Scramble for the electronic galaxy

June 9, 1995

Steve Halliday

IT manager, School of Oriental and African Studies Peer review is likely to change. Individuals will put up publications, they will be challenged, defended, perhaps modified and challenged again. Journal publishers will either become part of this process from the outset, or collect papers (we will still probably call them that, just as we still refer to type leading) that have stood the test of the CyberOnslaught for their recommended archives.

The success of online publications will depend on quality and reputation. Currently there is so much dross on the Net that people are reading publications well outside of their field, just to see what is happening. This will stabilise as more publications come online. The first to get there, with quality productions, will establish an Internet reputation, get themselves into readers' virtual bookmarks and fill the CyberNiche. The scramble for the Post-Gutenburg Galaxy is now on - I'm tipping well organised publishing houses and universities, that have equipped themselves to conquer the wires, as the new colonialists.


Peer commentary is a supplement, not a substitute, for peer review. Halliday's comment contains the seeds of its own refutation: There is indeed already a great deal of dross on the Net. With more quality there will inevitably come still more dross. How to sort it out? How to ensure that the quality (currently controlled by peer review) is maintained? Quality control in paper scientific publication is not a combination Darwinian struggle plus popularity poll. Why imagine it would/should be that on the Net? Peer review is medium-independent. Peer commentary is a supplement to peer review, not a substitute. If anyone should know, it's me, having edited a peer-reviewed journal of open peer commentary for more than 15 years.


You seem to be answering a point I'm not raising. The thrust of my argument is that because the peer review process is changing (quite how it is and will change we may disagree about - I have little real experience here and bow to yours) there is a sense of urgency that publishers should recognise if they want to capture the network market. By replying only to my last two paragraphs you have refocused my argument away from urgency, towards peer review, which is not what I'm talking about. In fact, your entertaining and mildly anarchistic proposal to bring down the paper house of cards would accelerate the urgency.


You're right that I've refocussed on the small part of your comment where we have a disagreement.

Yes, there's urgency about launching the paper fleet into the PostGutenberg Galaxy as soon as possible, but one of the retardants to that is (in my view) the absence of peer review up there. Serious scholars and scientists consequently don't think it's a fit place for high quality work. And suggestions (like yours, I'm afraid) to the effect that there may be another way - perhaps open criticism and comments on unrefereed papers serving as a guide - are (in my opinion) inadvertently acting to preserve this status quo, rather than hastening the Post-Gutenberg era.


Peer review, I agree will need to stay. Peer commentary will supplement it, I agree. Our point of departure, I think, is that I expect the review process to change as the exponential growth of Web users continues.

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