I mean seriously. The original post over on @mbeisen's It is NOT junk blog drew out a Elsevier flack Tom Reller who had a thing or two to say about the Research Works Act being peddled by New York CongressCritter Carolyn Maloney. In that last linked comment, Mr. Reller claimed:
When I say peer review process, I think you’re hearing just peer review. Peer review is exactly what you say it is, volunteer work in the name of academic science, and it never would have dawned upon me to have to say this, but of course we know peer reviewers aren’t paid. And we know that we, and our journals need them. If you ever reviewed for one of our journals, thank you, and we truly hope you continue to do so. I know all about the issues related to how difficult it is to find quality peer reviewers. You’re often paid by the government, and it is time consuming, we get it.
All we’re saying is that there is a peer review process, and there is more to peer review than just the peer reviewers themselves. Our systems track it, our publishers support it, then there’s what we do to print and preserve the outcome. Michael granted as much.
We call final published articles private sector information products because we (the private sector) have added value, as before mentioned, to the articles.
I find my self searching for this "added value". By listening and reading what the publishers and their representatives have to say, perhaps we can find some clues to this mysterious value that they add to the scientific paper.
We need a flow of accessible funds through the scholarly communication system to finance what we do. Hitherto these funds have flowed through academic library budgets, the "old" subscription model, which Dr Taylor describes as "a useful service in pre-internet days". In future they will likely flow from research funding agencies (and a few charities and foundations) looking to enable open access.
Well, yes and no. We do need to continue to finance the distribution of scientific papers / scientific information. For sure. What we don't need is Mr G. Taylor's "we". The publishers are a classic middle man, standing between the producer and consumer. Sometimes that brings value, sometimes it brings blood sucking leechery that adds cost but no value to the system. The real question at hand is determining whether the traditional publishers are starting to veer from "adds value" into "leeching off the system".
Publishers pursue the goal of universal access through whatever means are practically available.
HAHAHAHAH! Where "practically available" means "We, the publishing middle man get paid." Right? If their goal was universal access they'd be whittling down their profits to the unmentionable, cutting salaries down toward the public sector salaries, etc. Ever seen the publisher representatives in a typical editorial board meeting? Yeah, you can pick them out by the nice clothes. Ahem.
It is widely acknowledged that there is not an access problem for researchers based in universities, research institutes or the corporate sector.
Absolutely and completely false. The smaller institutions, colleges, etc do not have anywhere near the access to the breadth of journals available. And oftentimes they are forced to make tough choices because of journal "bundle" options offered by, e.g., Elsevier. Companies large and small have to decide how to fund securing the literature- some do it on a one-off basis because it is cheaper. Many folks at smaller biotechs hose off the local University in one way or another- through their spouses employment, through their old access from when they were a postdoc, friends..or just stopping by the University campus and using the wifi. Either way, people are having to cobble together their "access" to the entirety of the academic literature. With variable success.
Pub Med Central changed all that. All the subsequent research was available to anyone, from community college to small private college to biotech startup. All right there. Easy, peasy from the desktop.
Public funds have not paid for the peer-reviewed articles that are based on research supported by agencies such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH). They have only paid for the research itself and whatever reports the researchers are required to submit to the agency.
Another falsehood, wrapped up with a disingenuous misdirecting belittlement. "Only" for the research? ONLY????? These publishers seem universally unaware that the VAST, VAST majority of the value of an academic article is the bloody research. The damn content. That is what has value. The fancy layout? That's nice and all but we can do without that. The science is the thing. Trying to dismiss this as a minor contribution is...well.....that takes some serious chutzpah.
There is another, more serious misdirection here. The public does in fact "pay for" the entire article at present. By way of library access fees and the other ways that articles are obtained. Money is fungible so one way or another, the public contribution in NIH grants, public University support, student tuition and probably even the health care system (hospitals need access, yo) pays for these articles.
Public funds are already paying the middle man "for the peer reviewed article". The question is, once again, can we make this process more efficient (yet equally effective in distributing science) by eliminating the middle man?
The journal article based on the research has been the subject of significant extra investment that must somehow be recovered if scholarly communication as we know it is to survive.
I am still trying to get my head around this claim because it is the cornerstone of the publishers' argument. What "significant extra investment"? The reviewers themselves work for free*. For real journals, with academic, real-scientist editorial staff, the editors are maybe paid a little and the administrative person who works in the Editor in Chief's office gets paid as well. Sure. But this is penny ante stuff. There are not 5 to 10 full time people with the sole job of being editor. Suppose the NIH decided to run it's own journals...think they couldn't just take over the salary lines? Of course they could.
This brings me to the online peer reviewing software systems, such as ScholarOne Manuscripts or Editorial Manager. Sure, maybe some publishers have developed their products in house. But there are lots of options. These are not functions that we require the big publishers to provide either.
So what do the publisher's add to the "peer review" of journal articles? I really don't know. Keep in mind that I categorically reject the notion that we need GlamourMag style professional editors to get this job done.
It often appears to me that their only unique role in this process, given modern internet technologies and tools, is to figure out ways to keep sucking money out of the system, but providing "value" that we really don't need.
many do object to a mandate that appropriates their material without compensation.
Now this is just gobsmacking. Since the vast majority of their "material" consists of the academic research, writing and peer reviewing services that they get for FREE, it is really frigging rich for the publishers to cry about appropriating material without compensation. I mean do they even listen to themselves? Ever?
Finally, the dinosaur sinking in the tar pit part:
Such journals are on the whole by their very nature tailored and adapted to the needs and interests of specific research communities. This is a complex and nuanced system that needs time to adapt to new methodologies.
Dedicated journals are an anachronism held over from before the advent of PubMed, pure and simple. Partitioning scientific research into field journals of different emphasis and focus was necessary for humans to find the most relevant work. Now we have search engines and online databases. The function served by subspecialization of print journals is entirely unnecessary at present. If you need it for organizational means in the (virtual) editorial offices of a general "Journal of the NIH" or "Journal of all US Science funded by the Taxpayers", there is no reason that we couldn't have subsections partitioned off.
Dr [M] Taylor's assumption that this can somehow all be routinely accommodated on a "service" basis is to misunderstand the nature of publishing. Publishers invest at their own risk and quality standards are essential to manage that risk. We need a market to organise such a high volume of transactions. Take that away and we would be left with a Stalinist nightmare.
No, you misunderstand that we don't give a rat's patootie about "the nature of publishing". We care about the distribution of scientific results! Print or even online "Publishing" as an industry is irrelevant. We just need the lower-case-p version of publishing. We do NOT need a "market" to organize any such thing. Does the "market" get involved in the peer review of NIH grants? No? Then why do we need it to publish the results? We do not.
And dude. Seriously. The "Stalinist nightmare" bit? Get a grip.
*UPDATE: Neuromusic emphasized a very important point in a comment. Peer reviewers work at no charge to the publisher. Their time is not "free" however, since this is considered to be part and parcel of their job. Whether it be "service" of a hard money faculty member or as part of time allocated on grant awards, it is expected that scientists will contribute to the review of manuscripts. This raises an interesting point. Consulting fees in industry vary, of course, but for a fairly new Assistant Professor the expected rate in my fields of interest is about $100 / hr or $1,000 / day. If publishers are going to act graspy about their "compensation" then they are going to have to start budgeting at least a couple of hundred smacks per reviewer for each manuscript. Hey, look at the plus side- going to be a lot easier to get papers reviewed if the invitations come with a $200 carrot.