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Seeing Crimson

There is an Opinion Piece in the Harvard Crimson relating to open review and PLoS ONE specifically. I don’t really want to give it any publicity but I felt compelled to reply.

Peter Suber has also made some comments on the posting entitled “How not to defend traditional peer review“. He calls it “confused”. I was a little less polite in the reply that I submitted to their site, so they may not post it. Whether they do or not this is what I said:

“I fully understand the fears expressed in this piece but many are the result of a misunderstanding of what initiatives employing more open review, such as PLoS ONE, are trying to achieve.

For example PLoS ONE is in no way intending to discard peer-review. Rather what we intend to do is submit scientific pieces to pre-publication selection which concentrates more on technical concerns than subjective opinions. Articles won’t be given only “nominal editing”.

The academic editors of PLoS ONE will be going to whatever lengths they feel necessary to ensure that submissions represent good science. Often that will include having the papers seen by a number of independent referees. This will prevent publication of the ‘junk’ science you fear while allowing valuable research swift and efficient exposure.

If that isn’t peer review I don’t know what is.

More generally you talk about the danger’s of creating “a morass from which science might not emerge”. That is not a danger; that morass already exists. Thousands of scientific papers are published in hundreds of different journals each month. And yet the only guidance that readers have about the ‘value’ of these papers is the journal in which they appear. Scientific research should not be judged by the company it keeps but by its inherent worth.

Far from forcing authors to “defend their research’s weaknesses” the current system allows authors to hide what defence they may have mounted in the anonymity of pre-publication review. We are trying to bring that review out in to the open where the discussions that take place can inform the whole community rather than just a small cabal of journal editors. Rather than encouraging authors “to prematurely publish incomplete or uncontrolled experiments” open review will publicly expose such behaviour and punish them for it. The well rounded study will be valued above the headline grabbing, ‘quick and dirty’, which is currently rarely the case.

You admit that traditional peer review “delays the flow of information, can sometimes be biased, and often unduly prioritizes the work of established, famous scientists over the work of lesser-known researchers”. Let’s hope that fear and complacency do not prevent the development of an improved version.”

  1. I think PLoS one has dealt with these “attacks” fairly well. But the best way to defend your point would be to get on with it and launch the journal and let readers decide for themselves.

  2. I completely agree. We’ve been hugely gratified by how much everyone has been prepared to believe in what we have been saying. But the only way that we can justify that trust, and properly answer our critics, is to turn PLoS ONE into a reality. Happily there isn’t very much longer to wait.

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