Peer review is central to science. But the system is functioning far from perfectly. One issue is that it is difficult to find good reviewers. This was already discussed five years ago on this blog and it was suggested that paying reviewers or making somehow sure that reviewers receive public credit for their efforts might be good ways to alleviate the problem. I agree especially with getting paid, but in my life I’ve only once been offered money to review a research paper. The offer, from a Saudi Arabian journal I had never heard about, surprised me so much that I decided to give it a try. They sent me a terrible paper to review and when I had filed my report, they paid me promptly.
Recently, two companies have launched initiatives that try to overhaul the peer review process. One offers money for reviews, the other more credits to reviewers, and more than that: they both want to take the review process out of the hands of the editorial staff of journals where the author has submitted his or her work. The big potential advantage is that reviews can be re-used when a paper travels from journal to journal in its quest to get published.
I find this idea quite attractive. What I see all the time is that papers rejected by a high impact journal are subsequently submitted to a journal a bit lower on the impact factor ladder, and if they are not accepted there, they are sent to journal number three, and so on. There are so many journals these days that almost every manuscript eventually is published in a journal somewhere. But the journey can be long, frustrating, and along the way many reviewers spend (or should I say waste?) their precious time, looking at the same paper. Often a reviewer gets to review the same paper multiple times! All in all, this is an inefficient process.
Peerage of Science and Rubriq want to change this. You submit a paper to their site, the paper gets reviewed, possibly revised by the authors, and is offered, together with the reviews and everything, to interested journals. Peerage is free and does not pay the reviewers, but as a submitting author you have to pay with credits that you can earn by reviewing papers. Moreover, you can gain a reputation as an excellent reviewer and get your reviews published in an online journal called Proceedings of Peerage of Science. Here is an article about Peerage. Rubriq takes a slightly different approach and pays reviewers $100 per review, so if you review very quickly you could even make a living out of this. Now, isn’t that nice for the postdoc in between jobs? Authors submitting to Rubriq pay $500 to $700 per manuscript and get a standardized review that Rubriq calls a scorecard and an R-score, all within two weeks. Here is an article about Rubriq.
Will it work? This will largely depend on the willingness of journals to use these services. Scientific journals, especially the ones with high impact factors, are often very conservative and complacent, in my experience. Will they easily embrace a new procedure that could be seen as giving them less power? I’m also not sure if a reviewer can review a paper well if he or she does not know to which journal it is submitted. The supposedly neutral ‘scorecard’ procedure of Rubric should handle this. But I highly doubt if Rubriq will be able to obtain good quality reviews in such a short period of time. That said, I find both initiatives interesting, and potentially advantageous for authors, reviewers, and journals. What do you think?