Re: Open Letter to Philip Campbell, Editor, Nature

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Thu, 30 Nov 2006 21:38:07 +0000

On Thu, 30 Nov 2006, Peter Banks wrote:

> > CG:
> > Apart from the few giant journals who hire and
> > house full time editors, peer review is conducted entirely by the
> > academic community itself, at its own time and expense.
> PB:
> Most society journals are not giant, do not have full time editors, but
> instead support at considerable cost editorial offices in major
> universities.
> Until that fact is recognized--and OA advocates cease and desist with the
> nonsense that peer review is free--there can be no intelligent discussion.

Peter, you replied to the easier posting first. Chris Green mis-spoke
(though his point is basically right): All peer-reviewed journals, great
or small, incur some expense in managing (not actually performing) peer
review. But it is an incontestable fact that the peers who review, review
for free. The in-house editors are *managing* the peer review; they are
deciding and advising and editing, but they are not the peer reviewers.
(If they were, it would not even really be peer review, but an in-house
vanity press.)

And, yes, those irreducible costs of managing peer review do have to be
recovered, and always will have to be recovered. And at the moment, they
*are* all being recovered (along with a lot more, bundled together with
a lot of other goods and services, such as the paper edition, the online
edition, copy-editing, mark-up, distribution, archiving etc. etc.) from
subscription/license revenue.

But the point of the present thread is that Green OA is *not*
about publishing economics. It is about research access and
impact. Self-archiving and self-archiving mandates are intended to
*supplement* the access that is provided via subscriptions and licenses
with free online access to the author's final, peer-reviewed draft,
provided by the author, for those who cannot access the paid version.

At the moment, there is no earthly reason to talk about cost recovery
in connection with Green OA because all costs -- and then some -- are
still being fully recovered. If and when it should ever become the case
that as a consequence of supplementary self-archiving, all costs are no
longer being recovered via subscriptions/licenses, then costs will be
cut, products and services will be phased out, and the whole publishing
process will downsize to the absolute essentials, unbundled: peer review.
And there will plenty of institutional windfall savings from subscription
cancels out of which to pay for it, several times over!

Until then, however, there is nothing to talk about except how soon
we put an end to our needless cumulative loss of research access and
impact, ongoing ever since it has been possible to put an end to it,
namely, ever since the possibility of online self-archiving. And --
to repeat -- publishers have nothing to do with or say about that: it
is something between researchers, their institutions, and their funders.

> > SH:
> > (4) But researchers perform the peer review for publishers for free
> > (no fee)
> PB:
> No, they don't. The peer review time is donated, but, in medicine and
> biomedical science, the editors, associate editors, and host universities
> receive significant payment.

And the portion of that payment that proves to be essential to the
management of the peer review will be a part of the essential price of
peer review if and when publishers ever have to downsize to performing
just the peer-review service alone. But at the moment it is bundled into
a much more extensive fleet of products and services that is still making
ends meet quite nicely. Hence this is all just armchair speculation.

The contingencies are all spelled out here and have been since at least 2001:

Those who keep opining on this subject just keep systematically ignoring
the obvious contingencies and talking about the bundle as if it were
all-or-none, and as if peer review and its funding somehow sinks or
swims on the basis of whether or not authors self-archive. That is utter
nonsense and can only be repeated, endlessly, by studiously ignoring
the trivially obvious contingencies spelled out at length many times.

[Please note: I am not saying that Peter is endorsing any of this nonsense!
He is simply reminding us that peer review costs something: It does, but not
that much, and a heckuva lot less than everyone's spending right now!]

What needs practical doing, now, is supplementary self-archiving, and the
mandating of supplementary self-archiving. Publishing reform is not on
the agenda for now, for the simple reason that there is as yet no need
for it, and no one knows whether and when there will be a need. (Those
with Gold Fever have simply jumped the gun. Now they will have to try
to hang in there and make ends meet until we see whether and when there
is ever a need for all journals to convert to the Gold OA cost-recovery
model. But meanwhile, Green OA can and will proceed apace toward 100% OA.)

Stevan Harnad

Pertinent Prior AmSci Subject Threads:

    "Savings from Converting to On-Line-Only: 30%- or 70%+ ?"
     (Started Aug 27 1998)

    "The Logic of Page Charges to Free the Journal Literature"
    (Started April 29 1999)

    "2.0K vs. 0.2K"
    (Started May 7 1999)

    "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)

    "Author Publication Charge Debate"
    (Started June 28 2001)

    "JHEP will convert from toll-free-access to toll-based access"
    (Started January 5 2002)

    "The True Cost of the Essentials"
    (Started April 2 2002)

    "The True Cost of the Essentials (Implementing Peer Review - NOT!)"
    (Started April 1 2002)

    "Journal expenses and publication costs"
    (Started January 10 2003)

   "Scientific publishing is not just about administering peer-review"
    (Started October 15 2003)

    "The Economics of Open Access Journal Publishing"
    (Started November 3 2003)

    "The Green Road to Open Access: A Leveraged Transition"
    (Started January 7 2004)
Received on Fri Dec 01 2006 - 00:41:20 GMT

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