Can Post-Publication Peer-Review Increase Research Transparency?

Guest Post by Liz Allen (ScienceOpen)

For the 3rd annual conference of The Berkeley Initiative for Transparency in the Social Sciences (BITSS), ScienceOpen, the new Open Access (OA) research + publishing network, would like prospective and registered attendees to consider the role that Post-Publication Peer Review (PPPP) can play in increasing the transparency of research.

AJ Cann/Flickr, CC BY-SA

When we launched earlier this year, we interviewed Advisory Board Member Peter Suber. One of the original founders of the Open Access movement, Peter is currently director of the Harvard Office for Scholarly Communication and the Harvard Open Access Project. His latest book, “Open Access” (MIT Press, 2012), is an important starting point for anyone new to the topic. We asked Peter various questions including “How important is it that OA penetrates research disciplines beyond science?” Here’s what he said:

“It is very important in my opinion. I have been arguing since 2004 that OA brings the same benefits in every field, even if some fields present more obstacles or fewer opportunities. For example, the natural sciences are better funded than the humanities, which means they have more money to pay for OA. In particular, there is more public funding for the sciences than the humanities, which means that the compelling taxpayer argument for OA gets more traction in the sciences than the humanities. In addition, books are at least as important as journal articles for humanities scholars, if not more import ant, and OA for books, while growing quickly, is objectively harder than OA for journal articles. The good news is that OA in the humanities is growing – not faster than OA in the sciences, but faster than in the past. More humanities scholars understand the benefits and opportunities for OA, and are answering the objections and misunderstandings raised against it”.

This graph from a 2010 PLOS ONE article (mirrored and aggregated on the ScienceOpen platform) digs a little deeper into this story and shows the relative balance of Gold Open Access (publishing in an Open Access journal) in areas such as Medicine and the Life sciences in contrast to Green OA (self-archiving of journal articles in an Open Access repository).

2010, Bjork et al.
2010, Bjork et al.

Whatever the research discipline or publishing preference, many researchers are united in feeling that Peer Review is flawed. Anonymous Peer Review encourages disinhibition. Since the balance of power is also skewed, this can fuel unhelpful, even destructive, reviewer comments. The subsequent revise and re-submit process frustrates those who simply wish to share their findings with others with minimum fuss, maximum speed and move onto the next experiment.

At ScienceOpen, we only offer non-anonymous Post-Publication Peer Review. Authors can suggest up to 10 people to review their article. Reviews of ScienceOpen articles and any of the over 1.3mm other papers aggregated on our platform, are by academics with minimally five publications on their ORCID iD.

For those that are not familiar with ORCID, it is an open, non-profit, community-driven initiative to provide a unique, persistent personal identifier for researcher’s to use as they publish, submit grants, upload datasets and it connects them to information on other systems. ScienceOpen are members of ORCID and institutional ambassadors.

Allocating PPPP privileges based on previous publication history is our way of maintaining the standard of discourse about research. We believe that those who have experienced Peer Review themselves should be more likely to realize the pitfalls of the process and offer constructive feedback to others.

All ScienceOpen reviews (short video), require a four point assessment (using five stars) of the level of: importance, validity, completeness and comprehensibility and there’s space to introduce and summarize the material.

In a move sure to please busy researchers tired of reviewing without recognition, each review, receives a Digital Object Identifier (DOI) so that others can find and cite the analysis and the contribution becomes a registered part of the scientific debate.

Should authors wish to make minor or major changes to their work in response to review feedback, then ScienceOpen offers Versioning.  This means that the entire post-publication history of the article is transparent.

An offer for BITSS 2014 Conference participants

When Peer Review is done in the open by named individuals, we believe it should be more constructive and issues will surface more quickly. The resolution of matters arising isn’t simpler or quicker because they are more obvious, but at least they can be seen and addressed. To encourage those in the Social Sciences to try OA, ScienceOpen are:

  1. Lowering our HSS publication fee until such time as more OA funds become available to this community. Needs based partial or full fee waivers are available.
  2. Exploring different publication formats, not just articles
  3. Actively recruiting members of the HSS community to our Editorial and Advisory Boards
  4. Seeking recommendations for existing OA HSS content to add to our platform

For those of you unfamiliar with our author services, here’s a quick rundown:

Please contact Liz at to find out more.

i-47da959fda98db02ed0cefc2dfb02b9c-Liz Allen interview pic (1)

About the author: Based in California, Liz Allen is Vice President of Marketing at ScienceOpen. Following ten years at Nature, she joined PLOS and helped establish broad understanding of and participation in Open Access, including the launch of PLOS ONE in 2006 (now the world’s largest journal). She joined ScienceOpen in May 2014.