Why Peerage of Science is not the answer

Jyväskylä, Finland

Jyväskylä, Finland

One of the first things a new scientist learns is how the publishing process works. You do the best research you can, discover something new, analyze the data, and write it up. You are careful to put your work in context and to relate it to what has gone before. A few academic friends read the work and help you improve it.

Then you choose a journal, edit the format to fit, and submit. These days the paper is like to come back quickly unreviewed with a few sentences explaining why. Not new enough, not broad enough, or not well done might be reasons, but as often as not, they are not particularly useful. Then you choose another journal and send it off. At some point you will get reviews that are informative. They may point out an angle to your work you did not appreciate. They may convince you that you have not been careful enough about reading the literature and putting your work in context. They may even find a fatal flaw.

But is it really worth it to grind through the review process over and over, tweaking the writing, reformatting the bibliography yet again? What if you could submit somewhere, get reviewed, then revise and have multiple journals to bargain with? Would that not be better?

Peerage of Science has a model that is something like that. In addition, you get rewarded if you review in chits you can turn into opportunities to get your work read. You can also decide on the time line for the review and the editing. It seems pretty sweet if enough journals sign on to play in the Peerage market.

But there is a big problem with this outfit. It is for profit. In its prospectus it says it will spend at least half the money it takes in on the business of organizing the reviewing and editing. What is it going to do with the other half? Why should we enrich private individuals with the fruits of research paid for on public funds?

Of course, this is not a new problem. Nature, Current Biology, BMC Evolutionary Biology and many other journals are in the for profit arena, though not Science or other society journals unless they are owned by publishers. But if we are going to have a big new reviewing and editing clearing house, it should not be on the for profit model. After all, the reviewers are not paid. The research should be in the public domain. The model should be more like Evoldir.

Remember, even a non-profit can pay its staff for the work they do. This is the model I support. But I did join Peerage of Science to get a better feel for how it works. They allowed me to become a Peer since I do have a refereed paper that I  am first or last author on. I just linked to that handy Google Scholar page I set up.

Why does Peerage of Science, set at the excellent Finnish University of Jyväskylä where there are lots of prominent female scientists have such an extreme male bias in its leaders and board of governors? Are the women staying away from this for-profit model that can plow up to half its money in activities that are not the main one?

About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
This entry was posted in Publishing your work and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Why Peerage of Science is not the answer

  1. Hi Joan,

    I understand that some people are out of principle against any entrepreneurship in the academic arena (while themselves receiving fairly decent taxpayer-funded salaries, on tenure), so the following might be a technicality that does not matter much to you.

    But you portray PoS incorrectly when you say that it “plows half its money” into private profit. That is not true. Everything goes into building and spreading the idea, until someday the service hopefully generates more (from publishers who pay) than it consumes, i.e. returns profit on top of the operating expenses. And even after that, if the company then decides to pay some of that surplus to shareholders, it must first give out an equivalent amount to science via peer-reviewed mechanism.

    In its first two years, PoS has already given out 6500 EUR to scientists in awards and travel grants via peer-reviewed mechanisms, and has employed young scientists. Founders have not received any payment at all, and continue to “plow” both their time, work and own money into the company. Oh yes, I do wish all the hard plowing results in sustainable harvest someday in the future for me too, and will not apologize for that wish.

    PoS simply does quality-controlled peer review and provides better submission avenue. It is not in public domain because pre-publication peer review should be done within the community of qualified scientists, not in public. But all scientists with acceptable qualifications get access into the peerage domain, like you have done. In what kind of domain the research then ends up being published, is decided entirely by authors themselves.

    Kind regards,
    Janne-Tuomas Seppänen
    – Founder, Peerage of Science

    • Hi Janne-Tuomas, The website says that Peerage of Science will put at least half into the main functions. that is what I’m going on. Our salaries are to be compared to the salaries made by the people doing the work of the Peerage process, not to an extra profit. Non-profits can still pay their employees even very nice salaries. Your statement is that half the profits will be plowed back into the scientific endeavor from Article 4, so the rest can be used for jet skis, or whatever.
      It is true that there are also other journals that are for profit, but I am looking ahead. I think the review process should be not for profit since it is relying largely on free labor for reviews. I think the review should be more along the PubMed lines, which is not for profit.
      I know the for-profit journals are very worried about the future. I like the open future, like R for statistics, people helping people, sharing the academic endeavor, not greedily setting things up to profit.

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  3. Erik Svanström says:

    I would just like to adress that final snide comment about the low number of females being members of the entrepreneurial team.

    It’s exactly the same pattern I’ve seen in all venues of entrepreneurship. Businesses are started by people who want to do something. And women are rarely willing to commit to these risky projects. Just look at things like the Venture Cup competition in Sweden. Women are much less likely to commit to entrepreneural ventures.

    I haven’t noticed any quality differences between male and female entrepreneurs but females are rarer.

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