Peer-reviewing scientific papers is one of the greatest (if not the greatest) bottlenecks of scientific articles publishing. You – a final year PhD student or postdoc at the end of a grant – submit a manuscript to a Top Journal and are happy to hear from the editor that it’s been sent to reviewers. A month later you are still waiting. Two weeks after this you receive three reviews. Reviewer N1 is very positive, N2 is lukewarm and N3 is very negative – you think you recognize a competitors’ voice. The editor is very sorry to inform you that the paper will not be accepted for publication, but you may consider sending it to a Very Good Journal.
You correct some mistakes like swapped figure legends, expand the discussion as reviewer N2 suggested, and send the manuscript to a Very Good Journal. More waiting, then two reviews: one positive but suggesting ten more experiments to be done before the paper is accepted, and the second is probably reviewer N3 – again. In the meantime, your grant is quickly running out, and your boss sends the paper to a Good Journal, while you frantically do the suggested experiments, apply to jobs with “manuscript submitted” in your CV and wait for yet more reviews. Sound familiar?
Peerage of Science (PoS), an organization designed to provide “permanent reviews”, is aiming to solve some of the problems associated with the peer-review process. Organized at the end of 2011 by a group of researchers from Finland, PoS is supposed to work as a self-organizing network. Authors submit a manuscript and have an option to choose the timeframe for reviewing and exclude specific peers (reviewers). The anonymized manuscript is tagged using keywords, and peers who indicated an interest in these keywords will be alerted. Peers review the manuscript, grade the manuscript, submit the review, and can recommend it for publication in a journal. The review can later accompany manuscript submission like letters of reference accompany a job application.
Reviewers earn “credits”, which can be used to pay for submitting their own manuscripts to PoS. Further incentive for the peers is the chance to publish review articles in the PoS journal, Proceedings of Peerage of Science. The authors can also provide feedback about the quality of the reviews.
At the next level, editors of traditional journals can search submitted manuscripts and invite authors to submit the reviewed articles. An established journal in the founding members’ area of expertise, Ecography, has already partnered with PoS under this system.
Skeptics have pointed out potential problems with PoS system, starting with manuscripts attracting zero or too many reviewers and ending with the slightly paranoid possibility of competitors getting access to the unpublished data. As a scientist, I like any idea that potentially speeds up the dissemination of scientific information, but I have reservations as well. Firstly, this is a “for profit” organization, which is supposed to earn money from established journals for outsourcing the peer review process. PoS has the potential to become yet one more intermediary in the scientific information market, which used to be a truly peer-to-peer information exchange. Secondly? After almost a year of existence, in September 2012 the number of submitted manuscripts is…46. Not what I would call a publishing revolution.
However, maybe I am too conservative. Do any of our readers have experience with Peerage of Science?
For more tips on keeping track of the scientific literature, head over to the Bitesize Bio Managing the Scientific Literature Hub.
Hettyey et al., Peerage of Science: will it work?. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, Volume 27, Issue 4, 189-190, 09 February 2012.
“Online Social Network Seeks to Overhaul Peer Review in Scientific Publishing”, by Jop de Vrieze, ScienceInsider, January 2012.