Thursday, February 16, 2012

Pre-Print Peer Review

Nature news titled recently that "Rebel academics ponder how to break free of commercial publishers". The rebels would be better off if they'd read this blog, because we have discussed here a solution to their problem!

The solution is Pre-Print Peer Review (PPPR). The idea is a simple as obvious: Scientists and publishers likewise would benefit if we'd just disentangle the quality assessment from the selection for journal publication. There is no reason why peer review should be tied to the publishing process, so don't. Instead, create independent institutions (ideally several) that mediate peer review. These institutions may be run by scientific publishers. In fact, that would be the easiest and fastest way to do it, and the way most likely to succeed because the infrastructure and expertise is already in place.

The advantages of PPPR over the present system are: There is no more loss of time (and thereby cost) by repeated reviews in different journals. Reports could be used with non-peer-reviewed open access databases, or with grant applications.

Editors of scientific journals could still decide for themselves if they want to follow the advice of these reports. Initially, it is likely they will be skeptical and insist on further reports. The hope is that over time, PPPR would gain trust, and the reports would become more widely accepted.

In contrast to more radical options, PPPR has a good chance of success because it is very close to the present system and would work very similar. And it is of advantage for everybody involved.

I have a longer outline of the idea here, comments and suggestions are very welcome!

29 comments:

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

I would agree, as instead of being rebels without a cause they seem to be rebels without a plan; much like Occupy I’m afraid.

Best,

Phil

Igor Khavkine said...

Hi, Bee. It is an unfortunate truth that not everyone reads everyone else's blogs. However, your thoughts may be well received on the recently set up Math 2.0 discussion forum. It was put up for the purpose of easier coordination behind the scenes of the Elsevier boycott.

Bee said...

Hi Igor,

Probably it's more fortunate than unfortunate, otherwise reading blogs was the only thing anybody would do all day ;o) Since I'm boycotting the boycott, I doubt that my thoughts would be well received. Best,

B.

Phillip Helbig said...

We all want to know why you are boycotting the boycott.

Phillip Helbig said...

Search for my name in various blogs for extensive thoughts on this subject. While I agree that the issues of peer review, electronic vs. paper and journal prices should be addressed separately (although they are not completely unrelated), one should note that since all preprints which are peer-reviewed would have to be available, then the journal is no longer needed for distribution. Today, most journals are no longer needed for distribution, but rather for quality control. If peer-reviewing takes place elsewhere, then I doubt journals will have enough reason to survive. The downside of this is that publication in a good refereed is still a mark of quality, and it is a yes/no decision. Any sort of online peer review would probably not be a yes-no decision. Also, journals can ensure reasonably consistent reviewing standards.

At best, one could have a system where a professional society has an electronic journal which is essentially a list of preprints which have made the grade. But I think this is essential: run by a professional society (not some sort of online poll) and at some level a yes/no decision.

One thing journals still provide is copy-editing. Some articles benefit greatly from it. Unless the professional societies pay proper copy-editors, this would be a disadvantage of such a new system.

Bee said...

Well, on the risk that you're making fun of me, because the boycott doesn't make any sense.

It's a complaint about a for-profit organization acting like, well, a for-profit organization. I've explained many times that scientific publishing is a public service and it should be funded like a public service. But, needless to say, nobody is listening to me. So scientific publishing is in the hands of the capitalists and that's the boundary condition that we have to work with, that's today's reality. Boycotting the capitalists doesn't change anything about the actual problem of capitalism not being well suited to the purpose at hand. As Phil said, rebels without a plan.

It is very ironic actually, that Tim Gowers complains about the "bundling." The bundling is a cost-cutting measure. It allows the publisher to sell stuff that otherwise wouldn't sell. Think about it: a lot of science publishing serves very small and very specialized audiences. It just doesn't sell well. Now the logic of the boycott is that increasing financial pressure will reduce the cost-cutting measures. I have difficulty seeing how that's supposed to work.

In fact, I am afraid the boycott will make matters worse. The capital buffer allows the publishers to carry on and through with services to small, young, or unpopular fields, may that be books, databases or journals. Increasing financial pressure without having an alternative will enforce a selection on the service. And that will be a non-scientific selection, one based on short-term considerations, a selection that I do not believe will serve science well.

