National open access journal subsidy

This post, originally published on December 7, 2007, on the Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics, (IJPE) is just as relevant today. I am re-publishing today because of technical difficulties for some with access to IJPE and as support for an open peer review post in progress.

National open access journal subsidy

Jean-Claude Guédon, in Open Access and the divide between “mainstream” and “peripheral” science, talks about how some of the really important questions have been overlooked in open access debates, questions like the potential impact of open access on power structures in science.

Open access has the potential to overcome the divide between the mainstream and the periphery, which is particularly important in the developing world.

One model for economic support for open access which has not received as much attention in open access debates is a national open access journal subsidy program. Outside of a very few countries, scholarly publishing has never been profitable, and subsidies have always been the norm. There are a few exceptions, such as the U.s. and the U.K.; even here, when the work given away by authors, peer reviewers, research funders, and the indirect subsidies through library subscriptions are factored in, it is likely that scholarly publishing is basically indirectly

Where journals are directly subsidized, switching to open access just makes sense, as the cost is lower without toll barries (no licensing, authentication, or subscription tracking, for example), and the impact is much greater.

Subsidized journals is a model that works very well for authors of developing countries, who may not have funding to pay article processing fees. A national program can ensure that local journals have the infrastructure and technology they need to succeed and be visible internationally.

Local control of academic publishing has other benefits as well. One example is that a local journal would appear to be much more likely to consider an article on a topic of high priority locally as relevant, than would an international journal. In a scholarly publishing industry heavily dominated by a few international players, medical researchers in developing countries may be more likely to focus on illnesses that impact peoples in northern countries, rather than illnesses such as malaria which have a greater impact at a lower level. A well-supported local scholarly publishing system can address this imbalance.

Librarians are very familiar with the difficulty of locating information of local importance. In Canada, our library patrons are often wanting information of relevance to Canada; when our tools are almost entirely international in nature, it is very difficult to find the local. This is true not only in Canada, but everywhere else as well.

While many aspects of scholarly knowledge are universal in nature, there is much of the local that is important, too.

For example, in humanities, I sometimes wonder whether the need to publish in international journals leads our literary scholars to study the works of authors considered important on an international level, when without this pressure they might be more inclined to study the works of local authors. Could a shift in focus from the international to the local increase the breadth and depth of our understanding of literature – and, at the same time, support local cultures everywhere? Could this result in a happy flourishing of literature and culture around the world?

Scielo is an excellent example of what can be accomplished through a nationally subsidized open access program. While the Scielo portal encompasses the scholarly work of many latin countries, Brazil alone, in 2005, brought 160 fully open access journals to the world at a very modest cost of only $1 million dollars.

Canada is experimenting with subsidized open access journals, through the Aid to Open Access Journals program.

In my opinion, it is not only governments that should be thinking about fully subsidizing open access journals. This makes sense for libraries, too. After all, we are already subsidizing scholarly publishing, through subscriptions. After a little careful reworking of economics, we could transform the system to directly support the journals.

Many libraries are already providing support to facilitate a transition to open access for journals their faculty publish, for example by hosting and supporting journal publishing software.

A useful next step would be to examine the monies spent on journals, and consider whether libraries or library consortia are already paying enough, or more than enough, to fund a fully open access journal. Given that many journals are currently sold in bundles, often international in scope, this will be complex at first; we will need to ask questions that publishers / vendors will not have immediate answers for.

However, we will have to begin asking such questions at any rate. With many journals providing open choice options, libraries will have to begin examining how much is paid for through open choice, and ensure that subscription fees are reduced accordingly, simply to avoid double-dipping; it is, one might argue, a needed element just for due diligence.

If we must focus on such issues in the transition to open access, why not be proactive and determine whether and how libraries can contribute to a fully subsidized, fully open access scholarly publishing system?

full reference:
Jean-Claude Guédon, in Open Access and the divide between “mainstream” and “peripheral” science, in Ferreira, Sueli Mara S.P. and Targino, Maria das Graças, Eds. Como gerir e qualificar revistas científicas (forthcoming in 2007, in Portuguese). The eloquent and profound Guédon is one of the world’s earliest open access leaders, and still among the most active around the world; one of the reasons why we have such strong Canadian Leadership in the Open Access Movement.

