Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The value that publishers add

Here is Paul Krugman pointing out how much better econoblogs are doing at connecting economics and policy than traditional publishing. He brings out several of the points I've been making since the start of this blog six years ago.

First, speed: 
The overall effect is that we’re having a conversation in which issues get hashed over with a cycle time of months or even weeks, not the years characteristic of conventional academic discourse.
Second, the corruption of the reviewing process:
In reality, while many referees do their best, many others have pet peeves and ideological biases that at best greatly delay the publication of important work and at worst make it almost impossible to publish in a refereed journal. ... anything bearing on the business cycle that has even a vaguely Keynesian feel can be counted on to encounter a very hostile reception; this creates some big problems of relevance for proper journal publication under current circumstances.
Third, reproducibility:
Look at one important recent case ... Alesina/Ardagna on expansionary austerity. Now, as it happens the original A/A paper was circulated through relatively “proper” channels: released as an NBER working paper, then published in a conference volume, which means that it was at least lightly refereed. ... And how did we find out that it was all wrong? First through critiques posted at the Roosevelt Institute, then through detailed analysis of cases by the IMF. The wonkosphere was a much better, much more reliable source of knowledge than the proper academic literature.
And here's yet another otherwise good review of the problems of scientific publishing that accepts Elsevier's claims as to the value they add, failing to point out the peer reviewed research into peer review that conclusively refutes these claims. It does, however include a rather nice piece of analysis from Deutsche Bank:
We believe the [Elsevier] adds relatively little value to the publishing process.  We are not attempting to dismiss what 7,000 people at [Elsevier] do for a living.  We are simply observing that if the process really were as complex, costly and value-added as the publishers protest that it is, 40% margins wouldn’t be available.
As I pointed out using 2010 numbers:
The world's research and education budgets pay [Elsevier, Springer & Wiley] about $3.2B/yr for management, editorial and distribution services. Over and above that, the worlds research and education budgets pay the shareholders of these three companies almost $1.5B for the privilege of reading the results of research (and writing and reviewing) that these budgets already paid for.
What this $4.7B/yr pays for is a system which encourages, and is riddled with, error and malfeasance. If these value-subtracted aspects were taken into account, it would be obvious that the self-interested claims of the publishers as to the value that they add were spurious.

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