Please Link to New Website

Peer-Review, Open-Access, and Research as a “Public Good”

Congress for the Humanities and Social Sciences is currently meeting in Montreal (May 28-June 4), and The Canadian Association of University Research Administrators (CAURA) met in Calgary earlier this month. At each of these events, I had the pleasure of discussing the use of social media for research dissemination and the future role of Open Access Journals. In Calgary, the conversation questioned the demise of peer-reviewed journals. In Montreal, the pre-Congress workshop looked at Open-Access and research as a “Public Good”. (Check out my tweets about the workshop on Twitter @KMbeing). Both discussions touched on the breaking down of old forms of research dissemination and the emergence of new collaborative styles.

I’d never really thought about the demise of peer-reviewed journals before, as I make full-use of them to inform my own work as a Digital Researcher, especially on the so-called back-end when final publication takes place. On the front-end, I’ve been involved in the rigorous process of getting research findings published in a peer-reviewed journal (with no guarantee) after upwards of six-months or more. Unfortunately, this scrupulous process not only stale-dates the already ‘aging’ findings, but also overlooks the importance of expediency in providing findings that are immediately relevant to other current research taking place.

The long-accepted “normal” dissemination process of academic research has been a publish or perish reward system involving the drawn-out submission to and approval from peer-review – with the final “reward” being publication. Shouldn’t the final reward be research for the public good?

I still believe in research expertise, assessment, and publication; but the old, lengthy peer-review process has become a rather out-dated mode that initially “uses” the public as “subjects” for the research process, and then excludes them from public access of the research findings. More importantly this old style ignores the more immediate and collaborative approach of knowledge mobilization – with its focus on more timely community-academic interaction to inform current public policy from research findings, even in the early stages of research before any publication.

There is a need for a more updated peer-review process, a process that includes “peer-review” at every step of the research process – and that process appears to be Open Access.  Such journals take into consideration the current influence of social media, public collaboration, and the knowledge of current research as a public good. That is the future, and it means collaboration beyond the Ivory Tower of Academia to inform and disseminate research as a public good and a public right within the world of digital media. The old method of peer-review may not be dead – but it is on life-support. Its recovery medicine is to evolve into a more inclusive process. This process includes the notion of research as a public good – freely, and readily available throughout each stage of the research process. Through open access and social media research not only informs, but is informed.

Don’t get me wrong. Peer-review still has an important role to play in open-access – and even open-access has its own problems. Two underlying concerns at the Montreal workshop (as in the world-at-large) that continue to hamper the evolution of peer-review and open access are power and money. The workshop prompted some very important questions:

  • Who controls the research and how it gets used?
  • Who pays for the research/dissemination as a “public good”?
  • Why does research have to be a “public good”?
  • Who defines what is “public” or what is “good”?
  • What is a “public good”?

These are all great questions, and our workshop discussion prompted much needed debate that needs to be continued. It’s clear that the ways of thinking about how research is done, shared, and paid for needs some re-evaluation.

I don’t profess to have the answers, but think it’s important to ask questions. That’s why discussions like the ones at CAURA and the pre-Congress workshop are important.  Yet such questions need to address the immediacy of research communication, the importance of university-community collaboration, and the practical application of research beyond publication with the public and for the “public good”.

What do you think?

5 responses to “Peer-Review, Open-Access, and Research as a “Public Good”

  1. Stevan Harnad May 30, 2010 at 1:11 pm


    Open Access (OA) is not about “the demise of peer reviewed journals.” It is about providing online access to the content of peer-reviewed journals no longer just to those users whose institutions can afford to subscribe to them, but to all would-be users, webwide. (Please see the Budapest Open Access Initiative — the Soros Open Society-sponsored initiative that first coined the term and defined the movement in 2002: )

    There are two ways to provide OA: The authors of peer-reviewed journal articles can make them OA (this is called BOAI-1 or “Green OA” self-archiving) or the publishers of peer-reviewed journals can make them OA (BOAI-2, or “Gold OA” publishing).

    Nothing about “the demise of the peer reviewed journals.” That would be like a “feed the hungry” movement seeking the demise of food.

    The single biggest retardant to the growth and progress of OA has been the conflation of Green and Gold OA by mistakenly seeing, portraying and promoting OA as meaning only Gold OA publishing, omitting the much more powerful, simple, widespread and certain means of providing OA: the Green OA self-archiving that is now beginning to be mandated by universities like Harvard and funders like NIH.

    The other big retardant on the growth and progress of OA has been to mistakenly see, portray and promote OA not as the means of freeing peer-reviewed work from access barriers, but as freeing it from peer review:

  2. KMbkteam May 30, 2010 at 11:13 pm

    Thanks for your comment Stevan. To clarify my statement about the “demise of peer-reviewed journals”, my emphasis is on the old styled time-consuming aspect of peer-review for publication by paper submissions. Peer-review, as I pointed out in my blog, will continue; however, in a more expedient manner thanks to OA.

  3. Stevan Harnad May 31, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    Here are some of the ways OA will help implement peer review more expediently. Cheers, Stevan

    Harnad, S. (1996) Implementing Peer Review on the Net: Scientific Quality Control in Scholarly Electronic Journals. In: Peek, R. & Newby, G. (Eds.) Scholarly Publishing: The Electronic Frontier. Cambridge MA: MIT Press. Pp 103-118.

    Harnad, S. (2003) PostGutenberg Peer Review: the invariant essentials and the newfound efficiencies

    Click to access peerev.pdf

    Harnad, S. (2009) The PostGutenberg Open Access Journal. In: Cope, B. & Phillips, A (Eds.) The Future of the Academic Journal. Chandos.

  4. David Phipps May 31, 2010 at 3:01 pm

    I like your comment: I still believe in research expertise, assessment, and publication; but the old, lengthy peer-review process has become a rather out-dated mode that initially “uses” the public as “subjects” for the research process, and then excludes them from public access of the research findings”

    Many research paradigms such as participatory research and, most importantly, research with aboriginal peoples is driven by the needs of the subjects and involves them in every step. Open access will also make the research results accessible to them and movements like Plain Language ( and help make this happen.

    I also agree with the comments above. Open access is not a substitute for peer review and both can (and should) co-exist.

  5. Gary Myers June 2, 2010 at 11:56 am

    Great articles Stevan. Thanks for sharing this information to contribute to the ongoing discussion about OA and peer review.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: