Rationalizing the Past
Such a development would in turn damage the quality of research, they argue, by allowing articles that have not gone through a rigorous process of peer review to be broadcast on the Internet as easily as a video clip of Britney Spears’s latest hairdo. – NYT: At Harvard, a Proposal to Publish Free on Web
As digital distribution breaks apart traditional content forms, you’re going to hear all sorts of whining about how harmful it will be. “Downloads ruin the sanctity of the album.” “Blogs aren’t as objective as real journalists.” “They’ll never replace the smell of a good book.” The fact of the matter is that all these “forms” exist as a function of the physical constraints of distribution. It is extremely dangerous to assume that “they way things were” is and will continue to be the best or the most reliable. Rarely do traditions resulting from a lack of options rest upon solid foundations. Now that the restraints have been released, change must happen.
In the case of scholarly journals, they existed in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries because it was only way to widely distribute mid-length content. Papers couldn’t be sold individually so they had to be packaged and packaging creates gatekeepers and “respected” publications. The idea that a paper is credible only if published in certain journals came second the physical realities. Distribution dictated the process, not the other way around. Albums are the same. If they weren’t, the so called “classics” would be downloaded evenly instead of one or two tracks disparately more popular. The concept of a local newspaper was created in a time where the events in another community had little relevance to the reader. And the economic structure was designed with that in mind. The way we format movie scripts is based on the assumption that all writers are using a typewriter.
We made the best possible system based on the environment we faced. Today, the marketplace is fundamentally different, so it is time to do it again. That’s all. The rest is just short-sighted people complaining because a powershift effects them personally. They’re too attached to a system to see its glaring flaws.
The thing I think we can learn from these comical protests over forces we can’t control is that you shouldn’t ever base your identity on external factors. Otherwise, you’re a slave. And you look like a jackass longing for an ideal that never really existed in the first place.
Even so, the quote above seems to have a valid point. How will you maintain peer review if papers are published without discrepency?
Well, how does the rest of the internet filter itself?
I am going to have to agree with Ilan. The peer review system for scholarly journals exists to make sure that those scholars seeking publication are held to rigorous methodological standards. I work in an experimental field, but I am sure that similar standards must exist for non-experimental scholars publishing in academic journals.
If anyone and everyone are allowed to publish and distribute their words online, students will need to be better educated in how to identify quality sources online.
It doesn’t… more savvy internet users can find better information, but most people get conflicting information everywhere they look.
Being a CS researcher, I agree with Professor Shieber.
Professor Shieber also doubts that free distribution would undermine the journal industry. “We don’t know if that would happen,” he said. “There is little evidence to support that it would.” Nearly all scholarly articles on physics have been freely available on the Internet for more than a decade, he added, and physics journals continue to thrive.
That’s fantastic. Except for the fact that the association between peer-review and journals is almost entirely of correlation.
Well, certainly there are some good and bad aspects of internet based content. After several years of post-secondary education, I’d agree that peer review is one of the best ways to avoid information that is either faulty or outright wrong. However, in many other cases, it really is just old media trying to hamstring a competitor. Blogs are useful, downloaded music is qualitatively identical to that of CDs and online retailers remove the many layers of middlemen that mark up prices. But for reading/ understanding something, it really helps to have some sort of durable, customizable and mobile media. Like a book.
Well, certainly there are some good and bad aspects of internet based content. After several years of post-secondary education, I’d agree that peer review is one of the best ways to avoid information that is either faulty or outright wrong, and established journals are far and away the best way of accomplishing this (lets be honest, wikis suck for anything but the most basic facts). However, in many other cases, it really is just old media trying to hamstring a competitor. Blogs are useful, downloaded music is qualitatively identical to that of CDs, etc, etc. But for reading/ understanding something, it really helps to have some sort of durable, customizable and mobile media. Like a book.
“The peer review system for scholarly journals exists to make sure that those scholars seeking publication are held to rigorous methodological standards. I work in an experimental field, but I am sure that similar standards must exist for non-experimental scholars publishing in academic journals.”
A researcher in any academic field should hold themselves to rigourous methodological standards not because they are afraid that an editor might snap at them, but because the job they are doing demands that they do so.
