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A Proposal for the Establishment of Review Boards - Bruce Edmonds

4. The Potential Impact of Review Boards

The major advantages of this proposal are as follows:

  1. It gives the readers access to richer judgemental information than merely whether it is deemed publishable or not in a particular journal. This information is already produced by reviewers it is just kept private.

  2. Since this extra judgmental information can be provided in a form which can be utilised by search engines then the reader can set their own selection criteria using a mix of judgemental and content-based information based on their particular needs.

  3. The fact that review boards would not own the papers means that they can give complementary judgemental views on some of the same papers. In this way they could help inform their readers about useful papers which would not normally be published in their field.

  4. The fact that the presentation and ownership of papers is not the responsibility of the review board, and the fact that the review process is simplified meanss that review boards are less costly in academics time as compared to journals. Thus a greater variety of review boards will spring up in response to different needs in the academic community (and maybe beyond).

  5. The system adds value to the totalityof academic knowledge in a way which is far more flexible than the existing system. For example once the judgemental information is published software writers can write their own new search engines to allow new ways of searching and relating knowledge.

  6. The system is open, in that there is no private journal-author dialogue. Thus there would be less possibility of editors or reviewers coercing an author to change the content of a paper merely to suit their prejudices.

Possible disadvantages of the system could include:

  1. That the time saved from the private review dialogue, the automation of the management of the review process, and the mark-up of text to fit a journal's style will be less than duplication of review of the same paper by different boards and at different times by the same board. I do no think that a new system of review boards will be swamped with unecessary work, for they will quickly develop rules to adjust their workload. Having said this I do think that in many cases the time spent re-reviewing a paper for a genuinely different audience and hence making it accessible to then, is time valuably spent.

  2. The general standard of papers would drop as a result of the lack of a review dialogue. I do not think that a drop in standards would occur, merely that the mechanism of paper improvement would be different. The fact that a paper would be publicly judged with no chance of redrafting before the judgement is made public will mean that authors take greater care in their first drafts and get more feedback on the paper from colleagues, mailing lists and at workshops. I can envisage review services springing up that offer the author private feedback, but I think these would either be provided by academic institutions internally or charge for their services. If this occurs this would relieve the burden on the journals and review board.

  3. That reliable sources of quality judgement may be lost. Review boards would gain status and permanence in much the same way as journals have. Initially they will be judged upon the eminence of the reviewers and institutions associated with it. Later they will also be judged by their output. I think it will take a long time before people switch allegiances from their trusted sources of quality information. If anything the danger is a transference to new review boards will be slower than is justified by the quality of their output. Also, if they are successful, I would expect the big names in journals to establish their own review boards under their known `brand' to keep their readers and to try to retain the ability to charge using the resource of judgemental information they own as a result of their journal.

  4. That academics in some fields will not have the skills to exploit the new system and so would be at a disadvantage. This is true to different extents in different fields. I doubt that academics in computer science will have much trouble with the new system, so that review boards will be set up in these sorts of disciplines first. The system would then `percolate down' to other areas over time, just as has happened with web-journals.

Overall the ease with which review boards can be established and the flexibility of their nature will mean that the whole system will become more responsive and flexible. Some older, more entrenched institutions will be bypassed. However, in my experience most establishments have the ability to adapt if the need is suitably pressing. One assurance is that the whole system is adaptive and evolutionary: the new will only `take-over' from the old if people vote for it `with their feet'. The authors, reviewers and readers will all adapt their way of working so that they get the most out of the system, so that review boards will have to respond or suffer the fate of being ignored.

A Proposal for the Establishment of Review Boards - Bruce Edmonds - 16 MAR 99
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