Kathleen Fitzpatrick on the virtues of Open Peer Review

The open review of Planned Obsolescencehttp://mcpress.media-commons.org/plannedobsolescence/

The open review of Generous Thinkinghttps://generousthinking.hcommons.org/

Sara: Copyright chat is a podcast dedicated to discussing important copyright matters. Host, the copyright librarian from the University of Illinois, converses with experts from across the globe to engage the public with rights issues relevant to their daily lives.

Kathleen Fitzpatrick is director of digital humanities and professor of English at Michigan State University. Prior to assuming this role in 2017 she served as the associate executive director and director of scholarly communication of the Modern Language Association. Fitzpatrick is author of Planned Obsolescence: Publishing Technology and the Future of the Academy by N.Y.U. Press in 2011. She is project director of Humanities Commons, an open access, open source network serving more than ten thousand scholars and practitioners in the humanities. She is also co-founder of the digital scholarly network media commons where she led a number of experiments in open peer review and other innovations in scholarly publishing. We’re very happy to have her with us today on a copyright chat. Welcome to an episode of copyright chat where I have Kathleen Fitzpatrick with me in the studio live. Welcome Kathleen thanks.

Kathleen: Thanks for having me.

Sara: Kathleen is here as a part of a big data summit, so I was really lucky to snag some time with her, and I’m really excited because you have a lot of really great projects around open access so I thought I would just start by asking you, how did you get involved in the open access movement. Kathleen: That is a really good question. I…my first memories of having gotten involved in anything related to open access came about the time I was trying to get my first book published and I was running into some challenges finding a press, this was right after the dot com bubble had burst back in 2001, and so you know, it was just scholarly publishing was in a bit of turmoil at the time. And at the same time that that was going on I had a blog, and I was you know posting there frequently, I was writing with friends I was having lots of really open discussions, and I started thinking well what would it be like if scholarly publishing looked more like blogging? What if that kind of energy and that kind of open communication were a part of what we did with journal articles or with books or with other kinds of serious research outputs and that thought process sort of led me a little at a time into recognizing that there were all of these other folks who were working on thinking about some of the problems in scholarly communication and particularly around open access around finding ways to make sure that the products of scholarly research are more openly available to more people.

Sara: That’s fascinating because I think of this podcast as one of those types of outputs where it’s scholarly and yet openly accessible. The only differences folks can’t really communicate back with us, and I do occasionally get the e-mail or two from fans saying this is great, but one of the projects that I was really fascinated with is that you’ve been involved in the open peer review process, and I think that’s a really cutting edge issue can you talk a little bit about your experience with that and why you thought it was useful?

Kathleen: Yeah absolutely so coming out of that experience with my blog and recognizing that there were all of these people that I’d been in communication with who had really contributed to the development of the ideas that went into my second book, Planned Obsolescence, I realized that–you know—the book needed to go through a peer review process, but those were the people that I wanted to hear from. I really wanted their input and I recognize that there were a lot more people out there that I could get really important feedback from then just, you know two or three anonymous reviewers who would submit traditional reports so I had a conversation with my editor Eric Zinner or at N.Y.U. And said, you know I would really like to be able to open the manuscript up online and to get comment and feedback from a wide range of people. And I think the press at first thought that this was a crazy idea. This doesn’t make sense, why would you want to do this, you know, I don’t know if this really counts as peer review, so the, alongside the open process, submitted the manuscript to traditional reviewers, and I opened up the manuscript in comment press online so that anybody could comment, you know at a paragraph by paragraph level on what was going on in the text. And I ended up with forty some-odd readers who left hundreds of comments in total, and who most interestingly, really engaged with one another in the comments, right. You know, I would see people disagreeing about a particular point, or amplifying one another’s points, and that really helped me understand what it was I actually needed to do in the revision process so the conclusion to Planned Obsolescence, which I hadn’t written at that point, focuses some on comparing that open review process with the traditional reviews and thinking about what the strengths of each of them were and how we might work toward developing more open peer review processes that allow for that kind of feedback in a more dynamic way.

Sara: So was the publisher concerned also that folks would be reading the manuscript before it was published, that it would be less valuable, so to speak, in their—you know—output?

Kathleen: Yeah absolutely, I mean they were they were quite concerned, and I think to a certain extent with reason that the open version of the manuscript online would wind up cannibalizing sales, right? That people would say that that was enough and that they didn’t need to go buy the book. In fact, what it did is, you know, a lot of people got brought to the book by the open review process or, you know, they Google it and my manuscript, the online version comes up they read some of it and then they think, you know what, I actually want to sit down with this in a quiet place. I want the print version—they go off and buy the book. So the open manuscript online actually wound up driving sales rather than cannibalizing them.

Sara: And I think that’s a similar argument that I’ve heard within our institutional repositories where a PhD student is kind of afraid of putting their work in the institutional repository, but that actually can serve as a marketing tool to get people interested and especially since their PhD dissertation is not going to be the exact same output as their book.

Kathleen: Absolutely. Most editors will say that there’s a great distance in terms revision and rethinking and really transformation of what was a dissertation into the thing that becomes the book, but they also note I mean a lot of editors that they find material online that they think, oh we want to develop this into a book, so we want to work with this author, and so it does become a sort of a means of promoting one’s work to have those early versions available online.

