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Harvard Alum, PloS Co-Founder Supports Peer Review Reform
A recent editorial in the Harvard Crimson attacked projects to reform the closed, deeply flawed peer review process through open-publication, online journals. Under the open-publication system “anyone, not just the author’s scientific peers, would be able to post comments and reviews.”

The Crimson accurately notes that current “the peer review process, even to researchers, can seem like a black box. Since the scientists who review the submitted papers review them anonymously, there is little accountability—these gatekeepers, some think, have far too much power over the progress of science.”

The article also notes the basic truth that “the traditional peer review process is not perfect. It delays the flow of information, can sometimes be biased, and often unduly prioritizes the work of established, famous scientists over the work of lesser-known researchers.” Despite recognizing these serious problems, the paper opposes innovative enhancements to peer review mechanisms such as the open-publication, open-comment system used by the non-profit Public Library of Science (PloS).

According to the Crimson, in “theory, such a system would transform the scientific community into true ‘marketplace of ideas,’ in which scientific results would be vetted democratically, instead of by a group of cloistered elites.” However, the Crimson scorns the openness and transparency that could result from an open publication since “unlike the hoi polloi that roam the Internet” peer reviewers “have the knowledge and experience to judge scientific research on its merits.”

In response to the editorial, a Harvard alumni who serves as an assistant professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley and is a co-founder of PLoS explained that the Crimson editorial was “too ill-informed and riddled with factual inaccuracies to be taken seriously as an attack on our efforts to rejuvenate peer review by opening up the process to all members of the scientific community. I would normally feel compelled to correct all these errors, but fortunately I don’t have to. Perhaps sensing the opportunity for delicious irony, the ‘hoi polloi that roam the Internet’ have identified and corrected your mistakes in the open commentary you provided for this article.”

As the author concludes, “If you’re looking for the imprimatur of greatness, try Nature or Harvard—but if you want the real thing, try PLoS One or Berkeley.”

The Center for Regulatory Effectiveness will be undertaking efforts to support improvements in the peer review process.

  • See Crimson editorial
  • See comments on Crimson editorial
  • See Michael B. Eisen response to Crimson editorial
  • See PloS website

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