I would not be surprised to see someone stuck on the wrong side of the “publish or perish” dilemma try to take advantage of the system. Similar for those trying to pad their CV for professorships, grants, and the like. However, competent scientists and academics can spot bullshit a mile away, and will not hesitate for an instant to call bullshit if they see the need. In my opinion, this is why an open scholarly system would work, and should exist.
Guys, no one said that peer review is going away. We have journals because of the economic necessity, and peer review as the result. When one part of a system is challenged, people tend to freak out and assume the whole thing is collapsing around them.
It’s fine, keep thinking this way. Then one day you’ll wake up and almost all the authoritative sources will have closed up shop and researchers will still be publishing accurate work. (just like the newspapers) Why? Because peer review and the idea of “an important, respected journal” have NOTHING to do with each other it. They just happened to end up in the same boat.
I see what you guys are saying, but I’m going to agree with Ryan. So what if peer evaluation won’t be done in journals? Could there not be a *insert field here* supersite, that’s constantly evaluated by professionals in their field where data could be instantaneously evaluated and scrutinized?
The blog, forum, or website could be the very next book, journal, or magazine. All it takes is time.
Great post Ryan.
Peer review doesn’t have to go away (and isn’t) — surely if you really care about producing great work and believe that peer review is important then there’s no reason why you should avoid it. The web is just a new way to distribute your work, it doesn’t dictate how you should produce this work. By all means, if you wish to differentiate yourself from the rest, set up a team of editors to check your work — you can publish online in the same manner as an academic journal publishes offline.
The web gives freedom for everyone to publish their work, not tied down by the old media and ways of distribution — I don’t think that this freedom is a bad thing. Sure, you’ll have more information to search through, but the good stuff will always be there no matter how many “unverified” and “unedited” works are published alongside it.
The final stage is of course consumption. Charlie mentions the benefits of a mobile, durable and customizable media that the real book provides. It’s true, the computer screen isn’t an ideal reading instrument, but that’s going to change very soon. Companies like Amazon are starting to understand this and we’re only just now seeing specialized reading devices entering production. In a few years time I’m sure we will have compact screens the size of a book which would be just as durable and simple to use as a real book — but with content unchained from publishing deals through the free distribution of the web.
What exactly are we arguing about here?
Do I think that academic research should be available for free online to anyone who wants to read it? Yes, of course.
Do I think that anyone who wants to should be allowed to publish research online and call it academic work, without an editor or review system? No.
Filtering used to happen before publication because publication was expensive. Today, those costs are gone. In the future filtering will happen after publication.
End of story. The rest is just people pretending like they have a say in something that they don’t. And of course, projecting meaning and significance on something that never had any in the first place.
What is this going to change? Absolutely nothing. First, a faculty member can request a waiver to submit to the repository.
Second, the posting of the finished paper will (in most cases) be done after the article has been published in a traditional journal. That means the article will be peer-reviewed, Harvard will just host another copy of it. More journals than not allow authors to post their papers after publication.
I agree in the free distribution of all journal articles on the web. However, I do not agree in bypassing the peer-review process that comes in the form of submitting those articles to a journal. So if Harvard wants to make all of their scholarly research available for free for everyone, fine then, as long as Harvard is paying for the distribution and the journals themselves still have a revenue source to bring their members together for the peer-review process. The way to look at a journal is akin to a standards body, much like the American Medical Association, or ANSI, IEEE, etc. There is a real need for a strong review of the methods, procedures, and conclusions (especially in scientific endeavors) to serve as a check to human bias and fraud. The value the journals serve is not like a middleman in a commercial enterprise, but more of like a quality assurance body. Bypassing this system undermines a very significant process that enables the accumulation and verification of complex human knowledge.
You’re wrong on most counts.
1) Journals almost exclusively lose money.
2) Profit is not the reason that people submit and contribute to scholarly research.
I linked to a paper about all this a few months ago. This isn’t really a debate – it’s proven empirically.
I am not sure if your response was to my post or a previous one. What am I wrong about? Also, can you link to that paper you mentioned above? Maybe I can get a better idea of where you are coming from if I read that.