Peer Review - reviewed: Andrew Preston, Publons


We are joined this month by Andrew Preston, the co-founder and CEO of Publons. Publons addresses the static state of peer-reviewing practices in scholarly communications with the aim of  encouraging collaboration and scientific development. Their cross-publisher platform collects peer review activity and helps researchers maintain a verified record of their review and editorial work. They also provide and develop free online training tools for peer reviewers.

Publons’ commendable efforts were recognized during Peer Review Week last month after they co-won the ALPSP Awards for Innovation in Publishing 2017. We caught up with Andrew to discuss why peer review matters to him.  

Photo credit: Victoria University of Wellington

What does peer review mean to you?
“Peer review is at the heart of the research process. It underpins the entire academic enterprise and is key to solving the critical problems in research today. That’s because the ultimate goal of peer review is to ensure the quality and integrity of published literature. Editors seek out (often anonymous) experts to scour draft manuscripts and weed out or improve the research before it gets published. Our ability to trust and understand research depends on this process – and that’s why it’s so important. Virtually every scientific study that receives public attention has gone through review, protecting the public from misleading results, and ensuring legitimate breakthrough discoveries can be published faster and more often.”

How is peer review regarded in the research community?
“Peer review is an important part of a researcher’s job – but it’s currently an undervalued one. There’s a lack of recognition for researchers who prioritize review and the repercussions of this are felt by the entire research community. It’s largely driven by a lack of transparency into reviewer workloads, and only made worse by today’s publish or perish culture. The rapid growth in published manuscripts means more and more researchers are bearing the brunt of multiple review requests. This problem spills over to editors, who might need to send 15 or more invitations to get two or more reviewers. This is incredibly inefficient and it’s slowing down science. It’s also fracturing the public’s trust in research. Some authors are so desperate to publish that they impersonate or pay reviewers for favorable feedback. More than 450 papers have already been retracted for fake peer review alone. And if the public – the taxpayers who help to fund research – cannot trust in the quality and integrity of what’s getting published, then the road ahead for the research community will continue to be fraught with challenges.”

What is Publons doing to challenge the changing landscape in peer review and scholarly communications?
“We’re collaborating with academics, publishers, and research institutions to bring balance back to the system. On Publons, researchers can effortlessly track, verify and showcase their review and editorial contributions for all of the journals they work with. This transforms once-hidden peer review activity into a recognised output for researchers. It means publishers can better recognise and understand their reviewers, it means tenure and grant committees can consider researchers for their expertise as reviewers; and it means editors can make faster, more informed decisions about who they’re contacting for review. Greater transparency and proper incentives will bring trust and efficiency back to research – as will peer review training, which we offer in our practical, online course, the Publons Academy. We’ve been working hard over the past few years to bring a lot of exciting developments and tools for researchers, publishers and institutions to help speed up science through review. We were really excited to have that hard work rewarded in our our recent acquisition by Clarivate Analytics, and by co-winning the ALPSP Award for Innovation in Publishing 2017 last month.”

How can researchers get more involved in ensuring the integrity of their research?
“The predatory publisher problem is causing many issues with integrity and it’s slowing down the research process. This is largely because peer review is the service most of these journals fail to provide. It can be hard for researchers to distinguish between reputable journals and those that are predatory, questionable or carrying out inadequate peer review. Publons can help with that. We make it possible for any journal to set a review policy on Publons, and show verified review volume, and researcher endorsements for every journal on our network. If a researcher wants to check the legitimacy of a publication request, they can jump on Publons and look them up – it’s a positive and dynamic alternative to Beall’s list that disappeared earlier this year. Beyond that, it’s no secret that reviewing makes you a better researcher. The Publons Academy is geared towards early career researchers but is also a useful way to brush up on review and research ethics, and avoid common flaws in your own research.”

And what does peer review mean to you? Become a guest writer on our Peer review – reviewed series and share your peer review views with the wider microbiology community. Please email us if you are interested.

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