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

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sat, 17 Sep 2005 11:29:06 +0100

MODERATOR'S NOTE: Chuck Hamaker has asked me to forward his posting,
below, but first some prior pertinent AmSci threads on the very same
topic. As you will see, we are still retreading ground we covered over
a half decade ago, this time in connection with Sally Morris's worries
about library cancellations. -- SH

    "Online Self-Archiving: Distinguishing the Optimal from the Optional"
    (Started May 11 1999)

    "The True Cost of the Essentials (Implementing Peer Review)"
    (Started July 5 1999)

    "Separating Quality-Control Service-Providing from Document-Providing"
    (Started November 30 1999)

    "Distinguishing the Essentials from the Optional Add-Ons"
    (Started July 2001)

        "The medium-independent essential function of a journal is
        and always has been that of peer-review service-provider,
        certifying the outcome of the peer-review, if successful,
        with the journal-name and associated track-record for quality
        (a "metadata" tag). The rest is and always has been just the
        arbitrary features of the storage and dissemination medium
        (which was for long print-on-paper).


        "This essential quality-control/certification function will remain
        the essential function of journals regardless of medium-change
        or cost-recovery model change."


Date: Sat, 17 Sep 2005 04:42:20 -0400
From: Chuck Hamaker <cah AT>
Subject: AmSci list posting

I am unable to send an uncoded response from home except through a
non-institutional account. Please accept this for AmSci.
Chuck Hamaker

Peer Review sine qua non?

I know the point I'm making below has been made before, but it seems to get
lost each time a publisher representative starts explaining library journal
cancellations. Much of what publishers opine about cancellations makes no
sense from the internal workings of academic libraries. It is researchers
who by far carry the most weight determining what journals will be retained
in any cancellation review. And why they acquiesce to some cancellations
and not others is not based on cost alone. (Its normally not their money
anyway) as evidenced by every cancellation review I've ever participated in,
read about or discussed with colleagues. It is the value of the journals to
their own fields--that is the determining factor.

Two quotes from
 Jimmy Leach, Open access failings 'cost UK 1.5bn', The Guardian,
    September 16, 2005.,10577,1571791,00.htms

Sally Morris, the association's (ALPSP) chief executive:

> Once all of a journal's content was available free online, university
> librarians would stop buying it, she said. The advent of Google Scholar
> meant it was now easy to find the contents of a journal scattered among
> different repositories.

Please, Sally, and all publshers. Listen it isn't librarians who drive all
by themselves decisions to "stop buying" or not a particular journal or a
group of journals. We have LOTS of examples of journals available in
aggregator databases and ALSO available as subscriptions in the same library
or libraries. Why is that? Because faculty drive these decisions to retain
subscriptions or not, --they may have to make hard choices, but ultimately
it comes down to what does the researcher need to do their job. And the
journal is NOT JUST NOTIFICATION of something published, a journal is a
WHOLE system, an ecosystem. Access to the research it publishes,i.e. the
archival record is NOT the first thing nor the last thing a journal does. It
creates a community of scholars where perhaps there was none, it binds a
community together. IT is FAR MORE THAN PAPER OR BITS AND BYTES. The journal
is an invention that produces support for the field or fields it covers.
This is just basic journal 101 stuff. Researchers don't eviscerate their
own prestige, reviewing and ranking systems because the individual articles
are avaialable some other way. We know that from decades of work with
faculty in cancellations reviews. They protect their personal FIELDS of
research-FIRST. That they have personal subscriptions, for example, won't
mean they will agree to a library cancellation. In many cases it isn't
access to the articles that solely or even "majorly" drives these decisions.
The editor of a minor journal resides on my campus. He has a copy, his
graduate students and colleagues all get access to his copy, why will he go
to the Chancellor of the campus to demand my head if I cancel "HIS" title?
It isn't access, its prestige, status, and protection, even nurturing, his

Sally said:
> "We are worried that the research councils in the UK are trying to push in
> the direction of a parallel economy without thinking of the possible damage
> to the journals on which they parasitise."

The condition without which OA and therefore journals, will not exist, is
quite simply peer review. No peer review, no OA, no journals. It is not too
harsh, I hope, to state peer review is the sine qua non of scientific
articles. Who controls peer review? Publishers.. Without publishers we don't
have OA our journals. We have unreviewed snippets without quality markers.
The system demands peer review, which, if memory serves- the Royal Society's
reports in the 80's defined as more important than the archival record of
research for scholars. That -even more than articles, is what journal
publishers "sell" one way or another. Perhaps publishers don't want us to
remember this elementary point.

What researcher would dis-establish the peer review system of their own
field by harming key journals because the "articles" might be findable
somewhere? Only someome more ignorant than today's newspaper journalists.
Sally's statements at their extreme implies researchers, who actually (not
libraries) control what journals are subscribed --through myriad means-- are
so confused about journals they would dismantle the very system that
supports the validation of their own research. The evidence is exactly the
opposite. They put up enormous barriers to protect their journals, and not
becuase they can't get the articles any other way! (they can get them many
ways right now-and have always had means to do so).

Science works because of peer review as imperfect as it might be.
Publisher's control peer review. That more than the print journals or the
electronic contents more even than the distribution responsiblity, is why
journals exist and will continue existing in some form as long as our
societies do science. If peer review didn't exist we'd have to invent it
anew to make sense of the cacaphony of unwashed propositions that get pushed
out as ideas claiming validity.

Publication, as every publisher knows is the end of a process. It is, and I
think publishers have been remiss in stating this, the process that we pay
for. All the emphasis on cost per thousand characters and cost per dowload
is an interesting aside because that isn't what we actually pay for. Those
are simply markers for the system the money supports. When publishers go on
about pounds and dollars and ounces and ems and pages, and systems did they
think librarians and scholars didn't know where the real costs were? Even
though the majority of publisher's can't seem to calculate, or won't discuss
the cost of the peer review system per se, we all know that's the value
proposition in publishing.

So stop selling journals by the pound (pun intended) and start talking about
where the real costs to the system reside--its the process not the print (or
e-print). And that process is the core reason for journals.

It is not obviated at all by OA, in fact the process of putting high quality
research out to the rest of the world will, by all accounts of research into
the results of OA, ENHANCE the demand for high quality peer review systems,
increasing the need for -oh, yes, publishers.

Chuck Hamaker
Received on Sat Sep 17 2005 - 11:56:28 BST

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