Peer Review and Publishing

Here is an interesting blog post arguing that the millions of hours of peer review spent by many academics and researchers, and generally experts, which provides quality control for journals and other publications, represents a boon to the for-profit, or closed access, publishing companies. These hours are of course compensated, but not by the publishing company. Instead of remuneration, peer review is done out of responsibility, and vested interests to one’s research community — whether the actual time spent is paid for by research time, or vacation time, or free time.
However, while the author uses this argument to defend his decision for publishing in and reviewing for only open access publications, I feel he misses one of the most important reasons for peer review no matter what the policies of the publication company: feedback to authors.

I have rarely submitted a review and recommendation for rejection that didn’t result in a stronger and acceptable resubmission. And in my own submissions I have rarely received any feedback that was not helpful in making my research and its presentation more thorough, convincing, and broad. Ironically, the worst review I have received is an accept with nothing more stated; the best I have received is a reject, with an insightful explanation of why my approach is flawed (kind of like getting to peek in the back of the book at the answers to the odd numbered questions). Also, as a peer reviewer, I usually get to see how the other reviewers see the problems, and what they found that I missed, or vice versa.
I feel that this is how I am paid back by performing peer review, whether or not the publishing company provides open-access or not. The publishers provide a recognized forum into which I can present my work to a broader audience, and with anonymity I can expect to receive a thorough and thoughtful reply from other people invested in the profession of research. (This “forum” is of course paid by the time spent by associate editors, which I hear brings with it fame and prestige — but I will have to wait and see what happens when that time comes for me. :)

Update 14h44: Martin responds to me

Bob – that’s a different point. I agree about the value of peer-review to the individual and the community (although I think there is an interesting discussion to be had about whether this is the only way to achieve these results now). The publishers don’t do anything to facilitate this process (that is done by academics, for free). I would take your conclusion and look at it the other way – would any of the benefits you name not exist for an Open Access journal? In which case, why do the work that allows a large multinational to profit and lock away content, when you could get the same benefits and have the content open to all?

I agree that I can expect the same results to come from submitting to an open-access journal, but I am not so sure that “the publishers don’t do anything to facilitate this process.” It is definitely interesting to watch how information and access have become hot commodities.

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