26 October 2016

Real time peer review

There are some discussions about double blind peer review making the rounds on science Twitter this morning, predominantly over whether double blind peer review would help matters. For instance, see this Twitter thread from Sciencegurl; this bit from Timothée Poisot; and watch this poll and replies from Terry McGlynn.

The pros and cons of open peer review, blinded peer review, and double blind peer review are welcome. But I crave a different change to peer review.

I wish peer review was a conversation, not a series of statements.

Right now, a referee writes one long review. This goes to an editor, who compiles and passes them back to the author. The author writes another long reply, point by point, and has to to to address everything in one go. Repeat for each round of review.

Why can’t the comments come from a referee in something closer to real time?

As an author, I would love it if a referee could say to me, soon after getting a paper, “I noticed this issue right away. It’s important, but easy to fix.” And then I make that fix while the referee is thinking about other aspects of the paper, and say, “Done.”

As a referee, I would love it if when I didn’t understand a point, I could ask the author, “Do I have this right?” Right now, I have no way of clarifying the author’s intent until I have gone through the entire review and sent it to an editor. Lots of comments on my review might be based on simple misunderstandings.

I do understand that one advantage to getting a review all at once is that it forces the reviewer to consider the paper in its entirety. You get cohesion and clarity that way. I’m not advocating getting rid of those overall summaries. I would just like to see more ways that authors and reviewers could communicate with each other, and to have the option for back and forth that isn’t measured in weeks or months.

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