[Air-l] Open access publishing (was a modest proposal)

Alex Halavais halavais at gmail.com
Mon Sep 11 13:09:32 PDT 2006

On 9/11/06, Dr. W. Reid Cornwell <wrc at tcfir.org> wrote:
> Open access with regards to publicly funded research is the "Law." It
> includes "all" agencies that fund research including the quasi-governmental
> labs like Sandia etc. (excluding those that are covered under official
> security restraints)

Sorry, but that's simply not the case in the US, at least. I think you
are thinking of 17 USC 105, which opens up documents produced by the
federal government. Among a host of other exceptions, when the federal
government contracts with private individuals or companies, the work
may be copyrighted, and usually is.

> This law preserves the peer reviewing process. I personally am in favor of
> scrapping peer review in favor an intellectual community rating system.

That's a good definition of peer review. Perhaps you are suggesting a
different way of doing peer review. There are lots of ways to provide
for such checking.

> Peer
> review has been used for too long as a mechanism of social control and
> exclusion.

That's its central function. And I don't think anyone can argue that
the internet means we have LESS need of filters. On the contrary, now
more than ever we need ways of verifying the work of others. Google is
also a mechanism of social control and exclusion. That's why we use

> I frequently think of Einstein and his travails at recognition until he got
> a socially accepted champion.

That Einstein didn't happen to like peer review doesn't change its
relative effectiveness. (Indeed, there have been arguments that he
would have made progress more quickly had he more often engaged
critical reviewers comments.) At the same time, the ramblings tens of
thousands of ill-informed random quacks were filtered out. No one
claims that peer review is perfect; on the contrary, I think most
recognize it is broken in important respects. But it serves a vital
function, and until other social processes can improve on these
functions, it will continue to be employed.

Unfortunately, I suspect that one of the reasons open access has been
retarded so often is that many equate open access with scrapping the
social technologies (like peer review) that tend to work pretty well.

Note that this doesn't preclude efforts to make peer review better,
and I applaud efforts like Nature's to experiment with open review
(http://blogs.nature.com/nature/peerreview/trial/). And I think that
Wikipedia provides a model of how open peer-review can do pretty OK,
most of the time. Though Wikipedians are the first to note that it
needs to be done better. More on that shortly :).

- Alex

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