Recently the Journal of High Energy Physics announced on a listserv that will start giving â€śtoken compensationâ€? to their reviewers. The SISSA rep. wrote to a library listserv: â€śGiven that peer review is the most valuable asset of journals, in the spirit that scientific work should be remunerated, we have decided to allocate funds for this purpose and to pay a token fee for every referee report beginning in 2008. We strongly feel that this new practice in the policy of scientific journals is the right step on the way to further improve the quality of our peer review process. â€ś
Shortly after, an American Physical Society person replied with a response re-announcing their efforts to acknowledge â€śoutstandingâ€? referees through their new award program (info and a full list of awardees). They argued, â€śRather than pay referees, which would increase costs that would increase the price of the journals, the American Physical Society has recently
chosen to give recognition each year to a very small fraction of our 42,000 active referees.â€? ***Props to UMN winners: Allen Goldman, Alexander Grosberg, Cheng-Cher Huang, and Mikhail Voloshin****.
This raises some interesting questions about the services that researchers render, not only in physics, but in most scientific disciplines. For referees, how much time, effort, and energy is too much? When is a pat-on-the-back required to keep the status quo? And most importantly, as all journal publications go electronic, and some stop print all together, how much does the peer-review process actually cost?
If you, the authors, are writing, formatting, reviewing, and editing nearly all journal content (not to mention â€śpublishingâ€? to the arXiv), how much does it cost to provide access to the final result on the web? The reported $30 million a year, or $2000 an article, APS spends on publishing their nine journals seems outlandish considering most of the scholarly effort is pro bono (and APS is thrifty when compared to journal subscription pricing by Elsevier or Springer). Is there a less expensive way to manage an editorial workflow that could be web-based, partially automated, and accomplish the same thing?
If academic journal referees are cheap, shouldnâ€™t the cost of peer-review be in the same ball-park?
Cost is not the real issue for most referees, its time. Check out this letter in the Jan 4, 2008 Science, â€śIn Search of peer reviewersâ€?
For a cost analysis of electronic journal publishing with a near-zero cost alternative, read â€śFixing the Broken Toaster: Scholarly Publishing Re-Imaginedâ€? in a 2007 Science and Technology Libraries.
For a discussion of journal pricing and the SCOAP3 proposal that allows libraryâ€™s to pay for the work produced in their country read â€śFree for Allâ€? in a 2007 issue of Symmetry Magazine.