Monday, July 29, 2013

The Science OR

Today I got an email via Ecolog, informing me of the birth of a new way for scientists to disseminate their research. Launched by Queens University a couple of weeks ago, one of SciOR's main objectives is to place accountability in the article review process.

The idea that reviewers can say whatever they want and reject papers that conflict with their own beliefs, all behind a veil of anonymity, is not new. Nor is the idea that journal editors select what knowledge is published, and therefore the sphere of knowledge that scientists have. So how does SciOR (or Science Open Reviewed) claim to offer a way around this?

1. Reviewers register with the website and advertise their reviewing experience and offer a list of topics they feel qualified to review papers on. 

2. Authors post paper titles and abstracts as a sales pitch for their papers; SciOR provides a platform for potential reviewers to contact the author's and offer their reviewing services.

3. Authors pick from the list of offers (or invite new ones), and both author and reviewer complete a No-Conflict-of-Interest (NCOI) declaration.

4. Authors pay the reviewers, if that was part of the agreement, and SciOR facilitate the transaction.

5. The authors revise and re-upload the paper, asking for more reviews if they so wish.

6. SciOR serves as a kind of marketer for these articles; journal editors from other journals (or the in-house Proceedings of Science Open Reviewed) pick from the rack of finished reviewed products. They then contact the authors and the authors unpost the paper.

I don't really have enough experience with the peer review process to know if this will work, but the idea of paying reviewers seems a little weird. I don't like the assumption that the SciOR people make that many reviewers don't offer their services "because they are nice people wanting to help advance science", but rather imply that people enjoy the power the position gives them.  Wouldn't money take it the other way? If people are interested in power, not the advancement of science, then wouldn't this hold true for authors too, meaning that a reviewer powered by money could become a popularist, letting things slip through? Sure there is a second round of editing before complete acceptance, but editors are not specialists in the subject and therefore may not catch mistakes. Meanwhile, the reviewer has cash in hand and the author another publication to his/her name.

Furthermore, is this really any better and more open than the traditional publication model? First, if journals are going to send the paper out for review again, why bother marketing a reviewed product? Won't this retard the publication timeline? Second, external journals are still picking and choosing the articles it thinks are interesting, while the editor of the Proceedings of SciOR has his/her say on the remainders. Editors are still controlling what we know. Foucault lives on.

What do you think - can ScienceOR resuscitate science communication?


  1. Interesting! I hadn't heard of Science OR but there's another newish venture called Rubriq which also operates an author pay model though a bit different from this. Authors paying for their own reviews could be risky as you say...

  2. Yeah - I mean scientists need to sell themselves, but the research should do most of the talking. An author pay model just makes science a giant explicit exercise in marketing, which the Royal We would like to think We are above.

  3. As Alice Meadows mentioned above, Rubriq is quite different from this model. Authors do pay, but some journals do also (some have outsourced peer review to Rubriq). Part of the fee does go to paying reviewers, but Rubriq has an internal team of published researchers that selects the reviewers for each paper; it is a double-blind process.

    We've been talking to some publishers about the possibility of reduced APCs for authors who submit with a Rubriq Report, so essentially the author would get some reimbursement for initial cost of the reviews, and the journal would get a pre-reviewed paper from a standardized, independent source.

    If you are interested in the topic of paying reviewers, we did post some internal data recently on our blog:

    - Lisa Pautler, Research Square (Rubriq, JournalGuide, AJE)