That having been said, those who are complaining about the publishers are pushing on the wrong end. If there's less money going into the publication, which is why the publishers are complaining, where did the money go that was previously there to go round? Do you hear the echo: It's a public service...

It's not that I like Elsevier or something, I believe I haven't published with them since 2006. But this boycott does not make sense. And that's why I'm boycotting the boycott.

Bee said...

Hi Phillip,

Yes, that is right, if peer review was no longer tied to the journals, then the journals would no longer strictly speaking be needed.

I don't think however this would mean the end of journals. It would mean that journal publishers would have to focus on services that other databases don't offer, or not as good. I believe that the task of sorting, filtering and presenting information becomes only more important the more information there is, and that this service of publishers is vastly underestimated.

Well, I guess time will tell. Best,

B.

Plato said...

Hi Bee,

Rebels without a plan would not do justice to the problem? On the surface what you see is not what is going on deeper within Occupy?:)

As we look at the historical question relation to the process of information dissemination what stands out to those scientists as to putting first and foremost the plan to engage with the latest findings?

Is money the root of all evil?:)Or, is there a vaster desire to bring society out of it's slumber as to the quest for truth about "the perception of the problems?" Scientists are human too.:)

The desire to extend one's range of comprehension is hidden deep in our quest to understand life and nature.

So by devising this understanding as to fact finding and truth, one asks how can it be done better?

You mentioned PIRSA previously and the ability for your peers to access up to date lectures? A video/talk, slides, the math about the places people are at? Papers linked through conversation, having built upon previous researchers and scientists.

They do not necessarily need to be the "shoulders of giants" to point out the obvious.:)

Noticed different sign in process?

Best,

Igor Khavkine said...

Hi, Bee. I recommend checking out the discussions on the forum I linked to nonetheless. You may disagree on the boycott, but you're likely to find common cause in coming up with alternatives to the current journal/referee system.

Researcher said...

I wrote an extended comment on your proposal on my own blog.

Rastus Odinga Odinga said...

I think you would want to be *very* careful about who ends up doing the refereeing in this sort of system. In particular, I would certainly *not* want people volunteering to do it. Consider the following scenario, for example. A crank, who happens to be very well-informed about a particular narrow sub-field of physics, but who is nevertheless a crank, to the point where he is no longer able to hold down a job as an academic, has a rabid hatred of anyone who works in field X, or maybe he hates females, etc etc etc. He has two strong motives to insinuate himself into the system: first, so that he can stop papers in field X, or written by females, being accepted, and second, so that he can make some much needed money.

He might be able to get into the system on the strength of the fact that he was once briefly employed by a respectable university. And he might just possibly be able to simulate sanity for long enough.

Obviously we want to avoid this scenario at all costs. How do we do that?

[Any resemblance to any actual crank is purely coincidental....]

Bee said...

Hi Igor,

Okay, will do. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Rastus,

No system will ever be flawless. How do you prevent that a nutcase who hates females is called upon for review in the present system? You can only hope that his reviews are revealed to be biased and are not considered because they don't meet the quality standard. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Plato,

I'm not saying that money is the root of all evil, I'm far from. This is a systemic question: what is the suitable feedback process on dissemination of scientific work that is most helpful for science. I am simply saying that free market capitalism values short-term benefits too highly to serve science optimally in the long run. And I'm thinking hundreds if not thousands of years when I say "long-run." Either way, while I think at some point people will come around to realize that, PPPR will work well within the present system.

And, yes, there has been a lot of progress with the public dissemination of science. And because of that, I am very sure that PPPR will happen sooner or later anyway. The question is just who takes the lead: will it be the publishers or will it be the scientists themselves? Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

In my humble opinion I think it's the responsibility of scientists to take the lead on PPPR, as to first work towards its creation and then perhaps after to initiate a boycott of all journals which refuse to incorporate it as a prime metric in respect to what gets published. In this way they could be found as both rebels with a cause and a plan. Further I think the first step would be to call for a symposium as to begin to have this idea moved forward. That is to prevent the tails from wagging the dogs I would agree it’s only logical the dogs need to first decide when their tails should be wagged.

