Q&A: Publons Aims to Enhance Peer Review

A longer version of this question-and-answer feature originally appeared at SAGE Connection and is reprinted here with permission.

Daniel Johnson
Daniel Johnson

Established in 2013, Publons works with the reviewers, publishers, universities and funding agencies to assess reviewer services, recognize their contribution and explore ways in which to improve the peer review progress for all stakeholders within the scholarly community. Here, SAGE — the parent of Social Science Space — spoke with one of the founders, Daniel Johnson, after SAGE announced a pilot partnership with Publons.


2015 has been an eventful year for Publons. Can you tell us a little bit more about Publons, how you and your co-founder started the company and where you are now?

We started Publons a couple of years ago with the aim of accelerating the rate of scientific progress. I’d say that the critical point leading us to peer review in particular was learning that while a typical peer review takes around four hours, the process of arranging two such reviews on average takes in excess of four months. That delay is an enormous handbrake on science, so we set out to improve the speed, efficiency, and quality of peer review.

Publons is the place for researchers to record, verify, and showcase the peer review work they do for journals.  It provides a way for peer reviewers to get credit for their contributions, without breaking reviewer anonymity, in a format that they can then include in job and funding applications.

The first step in that is to give credit for peer review, and so far so good.  Today we have 38,000 peer reviewers getting credit for 110,000 reviews performed for 7,300 academic journals on the Publons platform.

Publons states in its mission statement that you aim to ‘speed up the process of peer review’. How have you been doing this so far?

Our hypothesis is that by making peer review more rewarding by giving credit to peer reviewers, the peer review process will speed up in at least three ways:

  1. Reviewers are more willing to accept review requests
  2. Reviewers are more willing to prioritise time to do the review quicker
  3. Reviewers are more likely to put more effort into doing a good review when they get credit for their efforts.

We have seen early evidence for this in reviewer testimonials and in our own data. It is metrics such as these that we are closely measuring in our pilots with publishers like SAGE.

A peer review process where editors receive less rejected review invitations, quicker reviews, and more comprehensive and helpful comments from reviewers is better for everyone, so we all hope our early data proves to be correct!

On your website you outline that Publons will help to turn peer review into a measurable output. Can you tell us a little bit more about how this works?

The general idea is to change the perception of peer review as a chore that distracts from other career-relevant activities. For a fast and effective peer review process, we need researchers to want to peer review; to see a review invitation not as a distraction, but rather an opportunity to contribute and to demonstrate their expertise.

A big part of changing this perception is to provide a way for researchers to have their peer review contributions recorded and verified. They can then point to their review corpus as additional proof of their expertise and academic output. This is the core purpose of a Publons profile, which includes a series of useful review stats and graphs, and an exportable summary suitable for inclusion in applications and performance evaluations.

Additionally, a review often contains valuable scientific information in its own right, and Publons allows reviewers to publish their peer reviews of published manuscripts (unless the journal prohibits it). This of course makes the reviews citable and an official part of the scientific literature. Conversely then, this works to kick start ongoing post-publication discussion of published research.

What has the feedback from the market been so far, both from customers and partners?

The feedback has been very positive, largely because we have deliberately built Publons in a way that benefits all stakeholders. This has also been reflected in our fast-growing and engaged user base, as well as through the constant feedback from our academic advisers and the momentum that continues to be seen in our publisher partnerships.

Can you tell us a little bit more about what is next for Publons?

The main priority for Publons in the near future is to grow our base of reviewers and journals.  We have found an innovative approach that is well-received by the academic community and brings real value to all stakeholders. So now the goal is to bring that benefit to as many reviewers and journals as possible.  Further ahead, there are many other peer review improvements to investigate and experiment with. One such example is the facilitation and the growth of post-publication peer review.


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SAGE Publishing, the parent of Social Science Space, is a leading international publisher of journals, books, and electronic media for academic, educational, and professional markets. An independent company, SAGE has principal offices in Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore, Melbourne and Washington DC.

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