Can Post-Publication Peer Review Really Work?

I recently became aware of Webmedcentral.com, a collection of biomedical journals that publishes research articles online under the unique philosophy of “post-publication peer review”.  The flagship journal of this website, WebmedCentral, promises publication of any article within 48 hours, with absolutely no review process beforehand.  Articles are then open for commenting by members of the scientific community, who are encouraged to post complete peer reviews in the comments section of each article.

With all of the controversy over the validity of peer review, impact factors, and traditional print publishing, I was very intrigued to check out this new concept and see how it actually works in the “real” (online) world.

The pros and cons of post-publication review

There are clearly several advantages to this publishing concept, including:

  • Immediate online publication – this definitely beats waiting around for months during the peer review process, biting your nails and hoping for the best.
  • Visible feedback on your research – getting online comments on your article means in theory that you could hear what other scientists think about your work before you run into them at a conference (for example); of course, other open access or online journals allow comments as well (post-peer review).
  • Publication of atypical articles – this site provides a quick and simple way to publish different types of work, such as theses and training documents.

However, it seems to me like there are many disadvantages as well, such as:

  • Quality of reviewers – prestigious or well-known journals attract knowledgeable reviewers; I wonder if posting online comments to this type of journal selects for a certain type of reviewers, who may not be as qualified?
  • Data quality – since no peer review occurs before publication, it’s up to the individual reader to determine the quality and trustworthiness of the data…or wait until other people have commented, and judge it based on their opinion(s) too.
  • Value to your CV – while it’s always good to see your work published, I suspect that a publication in this unusual journal would not carry much clout when it comes to padding your CV or listing your professional accomplishments, since it is such an atypical forum for publication.

Unusual features of this journal

Because of its online platform and broad scope, WebmedCentral.com also has a few quirky features that you wouldn’t find at a typical journal. For example:

  • Open peer review – since comments (or “reviews”) are submitted directly by the readers, the name of the reviewers are posted along with their review, which is not how standard journals typically operate.
  • “Industry-sponsored research” section – the journal has cleverly designed a section for publishing research sponsored by pharmaceutical companies and other industries, who can find it challenging to publish in standard journals due to inherent conflicts of interest.
  • Publishing your own journals – the ease of online publication means that this site will happily publish any sort of specialized journal that you like, including a journal just for your school, department, or society.

Conclusions

Interestingly, the group that launched Webmedcentral.com is planning on launching a standard online peer-reviewed journal in the near future. I find this telling: I wonder if the post-publication per review idea was perhaps not as successful as the founders had hoped? It’s a dirty secret of the industry, too, that journals are for-profit entities, so it’s entirely possible that post-publication review is too new and radical to be profitable.

So what do you think? Is “post-publication peer review” a viable option? Tell us what you think in the comments section!

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