November 15, 2015

Ledger - a journal for cryptocurrency papers

"Ledger" was recently announced as a journal for cryptocurrency papers, and the timing was rather spectacular. Everyone agrees this is a good idea.

Today I had a look, because I and some friends have some papers that might be published there. Several things reached out, so I thought I'd put them out here and see if they resonate.

1. The Ledger team seem to have taken on some criticism of the academic process and gone for more openness in several areas:

  • Ledger has created a peer review system where reviews are publishable by authors. What Ledger have done is ensured that reviewers can be published and held accountable for their reviews. This should go some way to stopping academic cliques building up, a fate that I can attest to directly.

  • Papers are CC-licensed so immediately and popularly available. Discourse is well served. I am not sure where the others are now, but I've had my arguments in the past with the proxies of Springer-Verlag wanting to own my mind. Those days are dead.

  • Fast turn arounds promised.

2. Business-wise, Ledger is a direct competitor to existing forums Financial Cryptography (the conference) and to a lesser extent WEIS. Now, this is fine in my view as (a) the space has massively enlarged from the niche it once was, and we can easily support more forums, and (b) Ledger is oriented to the paper distribution process whereas others are primarily presentation-oriented and networking. Also (c) the founder and coiner of Financial Cryptography, Bob Hettinga, always made clear that this was a competitive market ;)

3. It is not immediately clear who the reviewers are. While the core might be its Editorial base, the asset of a peer-reviewed journal is its hardworking reviewers. Specifically, the asset can be attached.

4. And, immediately the attachment begins. If you look at the Editor's page, they have fallen into the same trap as the financial cryptography conference fell into in 1998 - academic control. Of the very long list of fine editors, only a tiny minority are outside the University system by either affiliation or title. Whatever you think of the academic world, it is very clear that it is a discriminatory system, and many fine contributions are squashed or stolen for it.

5. In which world, reputation and cites rule. Which leads to anonymous authorship:

Under extenuating circumstances, the journal may permit authors to publish under a pseudonym. Authors should include a statement describing why they wish to remain anonymous at the time of article submission. Only manuscripts where quality can be judged exclusively from the content presented in the paper, and where the scope of any conflict of interest problems would be limited (should they exist), will be considered for anonymous authorship.

Ledger are clearly skeptical of the notion of anonymous authorship because as academics they are so used to leaning on the reputation of the author. A bad paper by a leading author always trumps a good paper by an unknown, and it is practically the law that the profs must co-author the papers of the candidates so as to cross that barrier.

Ledger are thus clearly skeptical that the paper's words mean much independently of the author's reputation. Leaving it at odds with the Bitcoin community is as it is, as, under those rules, Satoshi's paper would not have been published, and we'd not be having these discussions. Now, it's fine for them to do this, but what I'd point out here is that this is further evidence of 4. above: academics setting themselves up to capture cites.

6. In not charging for papers, nor distribution & access, the Ledger has a clear financial business problem. It (probably) relies entirely on two sources: the volunteer time of reviewers, and the paid salary of academics.

The nature of scientific enquiry has moved on since the days of the controlled paper distribution. All papers from now on must be free of economic control, or we get the Satoshi effect - the most important paper in the field was never published in a forum, because under the rules of all the forums, it could not be published. The old forums out there had economic controls, and those controls were captured by the very people who could benefit from the controls - cites are promotions are money, and paper is trees is subscriptions.

Ledger presents the disturbing academic dilemma in a nutshell. The Internet has solved the paper-subscription economic barrier, but not the citation-peer-review circle. And, it leans very heavily on academics on salary, which is the other side of the same coin - what is the economic model that both sustains the machine, and rewards the quality?

If you're thinking I'm arguing both sides of this - you're right. I can see the problem. I don't have the answers - unless you want something superficial like "publish papers on the blockchain!" But we won't find the answers until we understand the problems.

Posted by iang at November 15, 2015 10:38 AM

However, if you publish on the blockchain with something 'Ricardian' built in could reward the author ( and the reviewers) for the citations... though there are of course timelag issues ;-(

Posted by: Arthur Doohan at November 17, 2015 04:03 AM

The Open Access movement also saw the rise of new publishing platforms and mega journals like the Public Library of Science. It also birthed new business models for academic publishing, from the traditional journal subscription model to the Article Processing Charges (APC) or publication fee model and hybrid Open Access publishing options with traditional publishers.

Under the APC model, researchers, research funders or research institutions take responsibility for the payment of these charges, covering the journal’s costs, so that articles can be be published in an Open Access manner and be free to use.

But these changes in support of broader public access seem to have been to little avail. Publishers are maximising profits with a hybrid model of double payments, also referred to as “double dipping”. They collect Article Processing Charges from researchers to publish in an Open Access format and still collect subscription fees from users.

British higher education support body JISC conducted a study to explore this practice. It averaged the APC payment for 2014 by 20 universities in the United Kingdom at £1581. It concluded in a separate study that the overall increase in the total cost of ownership – subscription and APCs – when compared to capped subscription fees was as high at 73% at one UK institution.

The shifting model also brought with it a flood of predatory publishers, pirated academic journals and a variety of unethical research practices.

Posted by: Why it's getting harder to access free, quality academic research at November 18, 2015 03:08 AM
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