Friday, November 18, 2011

Peer Reviewed Study Finds Peer Review Second Best

A study comparing peer review, the gold standard for getting papers approved for journal publication, did not produce as good a product as an "open review", where author and reviewers openly cooperated on producing the best possible product:
Peer review is fundamentally a cooperative process between scientists in a community who agree to review each other's work in an unbiased fashion. Peer review is the foundation for decisions concerning publication in journals, awarding of grants, and academic promotion. Here we perform a laboratory study of open and closed peer review based on an online game. We show that when reviewer behavior was made public under open review, reviewers were rewarded for refereeing and formed significantly more cooperative interactions (13% increase in cooperation, P = 0.018). We also show that referees and authors who participated in cooperative interactions had an 11% higher reviewing accuracy rate (P = 0.016). Our results suggest that increasing cooperation in the peer review process can lead to a decreased risk of reviewing errors.
I'm not surprised, but I'm not sure this "open review" model is one that can succeed on a large scale in the real world. 

First, one of the goals of "peer review" is to weed out the bad science.  Journals simply have much more science given to them to review than they can afford to publish. Making reviewers identities public, will make it more difficult for reviewers to discourage the publication of what they perceive as bad science.  They will fear ill will, and even negative consequences from reviewees and their friends.

Second, having reviewers cooperate in the process of reviewing articles will significantly increase the work required of the reviewers, which essentially makes them co-authors,and many co-authors get away with less work than that. The system is already pretty stressed by the sheer number of articles that need reviewing.  Most busy scientists have to turn down requests to review articles, or they would simply be overwhelmed with requests.

I've long advocated simply abandoning traditional peer-review.  Publish your work on the internet, on a blog, a university website, or whatever, and simply be done with it.  If it's bad, no one will pay attention, if it's good, it will be circulated.  Such a system would take time to develop and get used to, as did the scientific journal in it's day, and some system for notification and dispersal would grow up in time.

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