Wednesday 13 November 2013

Ulrich Pöschl on advancing post-publication and public peer review

Ulrich Pöschl

Ulrich Pöschl is based at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and is professor at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany. 

He initiated interactive open access publishing with public peer review and interactive discussion through the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics and the European Geosciences Union.

In his talk at The Future of Peer Review seminar, he presented a vision of promotion of scientific and societal progress by open access and collaborative review in global information commons; access to high quality scientific publications (more and better information for scientists and society); documentation of scientific discussion (evidence of controversial opinions and open questions); and demonstration of transparency and rationalism (role model for political decision process).

Pöschl believes the most important motivation of open access is to improve scientific quality assurance. Why is it not a threat to peer review? Traditional peer review is fully compatible with open access. Information for reviewers is strongly enhanced by open access. Collaborative and post-publication peer review can be fully enabled by open access. Predatory open access publishers and hoaxes are a side-issue: a transition problem and red herring (partly caused by the vacuum created by the slow move of traditional publishers).

Pöschl went on to outline a range of problems that affect peer review. Quality assurance can be an issue with manuscripts and publications often carelessly prepared and faulty. The tip of the iceberg can be fraud. Common practice can lead to carelessness. Consequences can be waste and misallocation of resources.

Editors and referees may have limited capacity and/or competence. Traditional pre-publication review can lead to retardation and loss of information. Traditional discussion can be sparse and subject to late commentaries. For Pöschl, he doesn't have time for pure post-publication review (open peer commentary) as he has enough to do with his scientific work.

The dilemma at the heart of peer review is speed versus quality. There are conflicting needs of scientific publishing: rapid publication versus thorough review and discussion. Rapid publication is widely pursued. The answer? A two stage process. Stage 1 involves rapid publication of a discussion paper, public peer review and interactive discussion. Stage 2 comprises review completion and publication of the Final Paper.

The advantages of interactive open access publishing are that it provides an all win situation for the community of authors, referees, editors and readers. The discussion paper is an expression of free speech. Public peer review and interactive discussion provides lots of benefits, but in particular, they foster and document scientific discourse (and save reviewer capacities).

Four stages to interactive open access publishing
Pöschl outlined a multi-stage open peer review in a paper in Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience (2012). These stages are:

  1. Pre-publication review and selection
  2. Public peer review and interactive discussion
  3. Peer review completion
  4. Post-publication review and evaluation

This needs to be in combination or integration with repositories, living reviews concept, assessment house concept, ranking system/tiers and article level metrics.

At Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, the rejection rate is as low as 10%. Submission to publication time is a minimum of 10 days and up to 1 month. The publication charge is 1000 euros and they have up to 50% additional comments pages. The achievements for combining these approaches include top speed, impact and visibility, large volume, low rejection rates and costs. The journal is fully self-financed and sustainable.

Pöschl passionately believes that these stages can be adjusted to other priorities and can therefore work for other disciplines and research communities. Future perspectives to take into account include an efficient and flexible combination of new and traditional forms of review and publication, as well as multiple stages and levels of interactive publishing and commenting.

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