External peer review is widely criticized as being too slow, biased, and expensive. For most journals, however, it is a necessary process few editors, authors, or their readers would every consider dispensing with. Despite all the blunt attacks peer review receives in the media, the vast majority of scientists believe that the process improves the quality of scientific papers and should not be replaced. The machine is not broken, but it can be tinkered with.
To date, most attempts at tinkering with peer review have focused on minimizing bias. To this end, several journals have experimented (successfully or unsuccessfully) with implementing some form of open review.
Rubriq, a new venture — covered in a recent interview of co-founder Keith Collier by Michael Clark — attempts to work on the issue of speed. The underlying presupposition of Rubriq is that the process could be sped up by giving reviewers a financial incentive to review quickly. Rubriq also posits that the entire process could be made more efficient if an external company managed the peer review process, rather than being managed on a journal-by-journal basis.
Personally, I am intrigued by the notion of privatizing peer review. Peer review, as it is practiced by academic journals (with few exceptions), relies on a complete voluntary market of experts willing to donate their time because they benefit from the system itself, derive competitive advantage by seeing competitor’s manuscripts, or feel that peer review is a duty and obligation to one’s profession, among other personal and altruistic reasons.
The peer review market doesn’t have to work this way, however. Proposals to pay into the system by reviewing papers and accumulating credits, which can be traded for having one’s own papers reviewed (PubCred), or creating a closed community of peers (Peerage of Science), consider non-financial solutions for speeding up the process and discouraging free riders.
Academic publishing is a very complex market. And like other proposals, the success of Rubriq will depend more on how other parts of the system (authors, reviewers, editors, publishers, funding agencies, academic promotion boards) fit into the solution. Rubriq may succeed as a general solution, or may fill a niche within a neatly defined discipline and addressing its particular needs. Rather than discussing the various benefits and problems of the Rubriq solution (readers can review the excellent dialog with Collier in his interview’s comment section), I thought it might be useful to ask readers of the Scholarly Kitchen to provide some feedback through a few quick poll questions designed to approach Rubriq from the perspective of editors, reviewers, and authors:
Thanks for your feedback. Come back in a day to see how others have voted, and I’ll report the straw-poll results next week.