This is the second post in a series on new, interactive methods of peer review and their advantages—and disadvantages—for early-career scientists. If you haven’t already, we recommend that you first read “Part 1: How Interactive Peer Review Works.”
At its best, interactive peer review can offer authors several advantages:
A collaborative effort. In essence, interactive peer review is a form of collaboration between authors and reviewers; the latter group may include just a handpicked few or the whole scientific community. At open access publisher Frontiers, where reviewers are nominated, they may edit text, correct statistical analyses, suggest clarifications for figures, make suggestions about conclusions, and highlight previous work that should be cited. The reviewers "are very collaborative," says Henry Markram, a neuroscientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, who is the co-founder and co-executive manager of Frontiers. Because reviewers’ names eventually get published on accepted manuscripts, "they don’t want their name with a mistaken paper, so they really work on the paper."
Observing the dynamics of the conversation during peer review can also be helpful to authors. Kathleen Fitzpatrick, director of scholarly communication for the Modern Language Association and a visiting professor at New York University in New York City who studies how networked communication technologies affect scholarship, submitted a book manuscript for online public discussion on MediaCommons Press. MediaCommons, which Fitzpatrick co-founded in 2007 and has been co-editing, is a community network of media studies scholars who investigate and promote new forms of publishing in that field. She found that watching other scholars argue about your work is "really useful." It gave her, she says, a sense of "where there was an issue that I really needed to clarify because it was being misunderstood." Because many of the scholars identified themselves, she was able to contextualize their comments and improve her revisions.
The review process becomes much more supportive and much less about just sort of weeding out the stuff that shouldn’t be in the journal.
A friendly environment. It can be daunting to submit your work for discussion, especially in public, but the atmosphere is generally supportive in these more open peer-review settings, especially when reviewers and commentators identify themselves, Fitzpatrick says. "The responses that they leave tend to still be just as critical as they would be otherwise, but they’re … aimed at being helpful rather than … dismissive," she adds. "The review process becomes much more supportive and much less about just sort of weeding out the stuff that shouldn’t be in the journal."
Visibility. Many journals with interactive review strive to offer authors greater visibility, facilitated by their open-access status. As part of its online platform, Frontiers has also developed a research network where authors can connect with each other and disseminate their papers after publication. According to the Frontiers Web site, the networking capability of the platform, which was put in place in 2012, has increased article views and downloads by 30% and clicks on author profiles by more than 70%. The Frontiers platform also includes an evaluation system that allows authors to track the impact of their publications in real time. "Within hours, you can actually see people clicking on the paper and you can see how much attention your paper is getting," Markram says.
Many authors who submitted their work to Electronic Transactions on Artificial Intelligence (ETAI), which opened the review process to the entire scientific community from 1997 until it stopped operating in 2002, felt that it "was good for them because it brought more attention to their articles," says Erik Sandewall, a computer scientist from Linköping University in Sweden who launched ETAI; he is now retired. Like ETAI, Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics (ACP) invites review comments from the entire scientific community, with the difference that ACP also puts a few nominated referees in charge of the process. Davide Zanchettin, a postdoctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany, who co-authored two papers submitted to two different interactive-review and open access journals of the European Geosciences Union, writes in an e-mail to Science Careers, "A fast publication of [a] discussion paper gives visibility to the study [sooner, so] … it allows for a potentially stronger impact."
Documented priority. Journals like ETAI and ACP make papers publicly available while they are still under review, which can help authors claim ownership of research results earlier and priority over discoveries. "To ensure publication precedence for authors, and to provide a lasting record of scientific discussion, [the discussion forum and the journal] are both ISSN-registered, permanently archived and fully citable,” reads the "Aims and Scope" section of ACP's online description. "If an ETAI-type system were to be used everywhere, then things would be entirely clear, but even in the current situation where ETAI-type systems are the exception, I think the setup of the system gives strong protection for the claim of first published result," Sandewall writes in an e-mail follow-up to the previous phone interview.
Fair treatment. Many open-peer-review journals were created partly to fix perceived abuses in the traditional system, where politics and personal interests can unethically influence reviews and publication decisions. By bringing it out in the open, ETAI created a peer-review system that was "more fair" in that authors and the scientific community could all scrutinize reviewers' work, much as reviewers scrutinize the work of authors, Sandewall says. "That makes it difficult to manipulate the system."
At Frontiers, reviewers' names are published with the paper, but the reviews themselves are not disclosed. Reviewers are, however, invited to publish joint statements to accompany the published article. Frontiers's mandate to evaluate papers on the basis of their scientific soundness instead of subjective criteria guarantees that authors will receive fair treatment, Markram argues. "If you submit a paper to Frontiers and it’s a solid piece of science, it’s going to be treated very fairly," he says. "There is no chance that they have an idea that … can be blocked because people don’t like it," he says.
We'll have more on the pluses and minuses of the new peer review in the coming days. Stay tuned.