PeerJ, or can we get this revolution over with already!
I’m a little tired of every experiment in Open Access being declared revolutionary before it’s even launched (or on the day of its launch). And I am even more tired of the phrase “Cambrian explosion.” It does appear that PeerJ has some interesting attributes.
- The $99 one-time fee allows an author to publish one article a year; higher fees allow for more articles. The founders assure us this is sustainable.
- According to one source, ”Your membership will lapse if you don’t contribute at least one review per year.” - a good incentive to get reviewers to contribute, though it will take a while to get a critical mass.
- People involved have good street cred - O’Reilly is funding it with an unnamed amount, Binfield is of PLoS One, Hoyt of Mendeley. This is likely 3/4 the reason it’s called “revolutionary” before it’s accepted even one article for review.
- PeerJ Journal will be a a traditional platform - with peer reviewed text articles - but the PeerJ PrePrint will also be, “an experimental space, where authors can submit any type of digital content.” This is of a piece with the “peer-to-peer” dynamics of both publications. There will be a version of record, but comments and revisions will be incorporated as a part of a post-publication review. Also…
- They will encourage “Open Peer Review” process:
That means, first, reviewer names are revealed to authors, and second, that the history of the peer review process is made public upon publication. However, we are also aware that this is a new concept. Therefore, we are initially going to encourage, but not require, open peer review. Specifically, we will be adopting a policy similar to The EMBO Journal: reviewers will be encouraged to reveal their identities to authors, and authors will be given the choice of placing the peer review and revision history online when they are published. In the case of EMBO, the uptake has been greater than 90% for this approach, so we expect it to be well received.
This speaks to a question that has been circulating on the LibLicense listserve in the past week or so - namely, can you track the review history of accepted articles. PeerJ gives a nod to this process, which fits well with the kind of “Visible College” discussed in Ted Striphas’ eponymous article.
I wish them well, and think much of the value of this and other experiments is to hammer out these kinds of details. However, it is rather curious that we have to do this with competing market and business models - with the winning business model being seen as the winning model of knowledge production. This is a rather philistine approach to discovering what academics think is valuable and important in peer review publishing. Shouldn’t it be the other way around: discuss and democratically agree on what we value and then launch a platform with those attributes? Of course, but it is a sign of the times that we have to use the market to decide this.
On some days, I would rather scrap all of these experiments and simply do something along the lines of the SCOAP3 consortium or Unglue.it, where we maintain the basic outlines of the publishing system as it is (which, theoretically, we agree with to a certain extent) but they take the basic conundrum of the day - academic libraries on tight budgets paying hundreds or thousands of times for materials their academic faculty have produced, reviewed, and edited - and turn it into a solution. As SCOAP3 puts it, “Funding bodies and libraries contribute to the consortium, which pays centrally for the peer-review service. Articles are free to read for everyone.” This will only work so long as there are reasonable fees for publication (unglue.it’s model, which allows the publishers to name their price, is fundamentally flawed in this way.) But they do have the benefit of considering the archive of resources that have already been produced - an issue which PeerJ and its counterparts can do little to help.
In any case, I hope the next announcement of an Open Access platform or publication avoids the term revolutionary. The main problem all of us are facing in relation to cultural and intellectual work is that it is increasingly difficult to get paid. As universities are unbundled, MOOCed, and OERed; as journals and books become unsustainable and research unsupported by tuition dollars or state funds; as the infection that is slowly killing the news industry spreads to education and the production of knowledge, it is important to highlight what would actually be revolutionary.
For the last century or so, we’ve had people paying for these cultural objects as commodities. It is undoubtedly a good thing that we don’t have to pay for them, but there must be some alternative way to fund students, teachers, scholars, journalists, editors, and other cultural workers. Open Access is one piece of this puzzle, but it alone is almost useless if we don’t address the really fundamental - and revolutionary - changes we are undergoing. For this, a really revolutionary solution will involve, as it has in nearly every other instance where the term is valid, a wholesale rethinking of our political, economic and social frameworks of value and its distribution. I have no time to really get into this today, but I am continually intrigued by Peter Frase’s discussion of both copyright and the idea of a minimum guaranteed income which would make the production and distribution of cultural value more rational in the current era of an increasingly post-labor economy.
As Seth Ackerman (linked above) shows, even the idea of a Basic Income is only relatively revolutionary, but it is much farther along the “revolutionary” continuum than an online publishing platform. Some restraint in the use of this language would be appreciated.