Re: What would Einstein had done today?

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Date: Tue, 27 Sep 2005 15:48:04 -0400

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Thank you, Bo-Christer, for this useful reminder about the peer-review
process. Most journals worked on this basis far into the 20th century
-some still do, particularly in SSH.

It was Robert Maxwell who apparently brought the practise of peer review
into science journals as a way to compete more efficiently against
well-established journals placed under the auspices of scientific
societies. In effect, Maxwell appears to have upped the ante in the
selection process of articles in a bid to demonstrate that all his new
"International journals of whatever" at Pergamon Science were even more
rigorous, more objective and more transparent than the traditional
journals based on the de-facto cooptation system which had dominated
science publishing before the '50's.

In terms of policy, Bo-Christer's remark is important because it shows
that peer review really covers three very different facets:

     1. A quality-control process;
     2. A ritual for the passage into scientific land (used for
        promotion and tenure for example, or for grantsmanship);
     3. A marketing device for commercial publishers.

It also means that peer review (as distinguished from purely editorial
control) is not the result of the eighth day of creation; rather, it is
a recent social device introduced at various rates into various
scientific disciplines. However, what is important in science is quality
control, and not peer review.

Peer review is a way to achieve a degree of quality control and it does
provide some measure of assurance in this regard; but so does the old
editorial vetting techniques, however opaque and subjective they may
look. Peer review is neither perfect, nor is it the unique method to
achieve some measure of quality control. Furthermore, the importance of
peer review can only be relative because it depends on its (relative)
ability to ensure quality control.

This brings me back to an important point I have been making for some
time now: while it is crucial to have authors mandated to self-archive
wherever possible, one can also incite the same authors to do the same
thing in a more positive manner. By offering forms of quality control
directly related to OA depositories and which can complement and even
correct the results of peer review, OA depositories will be viewed as
valuable places where to locate papers that have already been published
in peer-reviewed journals. In other words, there is no reason to feel
that existing journals are the sole source of quality control through
peer review. Depositories can add their own quality-control voice to
that of existing journals. I am talking here of quality control not
based on usage, such as impact measurement, but based on some evaluation
process carried out by peers.

Jean-Claude Guédon

Le lundi 26 septembre 2005 à 10:18 +0300, Bo-Christer Björk a écrit :
> On the 26th of October 1905 the paper "Zur Electrodynamik bewegter
> Körper" by an unknown researcher called Albert Einstein was published by
> Annalen der Physik in Band 17, pp. 891-921
> (
> This paper is of course a landmark in the history of science, but it
> also illustrates the big changes that the scientific publication process
> has gone through in a century. The paper did not go through an anonymous
> peer review but was read by the editor (Max Planck) who made a decision
> to publish it. The process was extremely fast since the manuscript was
> sent in the 30th of June and published three months later. It would
> probably have had problems in passing a current day peer review process
> since it contains no references, breaks with the prevailing paradigms in
> the field and at the time lacked empirical evidence to back it up. What
> would Einstein do if he wanted to publish his results today?. He would
> probably have posted a copy of the manuscript to the open access
> repository for High Energy Physics ( and hoped that
> others would pick up the ideas and spread the word via viral marketing.
> Bo-Christer Björk
Dr. Jean-Claude Guédon
Dept. of Comparative Literature
University of Montreal
PO Box 6128, Downtown Branch
Montreal, QC H3C 3J7
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Received on Tue Sep 27 2005 - 21:56:09 BST

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