A mission to speed up science – Publons

A mission to speed up science - Publons

Dr. Andrew Preston is the co-founder of Publons.com. Publons was founded in 2012 with a mission to speed up science by making peer review more swift, efficient, and effective. One of the key components of accomplishing this is providing researchers recognition for their peer review. As of September 2014, Publons has more than 50,000 reviews by 28,000 different reviewers in hundreds of different journals.

Dr. Preston is an economist and physicist by training. He holds a PhD in condensed matter physics from Victoria University of Wellington and ended his postdoctoral research in x-ray spectroscopy at Boston University, Massachusetts.  

Can you give us a brief overview of the current peer review system from your perspective?

Peer review is a core part of the way we publish research today. We estimate that researchers perform more than Five million reviews every year. It’s very hard to be sure about this because there truly is no place to see who is reviewing what. Some researchers have added hundreds of reviews to Publons tho’; there truly is a large amount of unrecognised work in peer review that we’re attempting to help researchers highlight.

Publon — the word embodies a concept. Can you tell our readers about the name and how Publons is addressing current peer review issues and concerns?

I’m glad you asked! I’m a physicist by trade, and in physics we talk about elementary particles like electrons, photons, gluons… The ‘publon’ is a facetious term for the elementary unit of publishable research. It alludes to the publish or perish nature of academic research but is also meant to recognise that peer review truly is an elementary part of research.

Can you walk us through both the pre-publication and post-publication peer review process and how the merits rating system works? 

Publons recognises reviews done on our platform and for journals. In either case, it’s very ordinary to add the review to your profile. We verify those reviews with journals so that reviewers can get official credit, even if their reviews remain blind and unpublished.

We then help you to generate a printable record of your reviews that you can use for spectacle reviews and even things like continuing medical education (CME).

While Publons suggests reviews by peers only, it still encourages scholarly engagement from others “via embarking or joining a discussion about a paper, commenting, or endorsing someone else’s review.” Why did Publons feel it was necessary to create this space?

One of my private frustrations as a researcher was coming across parts of papers that I didn’t understand. Of course, you can then go and ask your colleagues but in many cases it would be so much lighter to have some way of interfacing with the authors and reviewers themselves. We attempt to facilitate that, and to turn this skill into something the entire world can use.

Would you, as an academician, choose to submit your paper blind, dual, or open? Why?

I lean toward open review myself, but I recognise there is a place for all kinds of review.

As a researcher I was always frustrated by the fact that reviewers seemed more difficult than was necessary while at the same time putting less thought into my research than I had. Of course, I realise that I was not much better myself, largely because there is no incentive to good review.

Publons is an attempt to fix this incentive problem by providing reviewers credit for their work and — in cases where it’s possible — opening peer review so it becomes a formal part of the sphere of human skill.

What are some of the challenges of open access pre/post-publication peer review that Publons has had to overcome? Where have you seen progress?

People haven’t indeed considered that your peer review can be part of your resume. For us, it’s a process of helping everybody in the ecosystem to understand and recognise the possibilities.

It’s commencing to happen. We recently had a nice writeup in Nature about “The Scientists who get credit for peer review”.

How are publishers, funders, researchers, and editors responding to it? Were your expectations of the community’s response to Publons as you expected it, if different, how so?

They love it! One of my favourite things is the feedback we get from reviewers, many of whom who say they now look forward to reviewing because they know they are going to get credit for it on Publons.

How does it work for authors? Do they consent to have their reviews displayed on third-party sites?

This depends on the journal in question and the type of review. We lean toward permitting reviewers to post their own content while ensuring we support key privacy issues — for example, we don’t display review content until a manuscript is actually published. At the end of the day our aim is to develop a positive ecosystem that benefits authors, reviewers, and editors.

Is Publons integrated with other profile-building communities like ORCID to permit integration of reviewer information?

Absolutely. Our purpose is to integrate wherever possible. For example, we just announced an ImpactStory integration: http://blog.impactstory.org/credit-peer-reviews/.

Do you have sufficient editors and reviewers with suitable practice?

We always need more. Our purpose is to have every review on Publons so that all researchers can get credit for their contribution. That’s how we believe we can speed up science. You can sign up here to attempt it out for free.

Thank you, Dr. Preston.


This interview was conducted by Alagi Patel.

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