Simply Statistics A statistics blog by Rafa Irizarry, Roger Peng, and Jeff Leek

Should we stop publishing peer-reviewed papers?

Nate Silver, everyone’s favorite statistician made good, just gave an interview where he said he thinks many journal articles should be blog posts. I have been thinking about this same issue for a while now, and I’m not the only one. This is a really interesting post suggesting that although scientific journals once facilitated dissemination of ideas, they now impede the flow of information and make it more expensive. 

Two recent examples really drove this message home for me. In the first example, I posted a quick idea called the Leekasso, which led to some discussion on the blog, has nearly 2,000 page views (a pretty recent number of downloads for a paper), and has been implemented in software by someone other than me. If this were one of my papers, it would be one of the more reasonably high impact papers. The second example is a post I put up about a recent Nature paper. The authors (who are really good sports) ended up writing to me to get my critiques. I wrote them out, and they responded. All of this happened after peer review and informally. All of the interaction also occurred in email, where no one can see but us. 

It wouldn’t take much to go to a blog-based system. What if everyone who was publishing scientific results started a blog (free), then there was a site, run by pubmed, that aggregated the feeds (this would be super cheap to set up/maintain). Then people could comment on blog posts and vote for ones they liked if they had verified accounts. We skipped peer review in favor of just producing results and discussing them. The results that were interesting were shared by email, Twitter, etc. 

Why would we do this? Well, the current journal system: (1) significantly slows the publication of research, (2) costs thousands of dollars, and (3) costs significant labor that is not scientifically productive (such as resubmitting). 

Almost every paper I have had published has been rejected at least one place, including the “good” ones. This means that the results of even the good papers have been delayed by months. Or in the case of one paper - a full year and a half of delay. Any time I publish open access, it costs me at minimum around $1,500. I like open access because I think science funded by taxpayers should be free. But it is a significant drain on the resources of my group. Finally, most of the resubmission process is wasted labor. It generally doesn’t produce new science or improve the quality of the science. The effort is just in reformatting and re-inputing information about authors.

So why not have everyone just post results on their blog/figshare. They’d have a DOI that could be cited. We’d reduce everyone’s labor in reviewing/editing/resubmitting by an order of magnitude or two and save the taxpapers a few thousand dollars each a year in publication fees. We’d also increase the speed of updating/reacting to new ideas by an order of magnitude. 

I still maintain we should be evaluating people based on reading their actual work, not  highly subjective and error-prone indices. But if the powers that be insisted, it would be easy to evaluate people based on likes/downloads/citations/discussion of papers rather than on the basis of journal titles and the arbitrary decisions of editors. 

So should we stop publishing peer review papers?

Edit: Titus points to a couple of good posts with interesting ideas about the peer review process that are worth reading, here and here. Also, Joe Pickrell et al. are already on this for population genetics, having set up the aggregator Haldane’s Sieve. It would be nice if this expanded to other areas (and people got credit for the papers published there, like they do for papers in journals).