Data analysis can improve the vetting of scientific papers, but first publishers must agree to make the information public.
THE JOB OF A PEER REVIEWER is thankless. Collectively, academics spend around 70 million hours every year evaluating each other’s manuscripts on the behalf of scholarly journals — and they usually receive no monetary compensation and little if any recognition for their effort. Some do it as a way to keep abreast with developments in their field; some simply see it as a duty to the discipline. Either way, academic publishing would likely crumble without them.
In recent years, some scientists have begun posting their reviews online, mainly to claim credit for their work. Sites like Publons allow researchers to either share entire referee reports or simply list the journals for whom they’ve carried out a review. Just seven years old, Publons already boasts more than 1.7 million users.
The rise of Publons suggests that academics are increasingly placing value on the work of peer review and asking others, such as grant funders, to do the same. While that’s vital in the publish-or-perish culture of academia, there’s also immense value in the data underlying peer review. Sharing peer review data could help journals stamp out fraud, inefficiency, and systemic bias in academic publishing. In fact, there’s a case to be made that open peer review — in which the content of their reviews is published, sometimes with the name of reviewers who carried out the work — should become the default option in academic publishing.