Senior Researcher, Center for Studies in Higher Education (CSHE)
University of California, Berkeley
How and why do faculty make choices about where they publish? What factors color their attitudes about publishing in new electronic venues such as open access journals and blogs? According to an explorative study conducted at the University of California, Berkeley, faculty are wary of electronic publishing venues primarily because they are associated with a lack of quality control through peer review. Instead, faculty tend to rely on tried and tested journals and publishers for their information needs. “Conventional peer review is so central to scholars’ perception of quality that its retention is essentially a sine qua nonfor any method of archival publication, new or old, to be effective and valued. Peer review is the hallmark of quality that results from external and independent valuation. It also functions as an effective means of winnowing the papers that a researcher needs to examine in the course of his/her research.” The study, conducted by C. Judson King, Diane Harley, and a team of researchers, was supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. It was motivated in part by the oft-cited “lack of willingness of faculty to change” as the key barrier to moving to more cost-effective publishing models in an environment of escalating costs and constrained resources. The study is based on approximately 50 in-depth interviews with faculty, administrators, librarians, editors, and publishers, and formed the basis for five disciplinary case studies — English Language Literature, Anthropology, Chemical Engineering, Law and Economics, and Biostatistics.
Among the study’s findings is a tendency for many members of the research community to equate electronic-only publication with lack of peer review, despite the fact that there are many examples to the contrary. Moreover, because of the very nature of peer review, this factor holds back even those who are fully aware of the advantages of fully peer-reviewed e-journals, because they know that the individuals reviewing their work for advancement may well not have that awareness.