In many ways, the Research Works Act has been a blessing (see excellent link round up here). It has taken the moderately complacent but always grousing scientific community and whipped our feelings about the current state and cost of scientific publishing into a white hot fury. Ideas are bandied about, critiques given, and people begin to take action.
So what is the way forward? Certainly we are not getting away from journals in the near term. Or ever, really, as they are fabulous final curated repositories scientific results. They are the end point and gold standard. And I think we’re all coming to the conclusion that a PLoS-like model is a great way to go. Science must end up in an open access repository at the end of the day.
But a final resting place aside, what should the future look like so that research results can be disseminated rapidly and openly? How can we fold in peer review as a part of the process, as it is one of the hallmarks of the scientific quality control.
So I’ve been dreaming. A vision of the future of scientific publishing. What if arXiv, reedit, PLoS, pubcreds, slashdot’s commenting system, figshare, Data One, and Web 2.0 had a baby? This lead to an idea – a concept – a proposal.
So, here’s my vision of the future. It’s not the only vision, and there is substantial room for discussion, but, it’s a start… Consider this a SciFi musing on scholarly publishing.
I sit down with my morning cup of coffee and log into SciX. I am presented with several options on the main screen:
Submit a Paper
Revise a Paper
Review the Reviewers
So, what happens when I click on each of those? Let’s follow each one, one by one.
OK, so, I click on “Read a Paper”. I’m taken to a screen that shows different scientific disciplines and a search box. I click on my discipline of interest, as I’m just browsing. I am presented with a list of subdisciplines, a search box, and a list of papers below that with several sorting options (# of reviews, submission date, review score, etc.) I click on my subdiscipline, and am presented with just a list of papers which I can sort by various criteria and, again, a search box. I sort so that I can see the latest submissions and find one that piques my interest. I click on it, read it, maybe even view some of its supplemental videos or such. I have a strong opinion about it – I think it’s good, but has a few flaws that need to be corrected before it should be accepted by the community. The paper already has one review filed. I read it, and it’s OK, but it misses some key things. So I click review.
I write a brief review, just like a normal paper. I click that my review should remain anonymous. I also need to select one option from the following list:
This paper is fraudulent/not a paper (flag for review).
This paper is not acceptable in its current form (reject).
This paper is good, but requires some large revisions (major revisions).
This paper is acceptable, but requires some changes (minor revisions).
This paper is acceptable as is.
As I think there are some serious flaws, but like the work, I select the major revisions option.
At that moment, it just so happens that I get an email from SciX. The email contains the latest papers in my chosen disciplines and sub-disciplines that have received at least two more acceptable reviews than rejection reviews. I.e., reject is a score of -1, major revisions is a score of 0, and any acceptable score is +1.
OK, great. Let’s move on. Let’s say I wanted to submit a paper. The submission process is the same as any other site except, today when I click on submit, a screen comes up that denies me the ability to submit. It reads that I currently do not have a review to submission ratio of 3:1. I’m all good on reviewing reviews (more on that later), but I need to file more original reviews myself! I grumble about it, bemoaning my days in grad school when I only had to keep up with 1:1, but it’s right, so I go and file one more review before I come back and submit my paper in the usual way – except for that embedded video. After submitting, I like to the doi on my website and CV.
OK, it’s several weeks later. I have received two major revisions reviews on my paper. I’ve done the revisions, and thought carefully about the reviewers responses. So I go back to SciX and click on Revise a paper. I upload the revised version. I then upload an individual response to each reviewer. They are both anonymous, so I don’t know who they are. However, once I hit ‘resubmit’, they are sent an email. It tells them that I have responded to their reviews and submitted a revised version. They have two weeks to look at the revision and the responses. If they do nothing, the paper will be marked as “acceptable as is”. If they wish, though, they can go and submit a secondary review. This review also includes an option of “Did not respond to my review at all.” If both reviewers select this for more than two rounds of resubmission, my paper is booted and I have to start over again.
A few weeks later, both reviews come back positive, and my paper is included in the next email out. I have also received two additional ‘acceptable’ reviews of the paper with no comments attached. I list the score on my CV. I also hit “submit to journal” and select PLoS One. The system generates the proper submission, and attaches the review history. All I do is fill in a cover letter.
I have another paper to submit, but, I know I’m down on my number of “reviewing the reviewers”, so, I click on that option. I am brought to a screen with five reviews. For each review, I also have the title and abstract of the paper. For each review, I am asked to select one of the following options:
Review is fraudulent/someone padding their bank/unrelated to paper (flag)
Review is cursory. Email reviewer for more detailed review.
Review is acceptable, but laced with inappropriate invective. Count as half-review.
Review is fully acceptable.
I quickly go through and click acceptable for all of them, except one that merely says “No.” with “Reject” selected. Clearly, not fair to the author or the community.
With this finished, I go and submit my next short paper. It’s a brief note, but one that I feel important to get out into the literature.
After all of this, I go to my profile page. I check my list of papers, note their current scores and number of downloads and citations, and update those on my website and CV.
So, that’s it. That’s my simple vision. Open access and transparency from hitting the ‘publish’ button to reading and writing reviews. And a reputation based economy so that papers are only marked accepted when the weight of reviews say so, but anyone can still look at them and the comments that others have made about them.
UPDATE I’m tremendously excited about F1000’s announcement of their new F1000 Research which is being discussed across the interwebs. I fear that their model of post-publication peer review will end up suffering the same fate as PLoS One, though – comments on highly controversial or touted articles, but most of the rest going without comment or notice. The above vision solves that problem.
See also (things I have found after writing the above):
Gowers’s How might we get to a new model of mathematical publishing?
Gowers’s more modest proposal
This excellent thread at Math 2.0
Nikolaus Kriegeskorte’s excellent The Future of Scientific Publishing