Re: The True Cost of the Essentials (Implementing Peer Review)

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Thu, 28 Mar 2002 19:55:58 +0100

On Tue, 26 Mar 2002, Mark Doyle wrote:

> I don't see this $30/article [mark-up] price working for a highly
> technical journal....
> ...a wholesale replacement of the current system [by] one based on
> self- or institutional- or subject-based archiving without
> tackling the underlying technical issues related to long term
> archiving would be a major mistake....
> The most viable and cost-effective solution for solving this problem is
> to develop authoring tools that allow authors to directly create a truly
> archival XML file. The later in the process you add markup, the more
> costly it is...

I agree that it is becoming more and more apparent that off-loading
the XML mark-up to authors is the optimal solution, and will no doubt
happen, as user-friendly, windows-based XML markup tools are designed
and adopted.

But let us not get the causal sequence or timing mixed up because of
this. There is no immediate "problem" for which that "solution" must
first be found!

Priority #1, by far, is opening access to this (peer-reviewed)
literature right now (yesterday!). There is absolutely no excuse for
blocking its access or impact for a microsecond longer.

Meanwhile, however, journals continue as before, selling their paper
versions and their markup, and their online page-images, etc. It is
most definitely not a PRECONDITION for freeing access to this entire
literature, right now, that authors should first be able to provide
XML-marked-up drafts!

On the contrary: It will be the availability of this whole literature
online and free that will DRIVE the downsizing of publication to the
essentials, the development of authoring tools, and the upgrading of
the author-version, as the need for that arises. The ONLY need right
now is to free this literature; and an author-supplied peer-reviewed
final draft is sufficient to do that.

Please let us not needlessly mix, complicate, or hamstring agendas, at
the risk of delaying this overdue benefit for research and researchers
any longer.

Publisher practices, as well as author tools and author practices will
evolve to adapt to the reality of open access. Open access need not
wait for anything at all at this point. Those who have already
self-archived have not waited, and there is no need for the rest of us
to wait either.

> It would be nice if some of the money flowing into BOAI was directed
> towards this.

Perhaps under BOAI Strategy 2 (creating and converting to open-access
journals) promoting the development of XML authoring tools would be a
money well spent. But let us not make that a brake on Strategy 1
(author/institution self-archiving, NOW), for it is not. Strategy 1 need
not and should not wait for XML authoring tools.

> > [S.H.: What about the cost of implementing peer review?]
> The archiving cost is just as, if not more, important than the peer
> review cost and the fact that is it usually missing from your discussions
> is a major weakness. I don't think the $30/article number is generalizable
> to all fields of scholarly communication.

I am afraid I have to disagree rather strongly here. Not only is it not
the case that markup (and its costs) is more important than peer review
(and its costs) -- what an idea! -- but by the time markup becomes a
salient factor at all (which will be when the literature has been freed
by self-archiving and publishers are ready to downsize to the
essentials), necessity will be the mother of invention, and the
requisite XML authoring tools will be developed.

There is no problem of principle there, just one of practice, and the
current absence of demand for author XML, within the current status quo
(why should there be a demand?): But that is exactly the status quo
that the author/institution self-archiving is meant to alter,
demonstrating the huge utility of the free peer-reviewed drafts, even
without proper mark-up.

If freeing access diminishes subscription revenue, it means that this
vanilla peer reviewed version has considerable market value; if it
doesn't diminish subscription revenue, we don't need to worry about any
of this, and author XML markup can take its time coming as long as it

So much for BOAI Strategy 1. Obviously BOAI Strategy 2 (open-access
startups and conversions) will want to minimize costs, and one of the
ways will be to offload XML markup on authors, and hence XML authoring
tools would be very handy to have. So by all means let us develop them.
But let us not mix up these two BOAI Strategies and their causal
interaction, describing as "a major mistake" the "wholesale replacement
of the current system [by] one based on self- or institutional- or
subject-based archiving without tackling the underlying technical
issues related to long term archiving."

No one is proposing "wholesale replacement of the current system" by
self-archiving! (And not primarily because of markup, but because of
peer review!) An agenda like that would be incoherent, like proposing
to replace all driving by hitch-hiking!

Self-archiving is a means to an end, and that end is open access, now!
As the "system" adjusts to open access, many things may happen. The
demand for the old products might continue, and continue to pay the
bills, in which case no further adjustment will be necessary, apart from
the normal drive to minimize costs. But if the old demand flags because
of open access, then cost-cutting will become more urgent, and the
transition, which I think is likely, to author-institution-end payment
for peer review as well author-end mark-up, will take place in

But right now, it is just another excuse for lingering longer in the
status quo.

Now I know this is not what Mark means to encourage, so I am unwrapping
these causal and temporal factors here simply to make it more
transparent here that he is inadvertenely mixing apples with oranges.

Stevan Harnad
Received on Thu Mar 28 2002 - 19:57:50 GMT

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