The tradition of peer-reviewed journals in the sciences has been much in the news recently, as online publishing and communally edited wikis threaten traditional forms of publishing.

A panel of distinguished researchers debated the future of the peer-reviewed journal recently on a lively panel organized by Calit2‘s Information Theory and Applications Center.

One of the panelists was H. Vincent Poor, dean of the school of engineering at Princeton and editor in chief of the IEEE Transactions on Information Theory. According to Poor, reports of the demise of the peer-review process are premature. “I don’t think we want to ever completely dispense with careful peer review,” said Poor, remarking that there is no substitute for deliberate and thoughtful review by respected experts.

As for archiving, Poor advises that we make a distinction between what is eternal and what is ephemeral. “If If we think what we are doing is eternal we should put it in a hard copy,” he said. “If we think it is ephemeral, electronic is probably good enough.”

It may seem surprising to hear a digital maven come down on the side of paper but Poor makes a compelling argument, noting that ever-evolving operating systems mean that computer files just a few decades old are already inscrutable. “It’s hard to beat the archival nature of high-quality hard copy,” Poor said. “Just look at the Dead Sea Scrolls. They are 2,000 years old and we can still read them.” He noted, however, that technological innovation might one day bring us a trustworthy electronic archive system.

You can contemplate the archivability of webcasts while viewing the entire conversation of the Calit2 panel here (it is the first video on the page).