Thursday, 29 June 2006

Peer review and good science

One of the great benefits of the internet, it that it can promote openess and transparency. A good example of this is in the field of scientific publications. It has been a fundamental of scientific practice that peer reviewed papers are an essential part of the process. But numerous questions remain unanswered. In particular, confidential peer review means that someone with ulterior motives can damn a paper, without the author knowing who is blocking it. It also means that plagiarism is possible. I have known of cases of both occurring to colleagues. [Fortunately I am not a scientist, and not bothered by peer reviews]. When I have asked why no one makes a fuss, the response is generally that there is no point. In fact it is slightly worse -- most scientists are scared of making a fuss about anonymous reviewers in case they happen to be more senior acadmemics, who may block promotion, election to the Royal Society or some similar issue.

Initiatives such as the Public Library of Science (PLOS) are to be particularly welcomed, as although still subject to some of the constraints of peer review, certainly promote more transparency. And, more importantly, it allows access to anyone with a computer -- breaking some of the monopolies held by very expensive journals, which make information virtually inaccessible to anyone outside academia in the developed world.

1 comment:

  1. As well as open access, some journals have now also started "public peer review". See - When scientific articles are submitted they undergo a rapid quality check before being published online in the journal discussions section. The paper is open to comments by anyone in the scientific community and all comments are also posted on-line. The article is then peer-reviewed as normal. The reviews (either anonymous or attributed) are posted on-line along with the original paper and subsequently the authors response to review. The final accepted paper is then published online and open access on the journal website. This solves some of the problems traditionally associated with peer review - but is scary - as the criticism of your work is open for all to see.