Peer review is often said to be a bit like democracy: it’s the worst form of review that exists except all the alternatives. New technologies mean that it’s within our power to capture what’s good about it, and to change what isn’t. If we’re able to have an honest conversation about this, I’ll be very pleased.
At PLOS in the not-too-distant future, we want to improve many aspects of peer review. We believe it should be: transparent, with reviews posted and signed; more inclusive, so a broad community can contribute; and also continuous, so that rather than something that happens at a single point in time, it evolves as science evolves.
We should provide better recognition for reviewers. It’s considered a moral responsibility of researchers, many of whom contribute a considerable amount of effort – and yet the reward is almost nothing! It makes researchers cynical. Many find it particularly intolerable when commercial publishers directly profit when reviewers get no remuneration.
Finally, it simply has to be faster and more efficient – this is a major barrier to publication. Continuous review means we don’t necessarily wait until everything is final before being prepared to share work. We do have to provide assurances that it hasn’t been plagiarized – it’s ethically and technically sound – but we shouldn’t have to wait for additional experiments to be carried out, for instance. There is room for improvement without losing integrity.
There’s nothing to say a paper that is judged as being of low potential impact in a field won’t be significant in another. Our search tools are so sophisticated now that scientists can approach the scientific literature as a whole. On the other hand I’d say that there’s no such thing as completely objective peer review – as much as we like to believe and sincerely try to be impartial when reviewing papers, it’s extremely subjective. The illusion that it can be anything but is actually a barrier to us.
The FSSC sessions on Peer Review are being held in collaboration with the Wellcome Trust, who have commissioned a report, ‘Scholarly Communication and Peer Review – The Current Landscape and Future Trends’ from the Research Information Network.
This post was first published on the Royal Society’s In Verba blog on 27 March 2015.