This post is part of the Transitioning to Open Access Series.

Cite as: Morrison, H. (2019). National open access journal subsidy. Sustaining the Knowledge Commons / Soutenir Les Savoirs Communs. Retrieved from

Open Peer Review: A Model & An Invitation

In preparation for some current work in open peer review, this is a re-publication of my August 15, 2005 post on The Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics (IJPE), drawing from and building on Harnad’s 1996 work in this area. IJPE is live but some readers (including myself while at my office) are reporting that they are not able to connect. Other links have not been tested.

Open Peer Review: A Model & An Invitation

This is one model for an open peer review system. The idea is to automate a great deal of the coordination of peer review, make much of it transparent, and allow peer-reviewers to take credit for their work. This model could fit well with either an institutional repository / peer review overlay approach, or a traditional journal approach for either OA or non-OA journals, or any combination thereof. Readers are welcome to comment, peer-review, and/or experiment with software approaches based on this model [reference to a copyright approach no longer used deleted].

The idea of open peer review is not new. While this post will not include a full review of related literature, as one example, Stevan Harnad talks about one approach to open peer review as early as 1996, in Implementing Peer Review on the Net: Scientific Quality Control in Scholarly Electronic Journals.

The goals of this model are:

transparent peer review: unlike blind peer review, readers can see the peer review process in action. Rather than accepting an assessment of certification based on a closed system, readers can judge the peer review process per se, for themselves. This model could accomodate a combination of open and blind peer review – that is, a peer reviewer could publish a signed peer review, or provide comments confidentially, depending on the preferences of authors or the discretion of editors. As an example of the latter, when reviewing opinion pieces in an emotionally heated area, some blind review might be seen as preferable to open peer review.
increased science literacy: it is assumed that a transparent peer review process will facilitate science literacy teaching, as more people will be able to see the peer review process in action
better peer review: exposing the peer review process per se will allow for thoughtful reflection on peer review per se, and facilitate research. This will allow for the development of better and more efficient peer review.
peer-reviewer credit: peer review is an important task, which a great many academics undertake on a voluntary basis. A portfolio of signed peer reviews can be added to the author’s c.v. The best peer-reviewers, those who are thorough, considerate, and respond quickly, can be recognised for their work.
automate coordination of peer review: it should be possible to establish databases of peer reviewers, most likely distributed databases with central harvesting of key metadata (similar to institutional repositories & OAI), interoperable with other relevant software programs such as publishing software and calendaring systems, to automate much of the coordination of peer review.
peer review improvements through automation: the efficiencies of automation may make it possible to enhance peer review in ways that are not feasible with a system relying largely on one-on-one contact between editor and peer review. For example, there are many good reasons why it might be desirable to seek out an international peer review panel. An automated system would make it possible to easily identify experts in far-away countries, that the editor is unlikely to know personally. It is also possible to think about peer reviewers checking bits of an article, rather than the whole thing. That is, one paragraph of an article may refer to a completely separate area of expertise from the speciality of the author and main peer reviewers; there could be opportunities to ask a specialist to check just the one paragraph, rather than the whole article.
facilitate and recognise author controlled peer review: There are advantages and disadvantages to author-controlled peer review, where the author takes responsibility to seek out peer reviewers. While this is not presently recognised as peer review, it is widely practiced. In the author’s view, an article which has been peer reviewed and edited accordingly prior to submission for publication, is likely to be a better article. Authors who seek out comments from colleagues, and peer reviewers who are sought out by authors, are both demonstrating an openness to collaboration and willingness to listen to critique – both important elements in conducting scholarly research. Author controlled peer review could be used to supplement editor-coordinated peer review (a pre-peer-reviewed article might need only one outside peer reviewer, for example, while an unreviewed work might need two or three).

