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The Return on Peer Review

Martin Weller – a long time advocate for openness in education, demonstrating through practice rather than hype – discusses the return on peer review:

Peer-review is one of the great unseen tasks performed by academics. Most of us do some, for no particular reward, but out of a sense of duty towards the overall quality of research…Now that efficiency and return on investment are the new drivers for research, the question should be asked whether this is the best way to ‘spend’ this money? I’d suggest that if we are continuing with peer review (and its efficacy is a separate argument), then the least we should expect is that the outputs of this tax-payer funded activity should be freely available to all.

Peer review is an important lifeblood of any discipline. Unfortunately, peer review has become largely equated with closed journals. I’m stunned (really, I am) every time I reflect on the absurdity of closed journals: The public pays for research, pays for the write up of the articles, pays for peer review, and then, amazingly, turns access rights over to a for-profit entity and then pays again to gain access to what they already paid to produce. It’s like the government paying for the development of a large public park, then handing ownership over to a corporation who then charges the public to access the park. I cannot fathom how this system came into place. This model only barely works in a paper-based world when it could (weakly) be argued that costs with printing the journal justified access costs. It’s a system that places all financial burden on the academic system to produce the article and then an additional burden to access the article. All of the risk, none of the benefit.


  1. Good to see this commentary getting more precise. My own post on the scam here. Clearly privatising gain while giving the risk to the public is a trend across all sectors the past 30 years. What are we going to do about it?

    Monday, June 14, 2010 at 10:45 pm | Permalink
  2. Mark Bullen wrote:

    I agree, this is truly an absurd situation but we have the power to change it. Everybody who is involved in academic publishing, whether as an author, reviewer or editor needs to make a personal commitment not to support closed journals and other closed publications. Although I have sinned in the past, I will no longer submit my material to closed publications, I will not review articles for closed journals and I will not serve on editorial boards for closed publications.

    If we all make this commitment, things will change.


    Sunday, June 27, 2010 at 10:04 am | Permalink