Australasian startups: part of a movement towards making peer review open and free

Lachlan Coin writes on how peer review is changing

Contact: twitter @lachlancoin

Peer review is not open.  Passing peer review asserts to scientists and the public alike that the methodology was sound; that the conclusions are correct; that the experimental protocols work ;  that policy should be written; that medical  interventions should, or should not be made.   When some of these claims are later retracted, both scientific and public trust in peer review  and the scientific method is eroded.   Imagine then, if the entire peer review literature were open, as it already is in a handful of journals including  BMJ Open, Gigascience and PeerJ.  Journalists, scientists, policy-makers, doctors and patients could assess how rigorously the peer-review process was applied and how well the authors were able to address the issues raised. Rather than seeing the scientific literature as uniformly correct, we could begin to accept  that every  manuscript has limitations as well as strengths.

Publons is a start up from New Zealand which is making huge in-roads towards making peer review more open.  Publons has enabled reviewers to publish ~10,000 reviews under a CC-BY license. The vast majority of these are pre-publication peer review (although the reviews are not made public until the article is itself published) and are now cross-referenced to the original articles via Europe PubMed Central.    Publons also provide the option for reviews to be registered but not shared publicly,  enabling reviewers to be credited for their reviewing activity.

The “slow, cumbersome and distorting practice of pre-publication peer review”  has led PLOS co-founder Mike Eisen to advocate abandoning pre-publication peer review altogether and switching to a  model in which papers are published without review and subsequently evaluated openly by the community post-publication.  Such  services are now provided by F1000, ScienceOpen and The WinnowerPubMed Commons  is an National Institute of Health run service which enables any academic (listed as an author on a PubMed-indexed paper) to comment on another PubMed listed paper.  PubPeer allows anyone to comment anonymously on any published paper, which has on several occasions led to retractions.

A more popular form of the ‘publish-first-get-reviewed-second’ model is provided by preprint servers. Posting preprints to arXiv  is common practice in mathematics and physics.  With the launch of bioRxiv  this is gaining traction in biological sciences. The majority of preprints submitted to bioRxiv are published in a peer-reviewed journal within 12 months.  Preprint servers have essentially made sharing scientific manuscripts a free service. The operating costs for arXiv are estimated to be US$826,000 p.a, which is supported by a membership model in which participating universities contribute up to US$3000 p.a.

Peer review, however,  is still not free, both in the sense that it costs money, and also that the ways in which it can be accessed are limited.  As an author, I can choose to give up my copyright and  restrict who can access my work by submitting to a subscription journal, or I can choose to pay an Article Processing Charge (APC)  of anywhere between US$695  and US$5200 by submitting to an open-access journal.  Both types of journals ultimately access the same pool of reviewers to provide peer review.  Either way, publishers make lucrative operating margins by controlling access to peer review.  It is ironic that the only sense in which peer review is free is that the reviewer is not paid by the publisher for their effort.

I am co-founder of another Australasian startup (Academic Karma) whose mission is to  make peer-review free as well as open.  We  envisage a ‘1. post-preprint; 2. get peer-reviewed and 3.  submit to a journal’  model of scientific publishing.  In order to achieve this, we have launched a pilot ‘global peer review network’ together with librarians from The University of Queensland, Imperial College London, The Australian National University and Cambridge University.   Any auhor from one of these universities can use this network to access peer review  for a arXiv or bioRxiv listed preprint outside the journal system. The reviews, together with an editorial summary of the strengths and limitations of the paper are collated into a document which can be submitted together with the manuscript for consideration at an  open-access journal.  The reviews will be published ( at once the manuscript is published.The author pays for peer review not in dollars, but with ‘karma’ they earned by reviewing for others. While there is no penalty for a karma debt, we hope this system helps remind reviewers to try to perform as much review as they consume – an absolute necessity for the system to be self regulating.

Although it has been almost 15 years  since the open-access publishing movement was launched in earnest with the establishment of the  Budapest Open Access Initiative,  the founding of  BiomedCentral, PLOS’s open letter to scientific publishers and then the launch of PLOS as an open access publisher, publishing in open access journals is still a long way from reaching 100% penetration.   Perhaps one of the main remaining reasons for this is cost – many researchers, particularly junior researchers face tough choices in deciding between paying to publish or paying for other lab expenses to further their research.   Co-ordinating peer review has been estimated to make up from 25%, to almost all the running costs of an online open access journal  We hope that providing high quality open peer review for free prior to journal submission will enable open-access journals to drop their APCs, thus making open access publishing more accessible to all.

