NET NEWS: Provosts Tout ‘Decoupled’ Review

Science  03 Jul 1998:
Vol. 281, Issue 5373, pp. 7d
DOI: 10.1126/science.281.5373.7d

Faced with spiraling costs of commercial journals, some university leaders are talking up an unusual proposal: They want to separate a paper's peer review from its publication, so that once “certified” the work could be published in a separate step—even on one's own Web server.

Journal prices are skyrocketing: For example, Elsevier Science's Neuroscience just 3 years ago cost $3487 for a year's subscription; now it fetches $5073 a year. Several provosts first aired the “decoupling” idea last year and have been shaping it ever since ( The proposal calls for learned societies to form review panels that would certify a paper as publishable; then the authors could seek to have it published on paper or electronically. Ideally, such certifications and old-fashioned publications would carry the same imprimatur in tenure decisions, says Provost Charles Phelps of the University of Rochester in New York, whose allies include provosts at Caltech and Columbia University.

The idea got a cool reception at a meeting with a few scientific societies at Columbia last month, however. Martin Blume, editor-in-chief of the American Physical Society's journals, says one big problem is that panels couldn't be asked to say “this is publishable” without a particular journal in mind. Blume also notes that APS and other groups plan to launch some online, low-cost journals, a move being promoted by a university coalition formed last fall by the Association of Research Libraries. Phelps says, “That's fine by me if they can achieve the same goals”—that is, “inject some competition into the certification of ideas.”

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