The Value of Peer Review: A View from Publons

Andrew Preston of Publons
Andrew Preston of Publons
Peer Review Week, a week where a whole host of content centered on peer review shared across the academic and scholarly community, concluded last week. Here we  interview Andrew Preston, co-founder of Publons, an organization dedicated to speeding up science by making peer review faster, more efficient, and more effective, to address some of the key industry debates that surround peer review. This piece originally appeared at SAGE Connection.

Can you tell us and our audience a little bit more about the role of Publons with Peer Review?

Our mission is to speed up science by harnessing the power of peer review. We give reviewers verified cross-publisher recognition for peer review so it can be used on their CV. We support any type of review, whether it’s blind and unpublished or completely open.

Why? My background is in research, so I learned about peer review by publishing articles and later reviewing them. Academic research is ruled by incentives and the incentives to review are pretty weak. The reviewing experience isn’t great either: there is no training for how to be a reviewer, no way to keep track of the articles you’ve reviewed, and your work is discarded once the manuscript is rejected or accepted.

At Publons we think that by recognizing review we can turn reviewing into a more rewarding experience that doesn’t end abruptly once you’ve completed the review. We help you to keep track of articles after you finish your review, so for example we’ll notify you once it’s been published. After publication you can read open reviews (which can be quite informative if you’re trying to learn more about how to review or if you have questions about an article you’re reading) and get credit for contributing your own questions or comments.

Peer review can be a highly contested topic in the news and within scholarly communities. Do we need alternatives to peer review?

By and large, I think we, as a community, actually do a pretty good job of peer reviewing. We publish more than 2 million articles every year and in most cases they’re peer reviewed pretty well. That’s quite remarkable!

That said, publishers clearly face a lot of problems finding expert reviewers and mitigating fraudulent activity and is part of the reason for the high cost of publication. This is because we are still using 19th century technology to manage the process.

We believe that a modern system like Publons, which verifies review records while also supporting blind and unpublished reviews, provides the research community with the perfect platform and tools to improve peer review without actually needing to find a distinct alternative.

As a community what can and should we be doing to ensure the quality of academic research?

At an individual level I think it’s important to set aside time to review. It’s also important to publish your thoughts and notes about the published articles you read. The questions you have about these articles are the same questions others will have. It doesn’t matter whether you do this on twitter, a blog, or on Publons — the key is to make this discussion a part of the sphere of human knowledge.

What do you see as the future for peer review and how we, as a scholarly community, will be engaging with it in the future?

I think that peer review is only going to become more important as we publish more and more. I also think we’ll want to start recognising the crucial role that editors play in arranging to make peer review happen. My guess is that researchers will also start using published review as a way to gaining additional understanding about publications.

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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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