wikipedia, open access and publishing

From: Jean Kempf <Jean.Kempf_at_UNIV-LYON2.FR>
Date: Mon, 17 May 2010 09:28:50 +0200

The debate about wikipedia and the definition of Open Access seems to me both
scholastic and revealing of the view we have that the "electronic" world would
be in any fundamental way different from the paper world. Certain actions
(distribution/access) may be easier there but the same fundamental intellectual
issues apply.

- Semantic debate first. The French langage makes a nice distinction between
"publication" and "├ędition". "Publier" is to make something public, whatever the
means (including self-publication as poets, aspiring politicians and other sects
do). Doing "Edition" is, as in English, publishing + EDITING (meaning choosing,
cutting, etc.). The only problem is that the French langage, which does have two
verbs, only has one noun for "publisher" which is "├ęditeur". This is because in
the paper world authors needed an "intermediary" (sometimes just a printer) to
make their work (manu-script) public (ie printed). They don't anymore, and so
goes the confusion.
- As to the bottom line: research (and education by the way as well, much too
often forgotten on this list!!!) need access (not impact which is a purely
technocratic concept) and reliability (or certification in technocratic
      The debate in mail after mail on this list comes from the fact that
      "access" has a cost (either direct or indirect, shared by different
      groups or budgets) and that not everybody (here & elsewhere) agrees
      on who could/should pay and for whom. (For instance when a peer
      reviewed article from an expensive journal is made available, it's
      the rich universities paying for the poor ones. Marginally it might
      also be a way of breaking the back of big business.)

      The issue of reliablity/certification is much fuzzier as I believe
      there is a world of difference between disciplines, and especially
      between STM on the one hand and Humanities and most Social sciences
      on the other. A reliable physics, biochemistry article is very
      different from a reliable history or philosophy article as the
      construction of facts in each discipline is different, and the
      capacity of the reader himself to discriminate is different.

Hence the fight we are having on what OA applies to and which, to my mind, makes
us waste a lot of energy on matter which are not fundamental. Stevan's advocacy
for Green is perfectly compatible with that of others for Gold, and not

Lastly, a point which I find important to a better understanding of what we are
talking about, even though it might be outside the focus of the list. I recently
had a long conversation with an engineering professor (he is in semi-conductors,
in one of the very good labs in Europe) and what he told me about the way peer
review is conducted in his very serious field (there's after all a huge industry
behind it) left me (as a historian) totally aghast as to the
perfunctoriness/speed of the process, the people who did it (graduate
students...), and by the general reliance on "reputation" even in the very best
(A) journals.

My question is simple then: can someone describe the peer review process in one
of the "hard" sciences, task by task (as an algorithm) in a detailled way and by
WHOM it is "normally" done.

Jean Kempf
Received on Mon May 17 2010 - 09:23:56 BST

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