20 September 2010

Post-publication peer review

“Do you think they’ll notice?”

Last week, I got an email that started off poorly:

Please accept our apologies if we have caught you at a busy time.

I am, and you just wasted another two seconds of it with that useless line. Crud, when you’re bulk emailing researchers, don’t try to convince us that you are all that concerned about our time.

The point of the email was to inform me of a bold new scientific publishing venture! I thought, “Oooh, okay, I’ll bite.” And then the very next line, they lost me and I wriggled away from the bait.

Guaranteed publication of your research within 48 hours of submission

Sorry, can’t take it seriously.

One of the defining characteristics of all academic writing is peer review. Editors and other professional researchers try to filter out mistakes and errors (and, occasionally, cranks).

Yet you publish everything? Forget about being credible as forum for scientific publication, that’s not credible in any form of publication. That has a name in the book business: it’s called “vanity press.”

They try to anticipate the objections, and claim they are still peer reviewed.

Peer review takes place post publication in an open and transparent manner


Reviewing something after it is published is missing the entire point of peer review. I want someone to act as a filter. I want someone to have made a good faith effort to ensure that the article is not a hoax, a crank, or meaningless.

It’s incredibly tempting to send in a hoax article to see if their “post-publication peer review” calls it out as gibberish.

Now, I do admit I was pleasantly surprised by one aspect of this whole thing. I was completely expecting the punchline, where they revealed a submission fee for publication. This is being used effectively by some credible journals, and as scams by others. So this caught me off-guard:

No cost to authors or readers.

Anything free is worth what you pay for it.

With no fees to anyone, I have to wonder how they plan to sustain the effort and archive articles. I worry about the long-term preservation of research with every online journal, even the most successful and established ones. I’ve been online long enough to have seen stuff (mostly non-academic) lost forever.

I am in favour of experimenting with new models of scientific publication as much as the next guy. But if I saw someone who listed an article on this website as a peer-reviewed publication for an application, grant, or anything, it would go to the bottom of the pile instantly. I’m not accepting this as a valid publication model. And I can’t quite imagine the mainstream research community is going to accept it, either.

Disguising vanity press as “post-publication peer review” is going to be as successful as disguising a mobile phone tower as a palm tree. People aren’t going to be fooled.

Photo by purpletwinkie on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.


Anonymous said...

I think sending in a hoax article might be interesting - How about "Telepathin: A novel mammalian protein underlying telepathic communication in rats".

Zen Faulkes said...

Heh. If anyone wants to know the actual site, just email me...