Re: What would Einstein had done today?

From: Jan Velterop <openaccess_at_BTINTERNET.COM>
Date: Wed, 28 Sep 2005 12:39:18 +0100

Despite its flaws, peer review is generally seen as a reasonable and
practical way of filtering (and often improving) scientific articles. The
fact that it was introduced (if that's indeed the case) by a commercial
publisher (even Maxwell) doesn't make it "a marketing device". Maxwell
also introduced international, global journals. Previously the society
journals were mostly national or regional (still visible in their names).
Does that make the international approach a 'marketing device'? By that
reckoning every improvement introduced by a commercial publisher would be
a 'marketing device', which is not doing justice to the contribution made
by those publishers. Besides, even if these things are 'marketing
devices', they surely are not only "marketing devices for commercial
publishers" as Jean-Claude formulates it, given that these
'devices', particularly peer review, are also widely being used by
non-commercial publishers. There must be some merit in them, one might
The topic 'commercial or not commercial' might be a legitimate topic for
discussion, but it has nothing to do with open access, which is
independent of the commercial status of the publisher.
Jan Velterop

Jean-Claude Guédon <jean.claude.guedon_at_UMONTREAL.CA> wrote:
      Thank you, Bo-Christer, for this useful reminder about the
      process. Most journals worked on this basis far into the 20th
      -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
      well-established journals placed under the auspices of
      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
      journals based on the de-facto cooptation system which had
      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
      control) is not the result of the eighth day of creation;
      rather, it is
      a recent social device introduced at various rates into
      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
      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
      wherever possible, one can also incite the same authors to do
      the same
      thing in a more positive manner. By offering forms of quality
      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
      in peer-reviewed journals. In other words, there is no reason
      to feel
      that existing journals are the sole source of quality control
      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
      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
> 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
> 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
Received on Wed Sep 28 2005 - 20:28:37 BST

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