The field of scientific publishing is not without its problems. One of the major issues in the current system of scientific publication is the peer-review process wherein, prior to publication, papers are reviewed and classified in terms of research quality and estimated engagement.
This system, unfortunately, suppresses the timely and accessible distribution of scientific research.
One of the most widely suggested solutions to this problem has been the introduction of pre-print servers through which new research could be accessed prior to official publication.
The hope of many scientific researchers is that this modernized publication system will help to rectify the issues of restricted research distribution through the scientific community.
However, the question remains of how best to introduce such a system on a widespread level.
Addressing the Issue of Distribution
Peer-review publication systems primarily impact research distribution in terms of timing. That is to say, these systems create a significant delay between the completion of a research paper and its dissemination to the public.
Usually, the pre-publication process takes about 6 months, but some research takes much longer to be made available.
Translating this system into a numeric equation can help to put it into perspective. Let us assume that a person’s career in science lasts approximately 30 years.
If roughly 50,000 pieces of biological research, for example, are published each year, with every individual paper taking 6 months to be fully peer-reviewed, this means that the pre-publication peer-review process occupies the scientific careers of around 800 individuals per year.
Logically speaking, one simply cannot claim that the amount of time spent peer-reviewing scientific work translates to an equal amount of knowledge or quality contributed to the research.
Therefore, it is fair to argue that the current peer-review system of scientific publication slows the process of scientific research more than enhances it.
Moreover, most scientific researchers are unlikely to hold a paper’s peer-reviewed status in high regard, owing to the fact that they themselves are, for all intents and purposes, peers.
It is also worth considering whether or not the views of a few anonymous reviewers should, in the first place, constitute a comprehensive and trustworthy evaluation of the quality of a research paper.
An experienced researcher is unlikely to be swayed in their assessment of a paper by the fact that 3 unnamed reviewers did or did not approve of its content.
Bearing all of this in mind, a system whereby papers can be made available to the scientific community at the discretion of their authors seems the most logical solution. Such systems have already been adopted in the fields of mathematics, economics, and physics, with largely positive results.
Several researchers in the field of genetics have also argued for the merits of pre-print publication servers. These researchers include Leonid Kruglyak, Titus Brown, and Graham Coop, amongst other respected names in the field.
The approach most often suggested is an amalgamation of the existing peer-review system with the use of pre-print servers. This system would mean that new research can be made immediately available to the community and, at the same time, be subject to peer-reviewed quality control.
The vast majority of scientific research journals, excepting Genome Research, seem to endorse this proposition. The bottom line is that there really is no logical disadvantage to introducing pre-print publication servers into the existing system of publication.
The system would remain largely unchanged except that researchers would be granted the autonomy to review the quality of recent research for themselves within more reasonable time frames.
It is important to remember that the issue of distribution is not the only problem in the peer-reviewed scientific publishing industry as it stands today.
For example, serious consideration needs to be given to the ability of a limited number of reviewers, for whom the content of a paper may or may not be related to their specialty subject, to evaluate the merit of a given piece of research.
It should also be noted that the proposition outlined in this article is not the only potential solution to these issues. Hopefully, however, the introduction of pre-publication servers will constitute a valuable initial step towards a modernized system of scientific publication.