Nature opens the peer review door a crack. Will anyone step through?

Nature opens the peer review door a crack. Will anyone step through?

An article in today’s Wall Street Journal (Journal Nature Opens Peer-Review Process to Comments Online) describes and experiment by the journal Nature:

Nature, one of the world’s most prestigious scientific research journals, has embarked on an experiment of its own.

In addition to having articles submitted for publication subjected to peer reviews by a handful of experts in the field, the 136-year-old journal is trying out a new system for authors who agree to participate: posting the paper online and inviting scientists in the field to submit comments praising — or poking holes — in it.

Lay readers can see the submitted articles as well, but the site says postings are only for scientists in the discipline, who must list their names and institutional email addresses. Nature says its editors screen out those they find irrelevant, intemperate or otherwise inappropriate.

Meanwhile, the papers also make their way through the journal’s traditional peer-review gauntlet. Nature says it’s taking both sets of comments into account when deciding whether to publish.

Sounds like a potentially promising development that could spread to medical journals. That could be useful, for example, if reviewers used the opportunity to more heavily scrutinize industry-sponsored submissions. I asked Mickey for his view:

It is interesting that it makes the paper available more quickly. This may be a crucial element to attract people to view the papers and possibly comment. Such a system is used in economics, where the crucial release of a paper is into pre-publication review that is viewed by many people. However, I don’t see a single comment on the 10 pages that are listed on the Nature site.
What I like about this approach is that it associates comments to the article text. An alternate model is bloggers talking about papers, but the problem there is that the comments are scattered in many places and hard to find.
This is an interesting move by a prominent journal such as Nature, which can hope to get reader participation because of its prominence the same way the Wall Street Journal’s “Best of the Web Today” column gets submissions in part because of the prominence of the Wall Street Journal. Less prominent journals would be better served by the independent blogger approach.
It will be interesting to see which approach wins. The continued prominence of journals such as Nature depends on it. In the past such journals had advantages that have been reduced by the ability to measure impact of papers not just by the prominence of the journal but by counting citations of the paper. If the blogging model beats the group review model as illustrated by this effort by Nature the prominent journals will have lost much of their prominence.
September 14, 2006

4 thoughts on “Nature opens the peer review door a crack. Will anyone step through?”

  1. Great, more spam.

    David, my concern is that Nature and other journals would do this in order to give the impression of transparency, while leaving the real peer review to the peers. I can’t stand it when folks go through the motions of asking for my opinion when they really don’t want it.



  2. Hi David:

    What a delight to come across the blog of another HBS grad. You’ve done a great job with this blog. It’s quite informative + very readable.

    Just thought I’d share some news that you may be interested in covering in a future story or making a short posting about on your website.

    Scientists at UC Berkeley have recently discovered that a compound in broccoli has very potent anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-cancer properties.

    The biologics are coming! 🙂

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