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Hypermedia Online Publishing: the Transformation of the Scholarly Journal

6.2.8 New models for peer review

On of the criticisms of the peer review mechanism is its lack of transparency (see 5.4.2: Problems with refereeing on page 84). Two main alternatives have been proposed in an on-line environment: open peer review, and scholarly skywriting.

Open peer review comes in a variety of flavours [Odlyzko, 1994], [Peters, 1995]. One version suggests that everything that is submitted to a journal should be regarded as published, but with open peer review providing an ongoing ranking process [Nadasdy, 1997]. This would provide for a wider assessment of the quality (and hence status) of an article. One can imagine authors withdrawing from publication articles which had attracted too much criticism. Quality control would still exist but would be less of a pass/fail ranking. [Roistacher, 1978] even suggests a system where referees provide a numerical ranking between 1 and 100. His proposed 'virtual journal' would then "publish all papers submitted, but would also allow readers to treat papers as if they were published in a series of journals of differing prestige" (p. 20). A much more elaborate system with some similarities called 'consensus journals' has been proposed in [Stodolsky, 1995]. This aims to eliminate the editor in favour of a mediator and use anonymised reviews based on agreed dimensions.

An alternative is scholarly skywriting, proposed by Stevan Harnad [Harnad, 1990], [Harnad, 1995a]. This proposes a model where after a journal has accepted an article and had it refereed, it is then circulated to commentators around the world. They are invited to submit critical commentaries to which the author will respond. Each article is then co-published with the commentaries and response. Harnad envisages a version of this model but not tied to print production systems radically transforming scholarly communication. For an entertaining and vigorous debate about this model see (in sequence) [Harnad, 1995c], [Fuller, 1995b], [Harnad, 1995d], and then [Fuller, 1995a].

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