Hot Topics in Open Access: Peer Review and the Tyranny That Must be Broken

By: Marjatta Sikström

Frequently debated issues within international higher education community are ongoing changes in scholarly communication. Two specific features seem to draw attention and raise debate. One is the paradigm change from toll access publishing by traditional commercial publishers to Open Access – without access barriers and where copyright stays by the authors. The second feature is quality assessment, i.e. a need to reform the peer reviewing process. In open science debate these two tend to be more or less intertwined.

A number of contributions discussing the two themes were published by The Guardian Higher Education Network around the turn of the year. Two of them are especially interesting.

The first one posted by Richard Price (The founder and CEO at Academia.edu) brings focus to the need to change and expand the number of scientist reviewing an academic work. He argues that in the traditional peer review process with only two or three scientists reviewing one paper places too much weight on what such a small number of scientists think. Another of his arguments comes from biomedical companies who claim that majority of peer review articles within their subject area are not reproducible!

Richard Price has acquired Plasmyd to Academia.edu. It is one effort to develop new ways of quality assessment in scholarly communication.  What he actually is saying is: involve modern existing open technology in peer review process to be better able to weed out the non-reproducing research results in scientific communication. Richard Price is initiated, his argumentation is worth considering – and debating.

Read the whole article here.

The other feature, by now even more debated than peer reviewing process, is the issue raised by Randy Schekman, a Nobel Prize winner 2013. According to him, “leading academic journals are distorting the scientific process and represent a “tyranny” that must be broken”. He declares war and boycott to the top-tier journals and has himself seen to that his lab no longer sends papers to them, Nature, Cell and Science included. 

Randy Schekman draws parallels with corrupting effects of bonus system in a banking sector and with fashion industry where limited editions are created to stoke demand. At the same way the top tier journals restrict the number of articles they accept for publishing. The exclusivity is then marketed with a gimmick called impact factor- says Schekman and continues to argue that this has distorting influence to science: “It builds bubbles in fashionable fields where researchers can make the bold claims these journals want, while discouraging other important work, such as replication studies…”

Randy Schekman is acting consequently and has even taken a leading position in scientific communication. He is today the Editor-in-Chief of eLife, an Open Access journal which is a joint initiative by three founders the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Max Planck Society, and the Welcome Trust. Articles submitted to his journal are discussed by reviewers who are active working scientists – and accepted, if all of them agree. The papers are free for anyone to read, i.e. they are published as they today should – in Open Access!

Randy Schekman’s article as a whole is here.


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