Sara: Did you feel as an author that there was any less, I guess, strenuous review going on in the open review process? Because I know that one of the qualms with it is that it’s not as serious as an anonymous review.

Kathleen: You know I don’t find that. I’ve now opened my third book online again and so I have two different book projects that I’ve done this with and in both cases the online reviews have been very serious and they’ve been very…I’m not sure what the word I want to go for is… it’s not pointed in a negative sense, but really quite critical. I mean they have really pushed me on making sure that the points that I’m making are really the points that I intend to make they’ve directed me to places where I’ve missed things and they’ve I mean they’ve been really quite helpful. What they haven’t done is been dismissive or undercutting, which anonymity allows for, right, in ways that having signed reviews—and I mean in both cases, with both books, I didn’t ask reviewers to sign their names, they could have given a pseudonym, they could have done anything they wanted to, but they chose to sign the reviews, they chose to be who they were in this, because they were in dialogue with me. And there’s something about the fact of that direct dialogue that I think makes the critique that is contained in those evaluations more… trustworthy, more… I understand how to take it, right? I know how to interpret the comments that are coming to me. That having been said, what I did find in the reviews of Planned Obsolescence—when we had the open process and then we had the two traditional reviews as well—was that the traditional reviews, they do something structurally different, right? Those reviewers are asked by the press to look at the entirety of a manuscript, to think about it structure, to make sure the chapters are in the right order, that the arc of the argument makes sense. And there’s a way in which the open review process focuses readers on the local point more, so that they’re responding to what they’re reading right at that moment—it becomes harder to get that holistic view of the manuscript. So it’s more a different function that they serve, rather than a different level of critique, I think.

Sara: I wonder if that could be solved though, if they were also asked those similar questions at the end.

Kathleen: Absolutely.

Sara: So I’ve also, in serving as a peer reviewer, been given a different view based on the questions that I’m asked.

Kathleen: Yes, absolutely.

Sara: That’s a big driver—driving force for the reviewer is, “What do you want to know?”

Kathleen: Right! Exactly, exactly we did… We, being Mike, my colleagues at Media Commons and I, did a study of best practices for open review processes for a range of different kinds of publications and scholarly communication communities and what we finally determined was: there is no one specific set of best practices that we can recommend, except that the community has got to sit down and decide what they want out of the review process, and how to create a process that fits what they want as the outcome. So yeah, asking those questions is the key to the whole enterprise.

Sara: But I do like the idea. It sounds like there are a couple things going on there. One is, you’re getting more of the line by line/I don’t understand this particular point, which you miss a lot in peer review, and also you’re getting the opportunity for a dialogue among the reviewers which you completely miss in peer review, which if you look at the Association of College Research Libraries, one of their most recent information literacy guideposts is, “scholarship is a conversation.” Right, it’s not just me telling you something and enlightening you and going off and doing my own thing. I mean, the whole thing is that we’re conversing among scholars, and peer review that’s open seems to be at the core of that.

Kathleen: Absolutely and that dialogue is really the key component for me of the open review process it was great having more readings and more perspectives and getting a sense from more comments of how I should move forward with the revision but it was really, really important to see commenters talking with one another about particular points, backing one another up or disagreeing about a point, to really—you know, instead of getting two utterly isolated readings that might say completely orthogonal things about the manuscript, instead seeing that they were in dialogue really made a huge difference.

Sara: And I love your point about the, I guess, “respect” that was shown with having to—not having to sign your name, but knowing—first of all, they know who you are, often in peer review, you don’t know who the author is because they’re double blind, but they’re also willing to say, “I did this review.” And I think that that does lend some credibility to what they say, and also some just professional-ness. I feel like sometimes the reviewers can just get unnecessarily harsh. Maybe they’ve suffered from a bad review, or who knows exactly what their motivation is, but I don’t think it’s really useful to get, or to receive, or to give such a review. And, you know, to keep some of that kindness in in the review, I think it’s better for everyone.

Kathleen: Absolutely, I mean to recognize that we are in a community, and that as a community what we’re trying to do is produce more, better work, right, rather than to tear one another down seems really crucial. Yeah and I do think as well that that ability to represent the comments as having come from a particular reviewer actually matters, that it’s not just a matter of knowing that this particular reviewer who I trust said something that was important but also that I as the author am now able to give them credit for that idea that they brought me to. So in the revision of Planned Obsolescence and with the new book as well, I’ve made a point of really gesturing toward those reviewers who gave me ideas out of their own spirit of generosity that really changed the way that I think about the argument that I’m making.

Sara: That’s a really interesting point and it just got me thinking about the copyright of all of this, because in double blind peer review you really can’t give anyone credit for their points because you don’t know who they are. There is no way to cite that peer review. Anonymous peer review number one! Right? You can write that, but then their open response, they have—they own that response, they have given you that content and now you are able to give back and cite that, and it’s just the symbiotic relationship. I think that’s a beautiful thing too.

