*Public Choice*, on the web

The journal that is, and for free.  Really.  Until April.  Here.  The pointer is from Henry Farrell, who notes that the January 2008 issue contains a symposium on blogging which he co-edited with Dan Drezner.

Here is a paper on the economics of open access publishing.  Here is Daniel Akst on the same.  For Cowen and Tabarrok on the same, well…you are here already.

Henry also asks what it would take to make researchers switch to a free access system.  I don’t envision the free access system as the status quo but free.  Papers would be ranked directly in terms of status and popularity rather than ranked through the journals they are published in.  Ultimately there wouldn’t be journals and this would make a big difference as journals are the current carrier of selective incentives and status rewards.  It would be easy to refuse to referee, since you wouldn’t fear being shut out of publication of that journal; I suspect refereeing might die.  And if status were attached to the individual paper rather than the journal, who would bother to become an editor?  It would be a very different world and in some ways more like (academic) blogging than its proponents may wish to think.

In other words, the partial monopolization of for-fee journals makes it possible to produce status returns to motivate both editors and referees.  Returning to the free setting, refereeing will survive insofar as writing detailed referee comments on other people’s work helps with your own research; it is interesting to ponder in which fields this might hold.


Since both authors and readers want high-quality papers, reviewers may be redundant. If popularity and keywords could be combined to produce "virtual journals," then editors may be redundant. The leveling of power that voting (or digging -- digg.com) would give to all individuals would reduce the power of today's gatekeepers (reviewers and editors). And just like that -- bang bang bang -- the entire structure of what is "good" would fall apart. Can academics handle democratic opinion of what is good? Will the old guard be able to protect the status quo? The answer lies somewhere between wikipedia's revision wars/digg's herd mentality and today's glacial blockade on new/revolutionary/interesting ideas.

The good news is that nobody needs to decide where to go: Academics are already exploiting and attacking weaknesses in the current system.

To a large extent, your predictions have come true in theoretical physics, a discipline in which nearly all papers have been available in an open preprint archive (http://xxx.lanl.gov/) for more than a decade. Status is confered by citation ranking, a metric on which candidates can be compared via a simple database query. The only journals that confer status are short-article journals that aim to report breakthroughs (e.g. Nature, Physical Review Letters). No one wants to be an editor and refereeing is often push off on graduate students. (But hasn't that last part been true for a long time?)

You could just use grad students as editors.

dk...you're right about the possibility of devolving into a flamefest...but as there's a higher cost for entry as a reviewer (i'm assuming..."jimmy69britney" won't be able to be a reviewer...or at least, not use his digg name), reviewer rankings would also be important, and as they'd follow you around, you can't just spout off tripe and expect to be reviewed highly as a reviewer.

Russel: Dan also publishes results in conferences, at least, pretty regularly. And helps organize them, and is commonly on program committees.

Most recent papers in cryptography are findable on the net with a bit of Google and GoogleScholar, a dash of Citeseer, and a large dose of just looking up the authors on Google and finding their websites. We also have a heavily-used preprint server (eprint.iacr.org) which has a gazillion unvetted papers.

eprint servers and personal webpages do a great job of getting the research results to other academics in the field. I use both pretty regularly, but I'm in the field, and I can evaluate papers for myself, both directly (does this result really hold up?) and by reputation of researchers and institution. (Guys from KU Leuven, UCSD, or the Technion are pretty likely to be serious researchers, frex. You should take new results by Dan seriously, frex.

But this doesn't address two related issues:

a. How do outsiders decide which papers are BS and which ones are important? Journals and conferences do some of that work for you, but not all of it--a lot of frankly pretty pointless stuff gets published even at the best conferences.

b. How do employers evaluate the importance of your work? I work at an institution with a fair number of other cryptographers and a boss who understands my work pretty well, but the higher-level administration simply could never tell a first-rate research result from snake oil in my field, except by reference to some kind of measure of journal and conference quality.

It's not obvious how to solve these two problems, but it is pretty clear that they're not quite the same problem, though they're related.

--Grad students will compete to see who can rip the most popular papers the most thoroughly, hoping to make a name for themselves if successful. at least, that's what happened in every seminar my grad program had.

Really? They ripped famous tenured faculty who could some day in the near future be offering them a job in FRONT of that faculty? Not bloody likely. only amongst each other.

In many science fields, the grad students write the reviews for the profs who are refereeing. They do not say anything unpolitical, because everyone knows whose research it is and which groups would be the referees. No one wants to open themselves up for the negative criticism they own work would receive. This is the problem with supposedly rigorous peer review.

What a bizarre post. Care to explain how you come to your predictions/conclusions?

'It would be easy to refuse to referee, since you wouldn't fear being shut out of publication of that journal'

So you are saying that, as long as a scholar does not care about being shut out of publication of a journal, it is easy to refuse to peer review? Is this your policy as well for accepting or rejecting peer review assignments? You refuse to peer review for journals you do not see yourself submitting a manuscript to? If yes, would that journal preference be influenced by the prestige (say, the journal impact factor) of the journal?

Read the whole post. There is some really insightful information here. thanks

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