Socialism in science – Part 3 – the Utopian system of post-publication peer review
I am having a blast! So this is what it feels like when you sell your soul. Dr. Lootzeepfehr (a German name, I suppose), with whom the transaction was effected, told me it was going to be good, but I didn’t know it would be THAT much fun. My blog stats are totally out the roof, and Coturnix is having a Jedi Council meeting over at the Science 2.0 friendfeed page about my blasphemous heresies regarding Open Access. The OA Jedi knights thought I would never know, but one of my spy drones spotted a disturbance in the Force in the blogosphere and decided to take a closer look. BTW, Coturnix, would it be too bold on my part to ask you to link to my posts up on “Blog around the Clock“?*** I think that at least the theme of the posts is well aligned with your blog’s profile. The OA community deserves to know the heretical views of the unbelievers. “Know thy enemy” is key to victory, at least that’s what two of Lootzeepfehr’s buddies, Sun Tzu and Niccolo Machiavelli, told me.
During the aforementioned council Mr. Gunn called my scholarly discourse here and here a “snippy little rant”. Well, Mr. Gunn, you ain’t seen me rant yet! But now rant I shall, because (1) you are virtually begging for it (2) I have come across a totally rantable statement, namely that upfront editorial decisions are a thing of the past and that the future belongs to post-print open access review process (I may have simplified it a little, but this is that’s the gist of it). Read on at your own risk.
Even the most hardened OA geeks will admit nowadays that editorial process is an expensive task, especially if you want to keep the impact of the published science high. So they came up with a brilliant idea: “Let’s publish everything we get and then the community will do the reviewing for us. HaHa! Cheap!” WTF??? Anyone who seriously considers this a good idea must be a [having an intercourse*][not very wise person*]. I don’t know what kind of science you do, but do you really want a high school kid to make the tenure decision for you (i.e. rank your paper) by saying “Kewl!!!1!!1! I didn’t no that bacteriums could do zat!”??? “Well, it will be moderated then!” you say. How much moderation is good? Just a little bit – meaning everyone with a sound scientific argument can post? Well then the discussion boards for papers will turn into a bloody [having an intercourse*] inferno with your competitors asking their whole labs to post negative reviews based on bullshit pseudo-scientific concerns, while you will be recruiting all your buddies to +1 you. “Hey, maybe we should do some heavier moderation, then!” you propose “like, with only experts in the field being able to comment and score papers.” And who will be making the decision? The moderator? Or maybe let’s call him editor and forget about this “moderation” [excrements*]. These people will have to be paid, right? Except editors in CA journals have the motivation to select the most objective and knowledgeable reviewers, because they care about the level of science that is published, while your moderator/editor could care less. What is he/she gonna do if she gets a phone call from you proposing $1000 in return for the trouble of removing this “idiotic review by [enter the name of your scientific archnemesis here]”? And how would revisions be handled? Would your moderator take care of that as well? “Hey, this is getting kinda expensive” you realize. Or maybe we don’t need revisions at all???? Or, if we need them, how do you handle the distribution of revisions, ie how do we make sure that everybody has the latest version? How about retractions? Errata?????
Then there is the non-trivial problem of how the hell are you going to coerce good reviewers to give a damn about rating your papers? Right now they have multiple reasons to help you. If you are a high IF paper, they will want to boast that they do reviews for you. They get access to the latest science much earlier than anyone else. From a purely egoistic point of view, they have the feeling of power over the authors, and they can show how [having an intercourse*] smart they are. All these key motivations are gone when you just leave the paper out for discussion and hope that anyone will leave their comment. Many people critique the current review/impact factor system as biased and prone to abuse. The argument goes that tenure/recruitment/funding commitees don’t bother reading the candidates papers and evaluating their value themselves and rather rely on IF as the ultimate measure of a paper’s worth. And in most cases THEY ARE RIGHT. What would you rather have: an immunologist evaluating the worth of your paper on plant cell biology, or three plant cell biologist doing the same? Some of the members of these committees don’t have the slightest idea about the kind of research you do and cannot possibly make an informed decision about its worth based on reading about it in a paper. Will some bad and unjust decision be made based on such shortcuts? Sure, but I will buy a six-pack of the best [having an intercourse*] imported Belgian beer to the first person who shows me a system that works better (a real, not imaginary one).
Last, but not least, I, and many people I know, like to peruse tables of contents of the most prestigious journals just to get the idea of what is currently at the very forefront of scientific discovery. The papers published in these journals are usually very good science and are a pleasure to read, whether they are directly related to my research, or not. I don’t want to give that pleasure up and get a scientific del.ic.ious-like sexiness contest instead.
OK. So I think I know why you guys don’t get it. You are good, noble people and you think, after a Greek philosopher or another, that if you show people the right thing to do, they will do it, just like you would. Well surprise, surprise: You are WRONG! Modern psychology makes it clear that people need a stick or a carrot to move anywhere and counting on their intrinsic goodness and noble instincts will get you nowhere. Sure, there will be people like yourselves who will do the RIGHT THING, but if you are set out to take over the world, you’d better have your stick and carrot business sorted out. As an unquestionable authority in the art of rant, Comrade PhysioProf, once said “Academic science is not a Care Bears fucking** tea party!“. I’ll Amen to that.
* adult language censored
** adult language uncensored for quotation accuracy
*** Update: Coturnix actually answered my plea and posted about my feeble attempts to bring reason into the world of OA publishing. In his post he calls me a “journalistic curmudgeon” and praises the valiant struggles of his OA allies to convert me to their faith. Nevertheless, I am flattered and delighted, because to me it means that my voice, liked by some, villified by others, is not just some delusional ranting that can be totally ignored. Thank you, Coturnix, and I hope to see some more constructive discussion on my blog thanks to your courteous gesture towards me.