Publons - Raising the Status of Peer Review

As we enter Peer Review Week we wanted to get to grips with the peer review landscape from one of the core disruptors in the space, Publons. We chatted to Tom Culley, Marketing Director at Publons, on how they provide recognition for this vital part of the scientific process.

SD: Tell us a little about Publons and what you're trying to do over there.

TC: The founding of Publons extends from many long discussions about the lack of incentives for peer review, despite the enormous career expectations to publish in science. Peer review is at the heart of scientific research and while not perfect, adds credibility to new research discoveries. Despite all of its flaws, peer review continues to have widespread support as the primary basis for evaluating outputs. The current model slows down the research cycle. It actually acts as an obstacle for getting scientific material out into the world. And with more and more scientific submissions than ever before, the burden on the reviewers is ever greater.

So we're left with an important question: how can we change the system and improve it for the better? And so Publons was born. Publons is a platform that allows researchers to effortlessly get cross-publisher recognition for all of their peer review activity. We want to recognise all of this previously hidden effort to reveal the expertise of all the researchers involved. With this platform, users can have a verified record of their peer review contributions that can be used in both job and grant applications.

SD: With publications at the heart of a research career, is this recognition just another arbitrary publishing-based metric that can act as a CV booster?

See where your institution ranks in the peer reviews stakes.

See where your institution ranks in the peer reviews stakes.

TC: I think it can be so much more than that. Peer review is an untapped part of what research is. By improving this process, we can speed up the scientific research cycle itself. Effective peer review can filter out bad science that can be misleading and delay the rate of discovery. Also, by motivating peer reviewers, the review process can be also be streamlined. Simply, if we can get more people reviewing and reviewing better, then you can get the science out faster. In short, raising the profile of peer review speeds up science and discovery. The problem is: peer review requires effort and expertise, and with careers so reliant on your publishing record, motivation is low, especially without recognition. Exposing this work leads to greater sense of appreciation for work that previously went entirely unrecognised. 

SD: Let's talk about Peer Review Week. It seems like you guys have some big plans!

TC: Peer Review Week is a great opportunity to boost the profile of reviewers. As such we've launched our Sentinels of Science awards. These awards are the Nobel Prize of peer review - honouring the best in class for peer review over the past year. We break down awards into categories such as the top 3 overall contributors, and contributing editors in a given year. We've garnered support from industry heavyweights such as Sage, Wiley, Springer Nature, Cambridge University Press, and more. It's great because it shows a commitment to establishing the awards as the new industry standard in reviewer recognition.

SD: What do you hope to achieve with Peer Review Week 2016?

Raising awareness for the effort and expertise of reviewers is on the mind of those at Publons.

Raising awareness for the effort and expertise of reviewers is on the mind of those at Publons.

TC: Our core purpose is to try and generate awareness and attention for peer review in all its forms. Few outside of the tight publishing circles know the importance of peer review. We want to bring it top of mind for those outside these circles to bring recognition and attention for the researchers that contribute to the process.

This primarily includes reaching out to the general public, however funding agencies should also be made aware of this vital scientific process. Some funds are on the ball, for instance, one of the criteria for assessing grant applications for the PBRF in New Zealand is your research-related contributions, which can including participation in reviews. We'd love to make it common and standard that peer review activity is a direct measure of your proficiency. It's 'external validation' that you're an expert in your field - that your work and knowledge is important and valued. We also want to bring attention to everyone involved in the process, especially editors who receive little reward despite their hard efforts handling upwards of hundreds of articles per year.

SD: So how do you open the conversation outside of that tight knit group? 

TC: The first step is building awareness, that's what Peer Review Week centres on. We need to get everybody involved and spread the word through the likes of social media activity and various PR initiatives. We want to explain the issues, what still needs to improve, and raise the status of the process. Once you've got awareness then the recognition actually means something. We're keen to train new reviewers, which consequently improves reviewing by expanding the pool. Another step is to provide tools to editors and journals to streamline the activity - whether that's by helping them find the best reviewers, provide feedback, or develop altmetrics. 

By bringing greater awareness, a heightened understanding and innovative tools to the fingertips of those in this domain, we can really make those much needed changes in this area of science.


Publons can be found here and here.

And for more information on Peer Review Week (19th - 25th September 2016), check out this link.