Peer/Pure Fabrication
_what can the academic community do to combat misconduct in peer review?

Perhaps you have heard of the peer review fraud scandals rocking several big journals. Rings of researchers’ quid pro quo favorable reviews; PIs reviewing their own work unbeknownst to editors; probably other bad things that we haven’t found out about yet.

Or perhaps you remember prank paper generator SCIgen: it has produced many nonsensical manuscripts that were “peer reviewed”, accepted, and later and embarrassingly retracted. To combat the systemic problem these jokes expose, Springer designed SciDetect to do the job a “peer” should be able to do in the first place – spot blatantly obvious bullshit.

Maybe you even know of “soft fraud” – knowing that editors have sympathies or vested interests in a sub-discipline at Journal X; reaching out to an old colleague likely to review your manuscript; frequently collaborating with big name PIs whose brand has more clout than carefully done and clearly communicated science likely ever could.

What can we do?!
That is the question. Certainly Nature charging authors for faster peer review is not an intended answer (Cressey 2015). At Authorea, we think all levels of the scientific process would benefit from some openness and transparency. While different researchers might draw different lines, experimenting with open peer review seems like a good place to start (its kind of astounding that post-publication open review isn’t widely practiced yet). Open up your work to the light of day and get some honest open feedback that makes it better – what if adding more eyes brought about changes that got your manuscript accepted to a higher tier journal than you hoped? If that’s a solidly achievable best case, what’s the worst case?

“But what if I get scooped?”

This is always meant as the inevitable and terrible outcome of open access. To ensure speed, maybe you specify a time frame. To ensure security, maybe you specify no anonymous viewing or commenting. But really, that won’t change much. Without any data (open or paywalled), I’m pretty confident the majority of “scooping” incidents are the result of many players shooting for the same goals, smart people working hard, and good old-fashioned word of mouth. Maybe if we shared more we’d all get so much further!

That’s the thing: as scientists we are proud of our work. We publish to show the world, so why not show it off sooner? Get credit faster? Get more feedback and make more useful connections? These represent some major features of the Internet that researchers are still chronically under-utilizing, and it was invented for us!

This is the 21st century.
We should science like it.


  1. Daniel Cressey. Concern raised over payment for fast-track peer review. Nature Nature Publishing Group, 2015. Link

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