Best,

Phil

Phillip Helbig said...

t's a complaint about a for-profit organization acting like, well, a for-profit organization. I've explained many times that scientific publishing is a public service and it should be funded like a public service.

I agree completely here. I think professional societies should run the journals. Elsevier is playing by the rules. (On a related note, this is why the occupy folks (at least the serious ones, not the ones who campaign for more transparency while hiding behind masks and then show up in the same masks at other demonstrations for the "human right" to download the latest Lady Gaga song for free) should be in Washington, not on Wall Street.) However, that doesn't mean that we have to play with them. Suppose I am the director of an institute which has been using a particular airline for travel to remote observatories. After noticing that other airlines fly to the same places for a fraction of the price, I suggest that all employees use the cheaper airlines. Normally, one wouldn't call that a boycott, and in this sense the Elsevier boycott is not a real boycott, it is just the scientific community playing by the same capitalist rules.

One can easily switch airlines. The main problem with Elsevier is that they can charge prices which are too high because they publish some prestigious journals (often, the journals' fame is not the result of anything Elsevier did; maybe they just bought the journal). Thus the call to publish good papers elsewhere. Once enough good people do that, the reputation of non-Elsevier journals will come up (and of Elsevier perhaps go down) and realistic prices will result.

Also, it is a fair claim to say that Elsevier is in the business mainly for the money. While we all have to make a living, I prefer to spend my money on someone who has a real, non-monetary interest in providing his service. Elsevier published fake journals: designed to look like peer-reviewed journals, but actually paid advertising. This alone should be enough reason never to publish with them again.

With regard to bundling, if it really were such a good value, then there wouldn't be that many people complaining about it. For those who actually use all the journals in the bundle, maybe it is good value, but if, for whatever reason, one wants just a few journals, then they are much more expensive than comparable journals from other publishers.

Phillip Helbig said...

I posted a long comment, saw it after it had been posted, but now it's gone. Why?

jasonpriem said...

I'm a bit late to the thread, but wanted to bring a bit of historical context to the party; John WT Smith was writing about this approach in the 90's, and there've been many related proposals since. I review all these in my own piece on "decoupling the scholarly journal."

What's exciting is that although the general idea of this has been around for more than 15 years, the social web has started to create the tools (and perhaps more importantly, mindsets) to actually make it happen. F1000 Research is a step in the right direction, and I've talked to several librarians, editors, and publishers who are thinking about starting peer-review-as-a-service schemes.

Nice post, and keep up the good work. This is heady stuff, and we're in an exciting time!

Bee said...

Hi Jasonpriem,

Thanks for the link, I didn't know about that! Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Phillip,

I've fished your comment out of the spam queue. I agree with you with on the occupiers. About the boycott, I have no way of telling if Elsevier overprices journals inappropriately. Your comparison to low-fare airlines is unfortunate, because this means you're asking everybody to trade quality for saving money, saved money that most likely will just sink into some hole and never be of use for anything else. You could as well ask people to take the cheaper airline, the one with no service and clogged toilets, and smoke some dollar bills instead.

I also think it's not fair to hold the El Naschie story against Elsevier forever. For all I know they're suing over it, and I doubt very much that has been the plan. Shit happens.

I think you didn't get my point with the bundling. It's not good value, this is why people are complaining about it. What I am saying is that the "value" you're talking about is a monetary one, it is profit-oriented and short-term. What way do we have of telling what journal will be relevant in some hundred years? Is that how you want to make that decision? By finding out the market value and dropping the least profitable ones? As I said above, I doubt that is the most beneficial way for science. The bundling allows the publishers to carry on with the journals that people presently do not think are of a value high enough to make them profitable. Basically, I am saying leading a discussion about scientific merit based on monetary value is ill-founded, just that this is exactly what the boycotters are asking for.

Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

I agree and yet I disagree with you. It may be the responsibility of scientists to take the lead, yet I don't think this would be the best option. I think PPPR would have a much better start and would be accepted much faster if publishers would take the lead. Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil Warnell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

I would agree that this might be the easiest route for the scientists, yet not ultimately the best for the publishers and most importantly not so for science itself. That being as it then has the publishers serve only in its distribution and marketing functions, as no longer functionally or practically the judge respective of what their product happens to be. With distribution being more universally efficient by electronic means this leaves them actually left only able to be concerned with matters regarding its marketing and as the producers themselves being its primary consumers there is little here to differentiate between other than the quality of the product itself of which by virtue this shift in practice leaves them no actual control. Thus what remains represents being little more than packaging.

The interesting thing I find in all this being the first journals were the creations of the scientist themselves, to be reviewed, produced and distributed by the associations they formed funded by themselves, supplemented with government contributions. So in essence what you are proposing is not actually to try something new, yet to recast the initial concept to become consistent contextually within the current reality. Thus in the end I still would contend that the quality control assurance of the product, its distribution and marketing would be better if assumed as the responsibility of the scientists themselves, as to then have all assured it being of the greatest relevance and utility at the lowest cost.

Best,

Phil

P.S. one thing for certain I will always remain in desperate need of an editor :-)

Plato said...

Sound like George Orwell?

There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time." - George Orwell, 1984.

Adbusters was the beginning.

Data over wireless can become expensive so imagine PIRSA being constraint for those scientists who interested, are limited by the cost of the amount of data that is being controlled? We all knew of the integration of media, and we already knew who controlled it.

The diversity of dialogue is multifaceted in media now combining a new possible format for dissemination of information for scientists as well as the public? Imagine then, scientist considered "leaking information" while having the constraints applied to them in Canada?

There are so many things wrong right now....I hardly know where to begin.

Best,

Plato said...

The Birds?:)

With monopolies created what would supersede scientists and the spread of information?

One had to have been following the history of the internet developments to date to understand the deeper issues of how society can be changed in the way that some would prefer it to be. Our politicians connected to their constituents.

I think science fiction writers who team with scientists like to try to get it right so as to provide for some possibility from a theoretical standpoint..... in that sense like a PPPR.....the accuracy of the story... and how many examples are there in the movie world today?

But never mind that.....true scientists as the science is dealt with, with your colleagues? You would expect no less as to the standard of exchange?

Best,

Phillip Helbig said...

"Your comparison to low-fare airlines is unfortunate, because this means you're asking everybody to trade quality for saving money, saved money that most likely will just sink into some hole and never be of use for anything else."

Thanks for rescuing me from the spam.

Cheaper does not have to be worse. Normally, someone who is more expensive doesn't survive, but Elsevier does so at least in part due to the fact that people are afraid to publish elsewhere than a respected Elsevier journal.

I don't see any indication that Elsevier's journals are of higher quality than others. Also, since their profits are huge, it is clear that most of the money is going into profits, not into improving the journals.

Fortunately, my field of astronomy has reasonably priced journals. I recently investigated this because I had heard about precursors of the current boycott and wanted to do the right thing. In astronomy, it's not a decision one has to make. It is in some other fields. And, yes, their journals really are much more expensive.

A second chance? Maybe. But some things are so obviously fraudulent that their can be no excuse. You mentioned ex-Dr. Guttenberg in another post. It's not like Elsevier didn't know that paid advertising wasn't a real journal. (And if they didn't, that doesn't speak well for their quality control.) But this is just one example. There was another example where an editor published a huge amount of papers in the journal he edited, with little if any quality control by him or anyone else.

Don't think of it as a boycott. Think of it as the question how to spend money you are responsible for. If someone else can do a job at the same level of quality for a much lower price, maybe because it is a non-profit organization and not a company listed on the stock exchange, then I see no reason not to do it.

The boycott is necessary because of a catch-22: since in some fields prestigious journals are owned by Elsevier, young people (in many fields, the people writing the most papers) are wary of publishing elsewhere since they think it might hurt their CV. But if people don't publish elsewhere, Elsevier can continue to overcharge. Only if enough people are ready to jump at once is there a chance to succeed.

Are you aware of anyone else boycotting the boycott?

Phillip Helbig said...

Normally, someone who is more expensive doesn't survive should be Normally, someone who is more expensive but not better doesn't survive.