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A publishing re-volition

Janne-Tuomas Seppänen
23 Jan 2012

Yes, I know last Monday is ancient history in blogging timescale. But the many good questions Mike Fowler together with Bob O'Hara (both of them Peers) brought up in their blog post really warrant discussions here too. In my defence, a week is temporally sub-quantum in scholarly timescale.

Mike's post is quite long and diverse, providing kindling for many discussions. I hope Peers will take the opportunity to engage issues of their choice and write posts of their own in this space or elsewhere. Here, I wish to address the overarching aspect, the questions posed both in the title and at the end of Mike's post.

Mike and Bob ask whether Peerage of Science is a revolution, and is it revolutionary enough. If re-volution, a spiralling mayhem of tearing down organizational structures of power is desired, then sorry, Peerage of Science is not revolutionary at all. The service does not seek to overthrow anyone, or diminish anyone's role.

I wish to participate in a miss-spelled oxymoronic revolution. Peerage of Science proposes a re-volition by consensus. A changing of will, a new decision, arising from shared feeling. Most of the challenges of peer review are shared: publishers, editors, authors and reviewers all benefit from more efficient and accurate peer review, free from allegations of bias. Some challenges, such as delay in getting results published, lack of rewards, or the toil and cost of arranging peer review are worries of just one party, but the solutions Peerage of Science brings to these issues in no way threaten the interests of others. The various parties involved in scientific peer review have compelling reasons to choose this new direction together, as an opportunity.

Mike and Bob also ask whether the major publishing houses will just roll over and let the academics dictate to them how things should be done?

I know many of us scientists will be ready to volunteer when a country somewhere starts appointing philosopher-kings. But until Plato's Kallipolis becomes a widespread alternative to capitalist democracy, Peerage of Science is not suggesting anyone should let academics dictate anything to them. Instead, Peerage of Science endorses, and where possible seeks to increase, the freedoms that are important to each stakeholder in scientific publishing. For publishers, be they companies or scientific societies, an important freedom is to be able to pursue their goals with strategies they choose. That is why Peerage of Science is flexible in accommodating policies journals choose to use (they are absolutely free to define the terms of their publishing offers, they may choose to have associate editors 'scout' for chief editor who then makes decisions, or have chief editor choose what to track and then assign the tracking to paid staff of the journal, et cetera).

Even more importantly, Peerage of Science draws a stark line to stay out of the author-publisher-reader relationships. The web service is only concerned with providing better peer review and freedom of choice: it is vehemently impartial to things like publishing models, copyright transfers, archiving rights, or any other publishing agreements authors and publishers may make with each other.

So, no burning barricades, no tyrants to behead. Not much of a revolution.

Instead, Peerage of Science presents compelling opportunity for change, for e-Volution, for electrifying the spiralling path from scientific question to published paper to new scientific questions.

About Janne-Tuomas Seppänen

One of the founders of the service, and a postdoctoral researcher at University of Jyväskylä, Finland.

I was recently told by someone (who by now knows me quite well), that I come across as a much softer and agreeable person in these writings than I am in, well, person. The horror! The horror! (Conrad 1902).

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