It’s finally time for the post-release review

Writing a manuscript is a familiar process: draft, submit, revise, resubmit, and check. Publication is the primary means by which we communicate our research and build our scientific careers. The process can take months or even years, and while it’s far from perfect, publishing remains the gold standard of academic quality control.

But what happens next? Sometimes the post is accompanied by a college press release, social media discussion, or even a news story. Most of the time, however, the answer is nothing.

Post-publication dialogue about laboratory research is difficult. An author might take a report that an experiment is not reproducible as a personal attack; the publishing journal could see it as a blow to its editors. Most likely the differences are details that were lost during translation from the lab to the manuscript and back to the lab. How can the scientific community work together to translate these details more effectively?

Several platforms now exist for constructive post-release conversations. Some are successful in addressing a few of these challenges, but none have been widely adopted. For example, PubPeer has gained traction as a place where researchers can post reviews of poor quality papers. Sites such as ScienceOpen, SciBaseComment and Pre-examination aim to be repositories of crowdsourced manuscript reviews. A growing list of post pub platforms are hosted on Reinventing the exam. Increasingly, authors can post about their own work on social media, and readers will ask questions and give feedback.

If the post-publication review conversation has been ongoing for many yearsand the platforms exist and are ready to be used, there must be greater reasons why scientists rarely engage with papers – their own or their colleagues’ – once the final version is live .

I see three main challenges to post-publication peer review:

  1. Incentives. Scientists want issues of reproducibility and post-publication dialogue addressed, but have no incentive to engage. They rightly ask, “Will this help me get a postdoctoral position?” How about a promotion? Will it increase my position in the scientific community? Any platform that seeks to be effective must align self-interest and higher motives.
  1. Political realities. Science positions itself as an objective pursuit of truth, but scientific researchers know that’s not always how it works. How likely is a graduate student to publicly criticize his professor’s work, even when his argument is valid? A failure to recognize the central role these dynamics play in human behavior will limit the effectiveness of any solution.
  1. Access. Reviewing an article requires being able to read that article, but most scientific knowledge is published in paid journals whose business model is based on limited access. While the proliferation of preprint servers and open access journals is a huge step in the right direction, the research community still has a long way to go before publishing a paper means anyone can. read.

Fortunately, examining the power dynamics of the academic hierarchy and accelerating the adoption of open access and data sharing are areas of active advocacy across the scientific research community.

However, we can and must create new incentives for post-release review. What if post-publication platforms were as quick and easy to use as social media, but quality contributions carried the career seriousness of a first-author manuscript? While this may require an expansion of what is considered peer review and academic input, such expansion is long overdue.

If we want researchers to invest time and energy in scientific dialogue – not just in scientific publication – we must remove the scientific manuscript from its age-old career pedestal. Serving as an associate editor, moderating online discussion forums, and writing public reviews should fall under an expanded resume category: academic contributions. Researchers could have online repositories for their public manuscript reviews. Think of a GitHub Where ORCID – a public record of your contributions – but for peer review.

The next time you enjoy reading an article or are tasked with hosting a book club, consider writing a public review and inviting your colleagues to join in the post-publication conversation. I hope to see you there.

Jacob L. Thornton