About the author: Lachlan Coin is Group Leader, Genomics of Development and Disease Division
Deputy Director, Centre for Superbug Solutions at the University of Queensland

Conflict of interests:  Lachlan Coin is the founder of Academic Karma

ORCID: giving new meaning to “open” research

At the beginning of peer review week, Natasha Simons writes on ORCID – an essential tool throughout academia now.

Contact: Twitter @n_simons

Have you ever tried to search for the works of a particular author and found that there are literally hundreds of authors with the same name? Or found that your name has been misspelt on a publication or that it is plain wrong because you changed your name when you got married (or divorced) a few years back? Well, you are not alone. Did you know that the top 100 surnames in China account for 84.77% of the population or that 70% of Medline names are not unique? So receiving credit where credit is due is badly needed by researchers the world over and in solving this problem, we can also improve the discoverability of their research. But to solve a global problem, we need a global solution. Enter ORCID – the Open Researcher and Contributor Identifier.

orcid_128x128ORCID provides individual researchers and scholars with a persistent unique identifier which links a researcher with their works and professional activities – ensuring the work is recognised and discoverable. Sure, there are many other researcher identifiers out there but ORCID has the ability to reach across disciplines, research sectors, and national boundaries. ORCID distinguishes an individual researcher in a similar way to how a Digital Object Identifier (DOI) uniquely identifies a scholarly publication. It lasts for a lifetime and remains the same whether you move institutions, countries or (heaven forbid) change disciplines. If you’ve not seen one before, check out the ORCID for Nobel Prize laureate and Australian of the Year Peter C. Doherty.

ORCID works as a solution to name ambiguity because it is:

  • Widely used;
  • Embedded in the workflows of submission systems for publishers, funders and institutions;
  • The product of a global, collaborative effort;
  • Open, non-profit and researcher-driven.

There are over 300 ORCID members (organisations or groups of organisations) from every section of the international research community. Over 1.5 million ORCID identifiers for individual researchers have been issued since its launch in October 2012. In Australia, the key role of ORCID has been recognised in two Joint Statements and – as is the case in many other countries – plans for an ORCID Consortium are well underway.

From its very beginning, ORCID has embraced “open” – it is free for researchers to sign up, open to any interested organisation to join, releases software under an Open Source Software license, and provides a free public API. Institutions who wish to embed ORCID into their workflows are advised to join ORCID and this membership fee (for service) in turn supports ORCID to continue to function as a non-profit entity.

A key activity of ORCID at the moment is completing the metadata round trip. It sure doesn’t sound exciting but it is actually. Really! It works like this: when a researcher submits an article to a publisher, a dataset to a data centre, or a grant to a funder, they include their ORCID iD. When the work is published and the DOI assigned, information about the work is automatically connected to the researcher’s ORCID record. Other systems can query the ORCID registry and draw in that information. This will save researchers a lot of time currently spent updating multiple data systems, and ensures correct credit and discoverability of their research. See? Exciting, huh!

Another great thing ORCID is doing is Peer Review Week (28 September – 2 October), which grew out of informal conversations between ORCID, Sense about Science, ScienceOpen, and Wiley. The week highlights a collaborative effort in finding ways to build trust in peer review by making the process more transparent and giving credit for the peer review activity. ORCID have also been collaborating with Mozilla Science Lab, BioMed Central, Public Library of Science, The Wellcome Trust, and Digital Science, among others, to develop a prototype for assigning badges to individuals based on the contributor role vocabulary developed by Project CRediT earlier this year.

It’s great news that this year and for the first time ever, ORCID are officially joining the Open Access Week celebrations. OA Week runs from October 19-26 and their goal is to sign up 10,000 new ORCID registrants and increase the number of connections between ORCID iDs and organisation iDs. They hope you can help! So go on, why not go sign up for an ORCID iD now? You’ll be helping to ensure your scholarly work is discoverable, correctly attributed to you, and you’ll save time in the bargain.

About the author

Natasha Simons is a Research Data Management Specialist with the Australian National Data Service