05 October 2012

Upload the universe: validating self-publishing

Earlier this year, I self-published my ebook Presentation Tips. I did this after getting enough positive comments about it on Twitter that I thought it had enough value to make it more widely available.

There were all kinds of reasons to self-publish it. It was probably too short a book to be attractive to a traditional publisher. I could keep costs low to readers, because I didn’t have to make a profit. I ultimately had full control over the project; I could update it with new material if I wanted, for example.

I did this in part to be provocative, to see how people in my own institution would react.

As expected, I got pushed back, with comments that it was self published and not peer reviewed. I bet that if I had sold it to a publisher who published it as a traditional book on paper, it could get published without any peer review beyond editorial review, and that nobody would even raise the question of whether it was a peer reviewed book or not. Such is the power of tradition.

I think I’m learning what we need to do to make the “do it yourself” option for scholarly publishing more viable.

For me, peer review mainly implies review by peers, unsolicited by me. For me, putting up a document publicly (say, as a pre-print), and then tracking unsolicited comments by other scientists, would be peer review.

Other people have a longer set of of what needs to occur for peer review to “count.” It needs to be handled by an a third party (an editor), who selects reviewers unknown to the author. And those reviewers remain anonymous to the author. Of course, this is the standard, conservative professional publishing model.

For some kinds of works, we could hit all the criteria for peer review using the online science community. I envision something like this. I complete my manuscript. I jump on to Twitter and say, “Hey, can someone handle reviews for this?” Someone agrees to act as a one time clearing house for reviews; more a facilitator than editor. The facilitator contacts a few other people in the online science community by private email, says, “Could you review this manuscript?” Facilitator gathers up the review and ships them back to the author. The write then decides what changes to make before publishing.

This creates a trail to show that the work was peer reviewed, but does not take the power to publish away from the author.

In a way, this is what Bora Zivcovic did for blogging with The Open Laboratory blogging anthologies. Gather works, get a bunch of volunteers to review. And it worked! It took blogging from something that was, when the Open Lab anthology started, something slightly disreputable and dodgy in for many academics (and still is, to some degree) and made into something where people are proud to have made the cut.

I don’t think this would work for original technical papers yet. I think the process of finding skilled reviewers with appropriate expertise would be too difficult for people to do on a sort of ad hoc basis. But this might work for short works meant for a general audience.

Additional, 15 February 2013: Nature reports on a company called Rubriq that seems to be planning something very similar to what I outline above.

Related posts

Presentation Tips for Kindle
Should we give up anonymous reviewing?

External links

Presentation Tips, Kindle edition (yes, that’s my sales pitch for you to buy my book!)
Download the universe
Company offers portable peer review (15 February 2013)

No comments: