Peer Review and Open Access

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sat, 27 Nov 2004 17:11:21 +0000

    Peer review and the acceptance of new scientific ideas

    Summary of above report:

    (1) "If it (peer review) ain't broke, don't fix it"
    (2) "Caveat emptor to journalists -- if you use
    non-peer-reviewed information"

On the relation between peer-review reform and the open access (OA)
movement: None!

OA is about providing free online access to all peer-reviewed journal
articles (2.5 million articles a year, from 24,000 peer-reviewed journals).

OA is about freeing those articles from online access tolls,
not about freeing them from peer review!

For more details, do the following search in Google:

    amsci "simon says" peer review

In a nutshell:

    (1) Historical fact 1: The pre-refereeing preprint always comes
    before the refereed postprint

    (2) Historical fact 2: Since well before the internet, some areas
    of physics shared their preprints amongst themselves well before

    (3) Historical fact 3: With the advent of the internet and web, those
    same physicists took (quite naturally) to sharing their preprints --
    *and postprints* -- via the internet (since 1991).

    (4) Historical fact 4: That practice -- of self-archiving
    preprints and postprints -- (not unique to physicists, but done
    most systematically by them) grew, and is still growing today,
    but not nearly fast enough (even among physicists).

End of the catalogue of indisputable facts. Now we move to the area of
interpretation and speculation:

    (5) Interpretation/Speculation 1: Some have hypothesized -- and Paul
    Ginsparg, the one who wrote the software for the physics Arxiv, was
    among the ones who made this hypothesis, but so has the mathematician
    and analyst of electronic publication developments, Andrew Odlyzko --
    that the success and usefulness of preprint-self-archiving implies
    that peer-review (hence postprints) may either not be necessary at
    all (and done only to satisfy the demands of the author's tenure


    (6) Interpretation/Speculation 2: that peer review can be implemented
    as a kind of (optional?) "overlay," on top of preprints, possibly
    in the form of post-hoc peer commentary.

But what needs to be carefully noted is that the empirical facts are equally
compatible with a much simpler hypothesis, which is that it is extremely
useful to the impact, productivity and progress of research to make
both postprints (definitely) and preprints (optionally) open-access,
by self-archiving them, and that this benefit has *absolutely nothing*
to do with any hypothetical and untested reforms one might or might not
one day wish to make of the peer-review system -- which has continued,
absolutely unchanged, since self-archiving began in 1991, with virtually
every preprint also being submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed
journal, hence also generating the revised, corrected, peer-reviewed
postprint meeting the journal's quality standards, *exactly* as it had
and has done all along! *Empirically* the only change has been open-access
to preprints and postprints. The rest is all interpretation and untested

For the sake of OA, it is extremely important to disentangle all that
interpretation/speculation from the facts, which are that providing OA to
one's postprints (all of them) and preprints (those one chooses to make
OA) has great benefits, so not only 20% but 100% of postprints (and,
optionally, preprints) should be made OA in this way. Entangling this
theory-independent truth with untested conjectures about ways of reforming
peer review simply serves to delay the long overdue passage from 20%
OA to 100% OA still longer, needlessly.

In fact, the over-emphasis on preprint self-archiving (as if it were
a *substitute*, rather than merely an optional *supplement* to postprint
self-archiving, which in turn is a supplement to toll-access) was one of
several of the incoherent components in the original e-biomed proposal
that made it fail, generated opposition (from both publishers and those
who did not want peer review tampered with needlessly) and eventually led
to the non-optimal form of the NIH proposal we have now (with a 6-month
embargo and only central archiving and only NIH-funded biomed) instead
of the univeral self-archiving of 100% of postprints (and optionally,
whatever percentage of preprints authors also choose to self-archive)
that we need, that is still so long overdue, and that we are *at last*
moving toward today!

All this was already pointed out in the 1999 comments on the original e-biomed: (1999)

Pertinent Prior American Scientist Topic Threads:

    Peer Review Reform Hypothesis-Testing (started 1999)

    A Note of Caution About "Reforming the System" (2001)

    Self-Selected Vetting vs. Peer Review: Supplement or Substitute? (2002)

    Re: Science Article (Roberts et al.) and Science Editorial (2001)
Stevan Harnad
Moderator, American Scientist Open Access Forum
Chaire de recherche du Canada
Centre de neuroscience de la cognition (CNC)
Université du Québec à Montréal
Montréal, Québec, Canada H3C 3P8
tel: 1-514-987-3000 2461#
fax: 1-514-987-8952
Received on Sat Nov 27 2004 - 17:11:21 GMT

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