we will be registering as soon as our new
> server arrives). The Dean of the faculty with which we expect to work as a
> starting point expressed dismay when I mentioned that commentary on papers
> was public, not sent privately to the author. Is it possible to set things
> up so that the comments could be kept private if the author so wished? Is
> this something the site administrator could do? I am assuming that comments
> can go into a buffer just like papers can? I have searched the FAQs and can
> find nothing that answers this question so hope you can answer it for me
> please

The first answer is that of course commentary (or anything) can be kept
private. All deposits to an Eprint Archive first go into the buffer,
and whoever is managing that buffer can either exclude "commentary" or
first send it to the author on whose paper it is based, according to
policy, which is up to the institution.

Second, the whole Archive can be made nonpublic, should one so wish.
(That is not the purpose of open access, but the software is flexible
enough so it can be used that way if an institution wishes.)

But third: What is commentary? Eprint Archives are intended for
faculty research output, both unrefereed preprints and refereed
postprints. In both these categories there will be papers that cite the
papers of others, and are hence "commentary". (Does the Dean of the
faculty think that what authors write, or is written about them, needs
to be monitored by the university?)

As it happens, I am the editor (for nearly a quarter century) of a
peer-reviewed paper journal devoted exclusively to articles with "open
peer commentary" (Behavioral and Brain Sciences, published by Cambridge
University Press: as well as the editor (for
over a decade) of a peer-reviewed online journal likewise devoted to
articles plus commentary (Psycoloquy: ).

Peer commentary (not to be confused with formal peer review, for which
it is a supplement, but not a substitute) is open review. It is as old as
scholarship itself. It is not something that needs to be treated as a
special case and suppressed! Moreover, it is something that is actively
sought by authors, as a form of impact and recognition. A university
need not protect its authors from it!

Perhaps your Dean is confusing peer review and open peer commentary:
Eprints can also be used as (part of) a peer-review system for a
journal, in which case referee reports submitted to the buffer are not
made public, but only available to the editor, referees and authors.

Or perhaps your Dean is thinking of informal or even improper comments,
not intended for or worthy of being made public. That is of course a
matter for the judgment of the Eprint Archive's manager, the one in
charge of the buffer. An Archive can exercise as much selectivity, and
make its archiving policy as constrained or as unconstrained as it

But it should be remembered that a University Eprint Archive is not (in
general) meant to be a refereed journal. It is meant to publicly archive
(i.e., render openly accessible) the research output of its faculty,
which includes pre-refereeing preprints and post-refereeing postprints.
Within the category of pre-refereeing preprints (or, in the case of
items that have been accepted by journals like Behavioral and Brain
Sciences or Psycoloquy, within the category of published postprints)
there will be items such as commentaries or review papers.

Most Eprint Archives will want to do light filtering to exclude
obviously inappropriate material such as pornography, spam, quackery,
perhaps also deposits by anyone not affiliated with the university, or
material otherwise deemed unsuitable. But it is not at all clear that
they will want to regard formal commentary as such. On the contrary, it
is much more likely that the open-access era will spawn a much larger
and richer body of peer interaction and feedback in the form of both
published and unpublished peer commentary than was ever possible in the
printed medium, to the considerable benefit of research progress

"Comments in Journals"

"Open source tool for online peer review commentary"

"Peer Commentary Software"

Harnad, S. (1979) Creative disagreement. The Sciences 19: 18 - 20.

Harnad, S. (1984) Commentaries, opinions and the growth of scientific
knowledge. American Psychologist 39: 1497 - 1498.

Harnad, S. (1996) Implementing Peer Review on the Net: Scientific
Quality Control in Scholarly Electronic Journals. In: Peek,
R. & Newby, G. (Eds.) Scholarly Publication: The Electronic Frontier.
Cambridge MA: MIT Press. Pp. 103-108.

Harnad, S. (1997) Learned Inquiry and the Net: The Role of Peer Review,
Peer Commentary and Copyright. Learned Publishing
11(4) 283-292. Short version appeared in 1997 in Antiquity 71:
1042-1048. Excerpts also appeared in the University of Toronto
Bulletin: 51(6) P. 12.

Harnad, S. (1998) The invisible hand of peer review. Nature [online] (c.
5 Nov. 1998)

Stevan Harnad

NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing free
access to the refereed journal literature online is available at the
American Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00 & 01):
Discussion can be posted to:

See also the Budapest Open Access Initiative:
Received on Sat Mar 09 2002 - 12:19:06 GMT

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