It seems that peer-reviewed scientific journals are the holy grail for papers. We are encouraged to believe that any paper worth reading will be in a peer-reviewed journal.
But is this really the case?
Well, let’s look first at the process of getting published in a peer-reviewed journal.
There are two steps to getting your paper published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The first hurdle is getting the editor to take notice. If they decide that your paper is interesting enough and fits in with the journal’s parameters then they will send it out for peer review.
2-4 people, chosen by the editor, will receive your paper. They read the paper and decide whether it has enough merit for publication. For the paper to receive a recommendation, you’ll need the majority of the peers to agree.
If a unanimous decision isn’t reached, there is a significant chance that the paper won’t see the light of day but ultimately it is up to the editor in these cases.
The peer-review process takes several months, in some cases, it can take up to a year.
Even if you ignore the absurd length of time it takes to get a paper published in a peer-reviewed journal, there are a number of issues with the process.
Firstly, it is highly subjective. Two groups of people, the editor and the reviewers, get to decide whether a paper is ‘interesting’ enough for publishing. This is hardly a unanimous, universal decision.
Peer-reviewing is also fairly biased towards established groups and individuals. Journals are far more likely to publish a paper if it’s by an already established scientist. This system also restricts originality.
In some cases, the system is abused. Reviewers may plagiarise the work they are reviewing or block competing papers.
Here we will take a look at some of the options available to us if we reject the traditional peer-review system.
- Publication without peer review - this is the simplest alternative. It could be supported by sites like arXiv.
- A social network system - A system like this would have a feed of papers that can be liked by peers without the arduous and limited peer-review system. Of course, this ‘social network’ would require vetting procedures on entry to make sure those liking papers have the credentials to offer judgment.
- A citation system - citations and use of a paper are often better indicators of the worth of a journal than the recommendation of 2 or 3 people.
These systems are not really compatible with the current peer review system. Changing the system would require a change of perception and outlook within the scientific community.
Currently, the scientific community looks at peer-reviewed journals and those who have been published in peer-reviewed journals as worthy of renown. It is a universally accepted standard that offers credence.
Since the rise of the internet, peer-reviewing has begun to run into problems. It is not a system that adapts well to change. It is my belief that we need to find a more adaptable system.