Who wins from failed peer reviews?

The recent retraction of 120 articles from non-OA journals, coming after the attack on OA by the John Bohannon experiment, is the subject of Predatory Publishers: Not Just OA (and who loses out?). The article asks:

Who Loses Out Under Different “Predator” Models?

and an answer is proposed.  Further I want to comment on this.

First, I remark that the results of the  Bohannon experiment (which is biased because it is done only on a selected list of OA journals) show that the peer review process may be deeply flawed for some journals (i.e. those OA journals which accepted the articles sent by Bohannon) and for some articles at least (i.e. those articles sent by Bohannon which were acepted by the OA journals).

The implication of that experiment is that maybe there are other articles which were published by OA journals after a flawed peer review process.

On the other side, Cyril Labbé discovered  120 articles in some non  OA journals which were nonsense automatically generated by SCIgen. It is clear that the publication of these 120 article shows that the peer review process (for those articles and for those journals) was flawed.

The author of the linked article suggests that the one who loses from the publication of flawed articles, in OA or non OA journals, is the one who pays! In the case of legacy publishers this is the reader. In the case of Gold OA publishers this is the author.

This is correct. The reason why the one who pays loses is that the one who pays is cheated by the flawed peer review. The author explains this very well.

But it is an incomplete view. Indeed, the author recognizes that the main service offered by the publishers is the  well done peer review. Before discussing who loses from publication of flawed articles, let’s recognize that this is what the publisher really sells.

At least in a perfect world, because the other thing a publisher sells is vanity soothing. Indeed, let’s return to the pair of discoveries made by Bohannon and Labbé and see that while in the case of Bohannon experiment the flawed articles were made up with for the experiment purpose,  Labbé discovered articles written by researchers who tried to publish something for the sake of publishing.

So, maybe before asking who loses from flaws in the peer review, let’s ask who wins?

Obviously, unless there is a conspiracy going on from some years,  the researchers who submitted  automatically generated articles to prestigious non OA publishers did not want their papers to be well peer reviewed. They hoped their papers will pass this filter.

My conclusion is:

  • there are two things a publisher sells: peer review as a service and vanity
  • some Gold OA journals and some legacy journals turned out to have flawed peer review service
  • indeed, the one who pays and does not receive the service looses
  • but also the one who exploits the flaws of the badly done  peer review service wins.

Obviously green OA will lead to fewer losses and open peer review will lead to fewer wins.

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