Kathleen: It really is, and the thing that I would love to see scholarly communication working toward is a system in which that kind of work of reviewing not only is credited in my citations in the revised version, but is actually credited as part of your original scholarship—that you as a commenter have really contributed to these projects in ways that are just as important as your own original articles and manuscripts.

Sara: Well speaking of that, and this brings me back to the Elsevier lawsuit that just came out, Elsevier has recently sued Research Gate, and I have a longstanding (kind of) dispute, I guess with Elsevier in my own heart and mind, but you’re talking about giving credit for that review. So often the work that we do as board members of journals, as peer reviewers of journals as authors of journal articles, is completely without payment, without compensation, and without credit now. As an author we can put it on our C. V., but we’re not getting paid by that. The people who are getting paid are the big corporations and so, is this one way that we can kind of take ownership back our work?

Kathleen: Absolutely! And to say that, I as a reviewer, I’m going to put my effort, my labor into work that is open, that is part of this community. I am working on building this community rather than contributing to a journal that is taking labor out of the community.

Sara: And it’s hard though. I’m a board member on a board of a journal that is open access—completely open and everything is cited “cc-by,” The Journal of Copyright in Education and Librarianship—and it’s a wonderful journal, but it also has funding needs, and there are no subscriptions. So one of the really big issues driving the open access movement is funding. How do we continue to support this type of work when we do have big publishers out there and they are subscription driven?

Kathleen: This is an enormous question and I think it’s one that’s going to get a lot of attention in the next year plus as more and more folks who have been working on open access are now starting to think about sustainability questions and how we build scholarly communities that can be self-sustaining. There are lots of projects that have come at this through community supported architecture that are really attempting to think about how the academy can come together and support itself in producing this kind of work. So you see something like Open Library of the Humanities, where all of the journals are open access, but also do not require author payments in order to publish. They’re supported by the libraries that make contributions, that support the network as a whole, recognizing that it’s a shared common good. I think we’re going to see more and more projects like that. There is an initiative that is in development right now that’s really looking at the ways that libraries are contributing to open access and getting libraries to think in a really conscious way about how they’re supporting the kinds of publications that they really want to see take root in the world. So there’s a lot of work to be done around this, but I’m hoping that the next couple of years will bear some fruit.

Sara: I hope so too, because I do see the struggle even in my own work, where I’m trying to get—you know, I’m asking for people to give money towards this worthwhile journal and the response is often, “But there are other open access journals and they too want funding, so how do we decide? And we also have all the subscriptions we have to pay, and so the money’s tight.” And I guess in my ideal world if I were dreaming, and I could just wake up and say, “Ah-ha! The libraries now own all the journals, and they’re all open access!” That would be my dream world where we just shift the dynamic, and we just say, “We’re done Elsevier. We’re just done Springer Nature. We’re just done. We’re not giving you our money, we have created these other worthwhile goods that we are—we’ve produced the labor.” It’s almost like a cooperative grocery store kicked out the corporation and we own our own show, but getting there is not easy.

Kathleen: No, it’s not, and it’s going to be a process of transition but I think there’s some really great folks who are working on thinking about how libraries can support that transition and thinking about how we can work with scholars to get them to recognize that it is in their interests to think differently about how they’re making choices about where to publish, how they’re making choices about where to review and how they’re contributing their labor to the process of scholarly communication.

Sara: And I’d really like to see promotion and tenure dossiers value open access publication and value, like you said, peer reviews. I mean we do—right, we’ve done a peer review, but it’s usually pretty low on the totem pole of what we have done, it’s a service item, and it’s like a line that gets just moved over very quickly. I think raising the profile of that work is really something that is a novel way of thinking about it, and I also think of—you know—who’s doing the work as I think of service and I think a lot of women who are professionals and professors end up doing a lot of service. I know I do a lot of service. I don’t know if I’m talking about other women or just myself, but—and I enjoy doing it, but a lot of times it’s just thankless work, right? And so to have that and say, “This is not—this is the service of scholarship, but it’s really important.” I’d love to see that, the profile get raised.

Kathleen: I completely agree and I think that we have to really approach promotion and tenure standards in a way that encourages us to think about contributions to the community and that can be the community of scholars, that can be the community of students, that can be the community surrounding our campus, but that all of the work that we’re doing—the things that we now separate out into research and teaching and service—are all in their ways contributions to community building, and understanding that as being the root from which everything else grows can help us transform those processes from ones that value exclusivity and prestige into ones that value connection and communication.

Sara: Wow that’s a really powerful message I just I hope our dreams come true.

Kathleen: Me too!

Sara: Because that would be a world that I could get behind, I would feel like, “This is my thing.” You know academics are our caring for each other and we’re community and we’re propping each other up instead of trying to shove each other down to get into Springer Nature or what with our firstborn child. So I definitely think that’s a good goal. Well thanks so much for visiting with me today, I know you have a busy schedule and I look forward to hearing more from you, more about what you’re working on, and I hope that we’re able to make this impact in the future, and if folks are interested in other work that you have I’m going to put some links on the bottom or at the top maybe on this blog. So, I hope that you all tune in and get in touch with Kathleen if you want to be more involved in open peer review.

Kathleen: Absolutely thanks a lot.