In some cases, author controlled peer review could be an alternative to editor-coordinated peer review. It would be desirable to develop a set of criteria outlining the optimum for peer review (peer reviewer meets certain criteria, is not a former student, teacher, co-researcher or co-author, at least one peer reviewer from a different cultural background – more important in social than hard sciences – and so forth). Authors should explain whether and how they have met these criteria; this could be accomplished by an automated list, where the relevant criteria are checked off. Some of this could be be automated, as well – for example, a database of the author’s works will reveal former co-authors, and automated comparison of the c.v.’s of author and peer reviewer will reveal common affiliations.

The model

Peer Reviewer Profiles
An academic who is willing to participate in peer review process creates a profile, which could be stored in the institutional repository. Elements of the profile could include:

  • author name
  • affiliation
  • title / position
  • areas of expertise (ideal might be using a standard list)
  • qualifying notes to each area of expertise – e.g., research specialist, practitioner expert
  • links to author’s own works
  • links to samples of work – open, signed peer reviews
  • comments from authors and/or editors
  • comments from recognised experts on the peer-reviewer’s expertise / ability to peer review in a particular area
  • author’s availability – time and number of peer-review requests the author is willing to accept at any given time.
    The time element could potentially be integrated with calendaring systems, e.g. no or fewer requests at particular times
  • author preferences for peer review – e.g. open access and/or fully green journals preferred, professional researchers only, researchers from developing countries welcome, students welcome (in limited numbers, perhaps?)
  • mutuality – in areas of controversy, authors might elect to publish critical reviews from peers with different perspectives, on the condition that their peer mutually publishes the author’s own peer review. This could provide readers with a good service, in alerting them to the existence of alternate viewpoints.

At the Institutional Repository

  • hosting or linking to author profiles and peer review
  • flexibility to accomodate clusters of versions. For example, lead readers first to the final peer-reviewed version, when available, but also make it easy for readers to find the original draft and peer reviewers’ comments.

Publishing software

  • links to author profiles
  • links to peer reviews
  • means of matching available peer reviewers with authors, editors, journals, or other certifying bodies

Comments or peer reviews can be posted as comments or sent to my contact e-mail found here. Any comments or reviews may be incorporated in future versions of this model. Please indicate if you are willing to allow your comments or review to be posted on this blog.


Peter Suber, August 18, 2005:

Note: Peter wants me to make clear that he does *not* believe that OA depends on peer-review reform, that OA has to wait for peer-review reform, or that OA is valuable primarily for its contribution to peer-review reform. OA is compatible with every kind of peer review and we should pursue it regardless of our position on peer review. (I completely agree, by the way!)

“Just for the record, I believe that peer-review definitely needs improvement and that many promising reforms have exciting synergies with OA. One of my pet ideas (which I wrote about more in the early days than recently) is retroactive peer review. Put the preprint in an OA repository as soon as it’s ready, then apply for review from a journal or free-floating editorial board. If approved, with or without revision, the approved version is also put in the repository with a citation and metadata showing its approved status. So far, this is just an overlay journal. What’s most exciting is the prospect of multiple editorial boards reviewing the same work, say, from different methodological or disciplinary perspectives, with the possibility of each giving (or withholding) its approval, creating something like a market in endorsements and tools that can search and sort by endorsement.”

E-LIS already has many of the components needed
by: Heather Morrison

E-LIS, the open archive for Library and Information Science, already has many of the components that would be needed for an open peer review system. One can already add comments to articles already in the archive – a reviewer could indicate if a comment is intended as a peer review, and link to a Peer Reviewer Profile. All that is needed is some editorial oversight, and communication with the author, and we’re almost there!

An illustration
An illustration of open peer review in action can be found in my Dramatic Growth of Open Access: Revised Update. This illustrates how an update to a peer-reviewed article can be improved, based on helpful constructive criticism on invitation from a friend.

Head and Neck Medicine
Head and Neck Medicine, a new Open Access Journal from BioMedCentral, is planning to follow an open peer review approach. Thanks to Open Access News, Aug. 30.

See also
Behavioral and Brain Sciences (BBS) Editorial 1978 on Open Peer Commentary Thanks to Stevan Harnad.

Last updated September 26, 2005. Minor modifications July 5, 2019.

Cite as:

Morrison, H. (2019). Open Peer Review: A Model & An Invitation. Sustaining the Knowledge Commons / Soutenir Les Savoirs Communs. Retrieved from