How Do You Solve a Problem Like Peer Review?

The August issue of The Scientist features several articles that discuss the problems with the current anonymous peer-review system of scientific research papers—many of which have become even more obvious as the Web gains popularity as an alternative for rapid publication and access to manuscripts.

In I Hate Your Paper, Jef Akst identified 3 specific problems with the traditional peer-review process, and then presented some alternative strategies that are being tested by various journal editors. I’ve summarized the ideas discussed in the article here:

In Peer Review and the Age of Aquarius, Sarah Greene suggests that increased use of the Web by journal publishers, authors, and readers has accelerated change in the traditional manuscript review processes. First, the journal impact factor, which is based on the number of times articles from the journal have been cited, has been rendered nearly meaningless by the rise of open-access publishing on the Web. In the Internet age, the impact of individual articles might be more appropriately measured in terms of page hits or downloads. The Web has also introduced the concept of post-publication peer review, in which an article is published on the Web first and then undergoes open peer-review, with reviewers’ identities and comments published alongside the article.

What does all this mean for the manuscript editor? One commenter on my previous post lamented that the rapid pace of online article submission and publication will mean that more articles will appear online without the benefit of a final review by an editor. I certainly hope that the value of a manuscript editor—either prior to submission for review (the author’s editor) or prior to publication (the copyeditor)—will not be overlooked as review methods are overhauled in the name of speed and efficiency.  When the science is eventually lost in sloppy grammar and spelling mistakes, perhaps the pendulum will swing back the other way, and the process will slow down a bit to accommodate a round or two of careful editing.

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