Great minds think alike (when they're trying to fix peer review)

PeerJ is a new open access publishing initiative which you join by paying a flat one-time fee, entitling you to publish as many open-access articles as you want for the rest of your life. Articles are peer reviewed for technical soundness. The initiative was founded by some serious scientific publishing bigshots.

But that’s not actually what I wanted to note. In passing, a recent Nature news article on PeerJ says that

To avoid running out of peer reviewers, every PeerJ member is required each year to review at least one paper or participate in post-publication peer review.

Hmm, wonder where I’ve heard that idea before? Wait, it’ll come to me…

p.s. Just to be clear, I’m not claiming that PeerJ got this idea from Owen Petchey and I. I just feel vindicated that something like our “PubCreds” idea would be incorporated into a serious publishing business venture. More than one, actually. This also vindicates a remark which scholarly publishing consultant Joseph Esposito made to me at a publishing conference: PubCreds will happen when someone figures out how to monetize it (or in this case, monetize a larger initiative, of which something like PubCreds is one component).

9 thoughts on “Great minds think alike (when they're trying to fix peer review)

  1. I have always thought that for every paper I submit for review, I need to review 2-3 papers, as that is how many people review my paper. If I review less than that I feel like I am taking advantage of the system.

    • And you’re right! The trouble is, you have very weak incentives to behave that way, and very strong incentives to behave otherwise. Hence the need (if not now, then in the near future) for something like PubCreds (although the late Elinor Ostrom might argue otherwise).

      • Ah! Just wrote a brief bit harping on this on your earlier entry.

        Of course, Ostrom wouldn’t at all argue otherwise. She’d argue, rather (or I’d argue that she’d argue, to be presumptuous) that the perverse incentives at work are not inherent to the system because the system is inherently like a common property resource, but rather the perverse incentives are at work because the specific institutions maintain and propagate said incentives. One could as easily draw the parallel (I think) to scientists’ public engagement–direct service to the public is (in my experience) the least rewarded/endorsed form of service, but is likely a form of service the general (American) public would like to see more of. (Indeed, almost all of my non-academic family and friends always assumed public service–outreach, education, working with local groups–would be a cherished and venerable part of professorly work.) The public, however, is paying for (much of) our work. Now, we do and should argue that completing our research itself is a form of giving back, but we should also acknowledge that other services (high quality undergraduate instruction, direct public outreach) are being *underprovided* compared to what might be socially (or democratically) desirable. The fact that the incentive structure is set up so that we bust our asses publishing in journals few of the public can or would access, partly in order to build strong records in order to apply for and get competitive public funds in order to do more research and publish more papers; AND that doing almost no direct service with the public will have (as far as I can tell) pretty much no negative impact on your academic standing (in ecology), and that doing a LOT of such outreach is mostly viewed as the purview of the long-tenured or the Already Amazingly Accomplished–well, we could call this a common property resource problem, but why? The problem is simply that the “rules of the game” are not set up to produce certain outcomes. (The “resource exhaustion” element can be integrated via the fact that public support for science funding would likely be stronger if public engagement were higher, though I will acknowledge that this would require some evidence.)

        Long story short: are there perverse incentives and an increasingly overtaxed partially dysfunctional system? Yes. Are there incentives to free ride? Yes. Is it a common property resource system? Not really. And the proposed solutions truly bear very little resemblance to privatization, very little to Centralized Regulation, and much more to the kinds of nuanced, formal and informal cultural institutions that solve problems–just as Ostrom’s work discusses.

  2. It’s another interesting initiative, and the Open Access integration puts it a step ahead of Peerage of Science, in my opinion.

    I think they’re being overly generous about the exchange rate for reviewing vs submission, I tend to think more in line with Skeeter’s 2:1 ratio (but happily discount all the crappy reviews I get for my submissions).

    And Jeremy, you shouldn’t underestimate the motivational power of good old fashioned Calvinist guilt. It’s always reminding me I should accept those nagging review requests.

    • If guilt was such a powerful motivator, there wouldn’t be any need for PubCreds.

      I assume they require only a minimal amount of reviewing/commenting for the sake of simplicity. Yes, this absolutely could come back to bite them, especially since they seem to have no mechanism to guarantee quality of reviews. Owen and I envisioned that reviews that were, in the view of the handling editor, too brief/sloppy to be useful would not earn payment. I could be wrong, but as far as I know there’s no equivalent mechanism at PeerJ.

      • An interesting thing to consider, however, is the extent to which this means something *else* in academia will fall through. The problem, of course, is that the academics’ currency is *time*. (Well, that, and actual currency.) What will we do less of in order to do (appropriately) more reviewing? The problem isn’t so much guilt’s lack of force (I’d argue), but that it is not possible to do all the things required of academics to the highest level of quality. While this might be true broadly of many jobs, I think it’s uniquely true of academia–when I was in the private sector, being excellent at making my product, and not entirely an asshole to be around, were pretty much all that were required. And I had one, maybe two “products”. I certainly had far fewer simultaneous projects (you can count as well as I how many things are on an academic’s plate at once). So while I think PubCred is a good step, it doesn’t solve the underlying problem that there are too many tasks (at least at top tier TT institutions) for any person to really excel (or even completely fulfill) responsibilities in *all* of them. Creating requirements to do more of one thing will arguably move “shirking” simply to another area… Rather than guilt not being powerful, it is perhaps just that self-preservation and (approximately) rational prioritization are at work — as well as selection and pressure. Reviewing lots of articles will not benefit most of us, tenured or untenured–the marginal benefit of reviewing one more article to strengthen your CV is low once you have a steady reviewing record. From a life history perspective, I’d argue we should be worried what the trade-offs are if people really do start reviewing more–and what we should do to change the overall constraints, rather than (only) add another axis of constraint 🙂

  3. Pingback: In praise of pre-publication peer review (because post-publication review is hopeless) | Dynamic Ecology

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