Incentivising peer review

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Janne-Tuomas Seppänen describes a new journal that he hopes will provide recognition for good peer reviews

Unlocking new knowledge is an innately rewarding calling for academics, and excellence in research, demonstrated through published work, is the key to academic career advancement. But there are some aspects of academic practice that have less obvious benefits to a researcher.

A good example of this is peer review. What are the incentives for excellence in peer reviewing? Sense of duty is often mentioned, and getting the collegial gratitude of the journal editor. With a slight blush, some privately admit they think there could be some quid-pro-quo for their next own submission to that journal (hopefully they are wrong). However, excellence in reviewing is most commonly "rewarded" only by more frequent reviewing requests from journals that have access to the (private) database the publisher is accumulating on the reliability and quality of your peer reviewing.

The reality is that there is little incentive to invest significant effort into peer reviewing, particularly for already-established academics. The lack of incentives for peer reviewing results in difficulties in finding willing, qualified reviewers in the first place, and then in getting reviews in time. Lacking rewards for excellence, peer reviewing is too often done haphazardly without much effort to justify arguments by logic, data or literature.

Writing carefully-justified, diligent peer reviews should be a rewarding activity. The scientific community should find ways to recognise excellence in peer reviewing.

This is the task that Peerage of Science is set to accomplish. The cornerstone of our approach is peer-review-of-peer-review. Reviewers write knowing that their work is going to be read, judged and scored by their peers. This increases the effort reviewers put into their peer reviews in Peerage of Science, and results in higher average quality. When incompetent peer reviews occur they are flagged with poor scores and can be justifiably ignored, and feedback from colleagues helps these reviewers recognise the need to improve. Peer reviewing in Peerage of Science – done for multiple journals simultaneously – presents the prospect of gaining quantitative, peer-reviewed recognition as excellent peer reviewer.

But it would be even better if good reviewers could gain recognition publicly. Also, it would be great if the justified reviewer arguments – both the praising and the critical – were publicly available to anyone. Hence, we are very excited about today's launch of Peerage of Science's own journal.

Proceedings of Peerage of Science (ProcPoS) is a peer-reviewed, multidisciplinary, invitation-only journal, focusing exclusively on publishing commentary articles.

Since the peer reviews in Peerage of Science are themselves peer-reviewed, ProcPoS editors may choose to invite a high-scoring peer reviewer of a given manuscript to contribute a commentary targeting that forthcoming article. Thus good peer reviewers gain a citable publication out of the reviewing work they do in Peerage of Science. Another avenue to get published in ProcPoS is to write a commentary targeting a published article. While it is not possible to submit directly to ProcPoS, anyone can submit to Peerage of Science a commentary manuscript targeting any published article; ProcPoS editors track interesting manuscripts there and may make direct publishing offers to the authors just like other participating journals.

We hope ProcPoS grows into a popular and widely followed post-publication peer review platform, where anyone can publicly promote works they consider deserving more attention, or publicly criticise flawed research, or draw attention to overlooked implications – if their arguments withstand peer review and are judged worth publishing by our editors. We envision that the best peer reviewers gain solid reputations as respected science critics, so that investing time and effort into doing high-quality peer reviews becomes a valuable part of advancing an academic career. ProcPoS should be a journal where all scientists both hope and fear their latest work getting the attention it deserves.

ProcPoS strengthens the core services that Peerage of Science offers for publishers, so funding the journal from other activities of the company makes sense. However, ProcPoS is also an experiment in a new publishing model. It seeks to get revenue from "public patronage". All articles can be freely accessed, but you are asked to purchase a public patron licence if you find the work useful and valuable to you. Patrons pay whatever amount they consider to be fair value, and ProcPoS then pays royalties to the authors. Yes, it is easy to dine and dash, but we trust that people and organisations are honest and willing to support with small payments a model that avoids both paywalls and author fees, while forwarding fair royalties to the authors. One advantage of this approach for a new journal is that it clearly separates the journal from vanity publishers; to generate any revenue, articles have to be perceived valuable by readers, and a selective editorial policy is well aligned with sustaining the journal.

Janne-Tuomas Seppänen is founder and managing director of Peerage of Science and an Academy of Finland postdoctoral fellow at the University of Jyväskylä