Sunday, March 15, 2009

Open wider

There seems to be a bit of a discussion between Joe Esposito and Stevan Harnad on Liblicense, loosely about the significance of OA and of peer-review.

Quoting Joe Esposito (reacting to an article by Richard Poynder on 'Open and Shut'):
"The real thrust of the world of open access is neither green nor gold, but what I have termed "unwashed," that is, the vast and growing – and growing and growing and growing – world of material that is not peer-reviewed. Take Poynder's own article, for example, or posts to this list. Look at the material that is accumulating in IRs, arXiv, and elsewhere; think about all the blogs and Twitter feeds.

The evidence is mounting that many advocates of open access have never actually used the Internet. The myth persists that OA publishing is just like traditional publishing except that it is free to the user. While there are some segments of OA that are just that, it is a shrinking part of the open access material that is being generated. And it is minuscule compared to what we will see in the years to come.

This doesn't mean peer review is going away. It simply means that peer review is evolving to conform to the characteristics of the online medium, just as the novel grew with the printed page and tennis is a game played around a net. Increasingly peer review will be post-publication, not pre-publication. I suspect all this talk about Gold and Green is a waste of everybody's time."
Quoting Stevan Harnad (reacting to Joe Esposito):
"Or could it be that some of the opponents of Open Access to the 2.5 million articles published annually in the planet's 25,000 peer-reviewed scholarly and scientific journals have never actually done any scholarly or scientific research, hence never published in a refereed journal, and never had any need to consult one for their scholarly and scientific research?"
Open Access to peer-reviewed material is important, but to reduce the scholarly knowledge exchange to just peer-reviewed articles is to ignore the massive amounts of data and knowledge that are shared in other ways. I see the importance of unrefereed scientific published material increase. Dramatically. As long as it is open.

But what does that do to the trustworthiness of that information? Isn't the whole point of peer-review to make sure that what is published conforms to accepted standards of scientific inquiry so that the reader can have a certain amount of trust in the results that are presented? Well, of course. But what is presented in journal articles are mostly results derived from data. Interpretations and annotations of data. Seldom the data themselves. Journal publishing evolved in the past, when the physical reality of sharing actual raw data was nigh impossible, so almost every scientist had to rely on the interpretations as published in journals. But now that we can share the raw data (view Tim Berners-Lee's call for sharing raw data), and tools to manipulate those raw data become widely available, relying on journal articles may well take second seat. And now that instant comment on data as well as on journal articles has become possible, with blogs, twitter, and what not, review after publication is a reality of today (albeit not used all that widely yet).

Furthermore, technology is emerging that is able to quickly identify if data and articles are in essence in line with the scientifically accepted knowledge of today, and is merely confirmatory in nature, which makes the outliers stand out. Those can either be scientific rubbish, or potential breakthroughs, and a peer-review process is well-spent on them, ante (the technology is a great tool for editors!) or post publication.

Peer-review may or may not survive in the way it is now. But it seems clear to me that openness of published articles as well as raw data is, after initial hesitant steps, bound to show explosive growth.

Jan Velterop

1 comment:

  1. Jan H.C.Velterop11:44 a.m.

    Jan is right. The post-publication peer review process you can observe at and other entomological websites, where the specialists discuss the photographs for identification.
    The "scientific risk" you can see at sites like where some "observations" are completely unreliable, because species cannot be identified in the field. Jan H.C.Velterop, dipterologist.