Publishers do not provide peer-review. We do.
January 23, 2012
Aaargh! I’ve had it up to here with this. I just read it yet again, this time in a letter to the editor of the New York Times in response to Michael Eisen’s recent piece in that paper on the RWA. The letter says some good things, but then right in the middle we have this:
Mr. Eisen understates the value added to medical research articles by journals such as ours. Peer review is invaluable in selecting the highest impact medical research and improving its quality before publication.
This is just one more example of a pernicious and persistent assumption. In the same vein, the AAP’s statement on the Research Works Act mentions peer-review five times in its first four paragraphs despite the fact that the RWA has nothing to do with peer review. So for example:
The professional and scholarly publishing community thanks Representatives Issa and Maloney for supporting their significant investments that fund innovations and enable the essential peer-review process maintaining the high standards of U.S. scientific research.
People, please. Publishers do not provide peer-review. We do. The same body of researchers that writes the papers for publishers also performs peer-review for publishers. And we charge exactly the same amount: nothing. Peer review is just one more gift that we give to the publishers. It’s a gift that I don’t begrudge when the world can benefit from it, through open-access publishing. But when the publisher locks up the result of my work — an intolerable thing to do at the best of times — it’s the most bare-faced effrontery for them then to claim that this is justified by the “added value” that my peer-reviewing effort provides.
So: where does the lie that publishers provide peer-review come from?
As described in the SPARC letter of September 6, 2007, AAP publishers commissioned PR “pit bull” Eric Dezenhall in January of that year to develop a campaign against open access. His advice was (in part) that “the publishers should attempt to equate traditional publishing models with peer review.” (If you doubt PRISM’s objectivity in recounting this history, it’s also discussed in a Nature article ; but with perfect poetic irony, many of you won’t be able to read it because it’s paywalled.)
So “publishers provide peer-review” is a lie invented by a PR hack who was explicitly commissioned to come up with soundbites to undermine open access. Please, people: don’t do commercial publishers’ jobs for them by perpetuating this lie. If you must do their job for them, stick to doing by writing, illustrating, editing and reviewing their articles for them.
[I know that none of this is news to readers of this blog. I am posting this article mainly so that I have a single place to point people to when I want to correct this misapprehension which the publishing industry is so assiduously perpetuating. So please: if you hear people parroting the lie that publishers provide peer-review, direct them here!]