31 Jul 2010

The stuff we didn't have time to blog about in July

This is a guest post by Joe Dunckley
Some old fashioned publishers are still claiming that open-access mandates -- by forcing the publishers to acknowledge that the internet has happened and that this event makes the status quo business model that they cling to wasteful and unsustainable -- will "stifle innovation". In other news, war has been found to be peace and it was discovered that freedom is slavery.

An unexpected and not entirely welcome development in open science: the Information Commissioner -- charged with enforcing the UK's freedom of information act -- has ruled that data collected by a Queen's University Belfast researcher falls under the remit of the act, and the data must now be released. This seems to be something of an accidental victory for open science, though rather unfortunate that it should come about as the result of a stunt by a climate change denier, and not as part of a planned, consensual, and multilateral shift in academic culture. I've yet to see much written on the repercussions of the decision (though I am a little behind on reading).

WikiReviews? A potentially interesting project for collaborating on "living" review articles, initially on cancer, introduced by George Lundberg.

Scientists who end up in industry could inadvertently find themselves in trouble when the natural tendency of the scientist to share information for the benefit of mankind conflicts with the natural tendency of big companies to jealously and zealously guard everything they have. In the US, researchers innocently publishing a scientific paper can face (at least, the threat of) decades in prison for industrial espionage if they're not very careful.

5 Jul 2010

Elsevier experiments with peer review

Well I never. I've been advocating the adoption of open peer review and community peer review for a while now; I didn't expect one of the pioneers of community peer review to be Elsevier, but they've surprised me.

On 21 June, they announced a three-month trial of what they are calling PeerChoice on Chemical Physics Letters, which allows potential reviewers to volunteer to review papers. As Ida Sim points out, this doesn't open up peer review in the sense of making it more transparent, but it should help speed up peer review and it might avoid the bias caused by editors selecting from a limited pool of the same 'usual suspect' reviewers.

The devil is in the details: who gets to be in the pool of potential reviewers; how will you motivate reviewers to volunteer, when getting reviewers to agree when directly inviting them can be hard enough; will volunteers be vetted for suitability for that article; is this alongside or instead of editorial selection? These question aside, let's hope it's a success.

Edit: There's some answers on the hidden-away page about PeerChoice - PeerChoice is supplementary to editor-invited reviewers. Registered reviewers will see titles and abstracts and be allowed to download the manuscript if they agree to provide a "timely review." There doesn't appear to be a vetting/vetoing system, but the editor still makes the decision. The trial is on nanostructures and materials; the results might not be applicable outside that very narrow field as scholars in different fields react in very different ways to variations in the peer review process.