For years, traditional “peer review” has come under fire. A jury of three experts, the peer reviewers, assess each article and recommend only those that they feel represent the most significant new work.
At many elite scientific journals, fewer than 10 percent of the articles submitted are accepted. Many of the rejected articles eventually travel down the “food chain” to be published in a plethora of less prestigious (and less noticed) specialty journals.
A year ago, the respected US journal Science was forced to retract two papers it had published about stem cells. The articles had been submitted by a South Korean team led by Hwang Woo-Suk.
Peer reviewers, as well as the editors, had failed to detect the fraud. In general, peer reviewers, themselves researchers pressed for time, don’t try to re-create experiments and rarely ask to see the raw data that supports a paper’s conclusions.
While peer review is expected to separate the wheat from the chaff, it’s “slow, expensive, profligate of academic time, highly subjective, prone to bias, easily abused, poor at detecting gross defects, and almost useless for detecting fraud,” summed up one critic in BMJ, the British medical journal, in 1997.
There is no doubt the traditional “peer review” publication process is a biased and closed system and it thrives on the incestuous relationship between dominant intellectual personalities and not the research itself. I know many young researchers are forced to please their mysterious peer reviewers by osmosis and if they do not appropriately honor the existing research, their work is purposefully and resoundingly canned by the peer review process where the reviewers have all the power to close discussion and demolish the expression of daring ideas.
Many universities use a record of regular publication as a high water mark of excellence in their in their young faculty. If you want tenure, and if you want to thrive in your department, you are forced to play the peer review game. That is wrong. When young, brilliant, minds are stuck in the conclusions of the past, only the status quo is confirmed. Wild and imaginative science is always struck down by those in power who do not wish the current tenor of their own research challenged by new methods and processes.
Opening up the research publication process to everyone is what inspired me to create the Scientific Aesthetic Quarterly several years ago where the fine work of my Public Health students could be read by everyone and not just me or a selected peer review board before making publication to the all-seeing, all-knowing, unblinking, public eye. The mission of my life has been to open publication avenues — but many young scholars are so concerned about their financial future that they play along with peer review instead of stretching out into Quarterlies like Scientific Aesthetic to face a wider, and more voracious, audience:
But science’s hidebound traditions are changing. The Internet has opened up new forms of publishing in which anyone in the world can find and read a scientific paper. And papers themselves are becoming more interactive, leading readers to the underlying data, videos, and discussions that augment their value. With blogs and e-books providing easy means of self-publishing, some observers are speculating that scholarly journals and their controversial system of peer reviews may not be needed at all. …
Two new scientific publications, both available only online, may signal what’s ahead. The PLoS ONE ( plosone.org), a journal begun by the Public Library of Science (PLoS) last month, aims to put as many new scientific articles as possible on the Internet to be read by anyone, free of charge.
The Journal of Visualized Experiments, or JoVE ( myjove.com), is a kind of YouTube for researchers. It operates on the theory that a short video showing how an experiment is done is better than thousands of words that attempt to describe it. … In coming months, says Chris Surridge, the managing editor of PLoS ONE, readers also will be able to rate papers on their quality, such as how surprising or groundbreaking the results were – much in the way Netflix subscribers rate movies they rent using one- to five-star ratings. In this sense, PLoS ONE is moving toward a Web 2.0 model, which focuses on user-generated content strategies already used by websites such as Digg.com, Slashdot.org, or Amazon.com.
It was a great delight for me to help hone this new thinking on the web where a deep variety of minds are encouraged to question the findings of science and research — with their own science and research — and not just the privileged few stuck on a peer review board. Watching a scientist perform an experiment streamed in a real-time web video is how all research memes should be documented from this day forward because it makes the means of discovering science more vulnerable and more accessible to the general public. Isn’t that the sworn duty of moral science?
The very scientific process itself will come under greater scrutiny as common thoughts and minds are allowed to inquire and wonder about the results, analyses and findings. That is right. If you had the opportunity to buy a hardcopy article or an electronic one, which one would you choose and why?
Is traditional peer review important to you — or not — in making a decision to buy — or not? Would you pay the same amount of money for a paper journal that you would for an electronic-only version? If yes, why? If not, why not? Do you expect an eBook to be less expensive than its hardbound twin? If yes, why? If no, why not?