LiquidPublication is an EU-funded research project to see whether a new technological approach to producing journals in new ways can provide a superior experience for researchers. It’s been kicking around since 2007, but seems to have picked up at least some fresh press coverage lately. Led by an Italian researcher, Fabio Casati, the main journal effort, called Liquid Journals, eschews peer-review, suggests authors “post instead of publish,” and allows readers to assemble their own liquid journals and compete for readers.
- Their perception that peer-review is broken (a few misguided reviewers can reject papers based on personal vendetta, for instance, and there’s no public accountability)
- Their perception that online publishing lowers barriers throughout the system, so journals with a “choke-hold on distribution” no longer need to dominate
- Their perception that papers are improperly “static informational cul-de-sacs” rather than “living documents”
The first hurdle for a new approach is to demonstrate superiority. That may be a struggle for Liquid Journals — judging from video demonstrations on the Liquid Journal site, creating a liquid journal is actually quite time-consuming. This alone might be enough to thwart adoption.
But should a difficult setup not inhibit adoption, other problems might. The premise around peer-review seems especially naive — the Liquid Journals people mistakenly believe that by moving experts out of the current peer-review process, these same experts magically become less likely to be capricious, vindictive, or egocentric.
In the traditional journal, editors are critical to having a responsive, responsible peer-review process. They keep tabs on people, know or see trends in reviews, and, at their best, act as a bulwark against a system becoming chaotic or petty. I’d argue that the Liquid Journals approach increases the likelihood of peer-reviewers becoming disengaged on a large scale, and amplifies the risk that those who remain in a system that insists on their compulsive attention is likely to attract reviewers who are more likely to be capricious, vindictive, or egocentric.
From what I can see, the Liquid Journals approach doesn’t save readers any time, either, a critical failing. In fact, it has the potential to make it harder to find information. Tellingly, like a lot of these supposed “solutions,” it shifts the burden onto the reader, represents a form of filter failure, doesn’t manage abundance in any meaningful or useful way, and assumes that it is somehow superior because peer-review is in crisis (which, as we have shown on numerous occasions over the past week, it likely is not).
So, all the high-minded and unrealistic mistakes persist in the Liquid Journals approach, with the most foolish of them being the dismissal of brand as a marker of quality. By allowing liquid content to pool in myriad puddles instead of being part of a clearly defined brand presence with continuity and consistency on a meaningful level, users of the information have something worse than no indication of quality — they have a cacophony of quality signals, with no clear upper boundary on number, no promise of consistency, and no path to reliability.
Their proposal is a set of shortcuts that just won’t work.
The idea also smacks of funding latency — it might have sounded good when it was proposed back in 2002 or something, but by the time the funding request made it to the bank, the world had moved on, lessons were learned, and the idea seems simple in the worst sense compared to where we’ve come.
Running a journal is hard work, especially a journal with a meaningful brand, which usually involves a deep community identity and commitment. A journal is about much more than the technology of paper, ink, wires, or electrons. Thinking that technology can make a journal is not only wrong — it’s just plain lazy.