Gatekeeping of Peer Review
Updated: Apr 8, 2021
Who holds the keys?
The process of peer review as a standard in science is relatively young - its modern form really only appearing in the late 20th century. Essentially, the purpose of peer review is to endow a scientific manuscript with the added values of scientific credibility and scientific integrity, conferred by a consensus of expert peers.
It makes sense... right? The idiom "two heads are better than one" seems to suggest that communal decision making leads to better judgements. If we take this notion beyond two heads, we arrive at the "wisdom of the crowds" phenomenon, beautifully rooted in the mathematics of the central limit theorem, where the collective average opinion of a crowd of independent observers better estimates some truth... or, as you've might experienced it, guessing the right number of jelly beans in a jar at a conference.
Well, do the added opinions of 2-3 experts in our modern form of peer review actually achieve the goal of answering the question as to whether or not the work being reviewed should be published? It's actually an active topic of discussion with its fair share of critics (ourselves included). Despite its flaws, it seems as though its here to stay, as the vast majority of scientists view peer review as both extremely important and a vitally necessary component of the scientific process, though some renovations are in order.
So, assuming that this gatekeeping adds these aforementioned values to science, who then holds the keys to this gate? Better yet, who is the keymaster of peer revision?
That's right, its Rick Moranis! Not quite... memes aside, its actually the venues of scientific publications - the scientific journals and their associated publishing groups. Currently, the only way to access professional peer review is by submitting a manuscript to a journal an letting their editorial team recruit reviewers who work voluntarily.
If you had a manuscript that you wanted to subject to the rigors of professional scientific peer review, you'd have to:
submit your work to a journal (manuscripts only)
get it past the editors desk to review (some journals have 75% desk rejection rates)
have the editors hunt down reviewers for you (can take up to more than a month)
wait to get the reviews from unincentivized and burnt-out reviewers.
and if you see this process all the way through to publication, it takes on average up to a year and costs about $3,000 (increasing at a rate of 5% annually) if you want to publish in an open-access manner. But, what if you wanted to have your work professionally checked without starting a year long, one-sided, relationship with a journal? , What if you want a preprint, a grant, or even a back of the envelope calculation sanity-checked? What if you want to publish your work independently, yet still desired the stamp of integrity given by the professional peer review process?
Opening Access to Peer Review
We believe that peer review should be more accessible to those who most directly reap its intended value - the authoring scientists and society. We think the keymasters of peer review should be the scientific community itself.
We are restructuring the entry point of peer review through our community-driven peer reviewer marketplace, a new eprocurement-like professional service economy for peer reviewers. Engineering the pathway of peer review as such gives the opportunity for peer reviewers to reclaim the value of their review services (more on this later) and allows both authors and editors to submit works for revision.
Tyler Quarton, PhD
Founder & CEO Atlas Open Science, Inc.
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