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A Tribute to Aaron Swartz - Post all academic articles for open public review, and end the traditional peer-review process

I did not know Aaron Swartz but I feel deep grief at his passing, and the circumstances.

I suspect that many people believe that the research of governments and academics belong in the public domain and should be available for all to review or simply access. This would eliminate the need for journals which set up an elite system that decides who can and cannot access the articles.

The idea behind the peer-review process is that others with robust knowledge (hopefully) of the material makes an assessment of the research methodology, accuracy etc etc.

In an open review process, the article would be placed on the institution's or authors' website which is designed to allow discussion. Anyone with interest can read the article and interact with the authors. The reviewers are not anonymous and their names, qualifications, knowledge of the topic will be known and available to the authors. The discussion remains public and online. There will likely be more than the traditional 3 reviewers, and the open discussion would strengthen the critical reviews.

One of the very unfair aspects of Aaron's case is that the real "thieves" are, in many cases, one or more of the listed authors who have not contributed to the articles, have plagiarized or otherwise taken credit for the work of others. The open review process might force some of the dishonesty from academic publications, while fulfilling the hope of open access.

What are your thoughts?

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  • Jan 20 2013: I think TED is the wrong forum for this. Most people on TED forums do not contribute to academic publications. So, the preferences of most people here is irrelevant.

    Having said that, many fields that I have come across already have academics who have been pushing for open access for quite a few years now, and have already achieved a good deal of success at it. See https://plus.google.com/104362980539466846301/posts/WStiQ38Hioy or http://www.nature.com/news/mathematicians-aim-to-take-publishers-out-of-publishing-1.12243 for recent examples.

    The peer review process for many open journals is (IMHO) moslty good enough. However, there are still some people in academia who prefer an even more open review process: http://arxiv.org/pdf/1011.6590v1.pdf

    There is already a trend towards more openness, and I don't see Aaron's death making much difference to it. However, Aaron's death has shaken the convictions of the people actually responsible for his despair - the agencies of government that made this particular kind of prosecutorial overreach possible. "Shaken the convictions"? Well... I think they are spineless worms, and do not have real convictions, other than getting their next promotion. Let me rephrase that. Aaron's death has resulted in SOME of them worrying about what kind of crap they can get away with next time.
    • Jan 20 2013: Hello John, Thank you for your input and the links. I think that every opportunity to spread the idea of open, publishing should be seized. To my knowledge there are a fair number of academics, professionals and learned people on this forum, though the number of people who comment are far fewer than those who read the posts.

      I hope you are wrong about Aaron's passing not making much of a difference. I hope it causes people to think about and act on what he was trying to accomplish. We are a reactive society and the reaction typically tends to be short-lived, but one can only hope that the impetus to do something is strong enough for greater steps to be taken. Thanks again.
      • Jan 21 2013: Articles such as http://bostonherald.com/news_opinion/local_coverage/2013/01/ortiz_says_suicide_will_not_change_handling_cases reaffirm my cynicism.

        begin quote >>
        Ortiz’s spokeswoman, Christina DiIorio-Sterling, said last night the Swartz case won’t affect the office’s handling of other cases. “Absolutely not,” she said. “We thought the case was reasonably handled and we would not have done things differently.

        “We’re going to continue doing the work of the office and of following our mission.”
        • Jan 21 2013: Hi John, this does not surprise me. When people pursue a selfish goal, there is total disregard for all else, and no thought given to the humanity involved. It is very sad. This does not mean that we should not strive for open/self publishing. The technology is available but it requires the will of academics and the persistence of everyone. Thanks for the follow-up.
      • Jan 22 2013: I'm not pessimistic about open publishing at all. That's one thing I'm very optimistic about. This is an Idea Whose Time Has Come®.

        These big publishers (Elsevier, Nature, Science, IEEE, Springer, Wiley) became big because publishing used to cost a lot of money, quite apart from the actual paper and print costs, there was the cost of actually running the business. With the internet, collaboration becomes a lot easier, and some academics realize that they, with a few volunteers, can actually run a journal in their spare time. If you start googling on this, there won't be an end to it.

        Interestingly, my own field, which shall go unnamed, has taken a completely open approach to the whole thing. Anyone can download ALL the papers published in the last 30 years or so. Not only that, when researchers write software, it is typically with an open-source license.
        • Jan 23 2013: Thanks John. You are quite right that there are moves in the right direction. There are a handful of journals that are open for full downloads and we are grateful for their vision. It would be helpful if this could snowball to a more complete openness across the board. I think it will happen with time and persistence, but I am sure there is a lot of resistance from those who have interest in maintaining the current system. Cheers.

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