Can you take it with you when you go? Portable peer review

Image Credit: Flickr User AJC1.Creative Commons License: BY-SA
Image Credit: Flickr User AJC1
Creative Commons License: BY-SA

Being the first to do something matters. Just ask Pete Conrad and Alan Bean. Being the first to tell other folks that you did it matters too. Just ask Alfred Wallace.

For scientists, publication in a peer reviewed journal is the primary way of communicating experimental results, so getting a manuscript through the review process and into publication in a timely manner is important. This can get complicated if you are also trying to be published in the most prestigious journal possible.

For example, a scientist could submit their manuscript to a prestigious journal like Nature or Science. The article is sent out for review and within a few months (maybe faster) the authors get a note back saying that while their science was methodologically sound, it just wasn’t innovative enough for those journals. Next, the scientist submits it to the top journal in their field, only to be told in a few months that it was too interdisciplinary for that journal. A scientist may go through several rounds of submission and rejection looking for a suitable home for their manuscript, worrying as the months slip by that someone else has beat them to the publication of similar results.

This submission and rejection takes time and energy from authors, editors and reviewers when they could use that time researching or teaching. The process is widely considered to be inefficient.

Enter the folks behind new “portable peer review” services. Traditionally, the review process was done within the organizational structure of the journal you submitted your manuscript to. These new services are independent of specific journals and their goal is to cut down on the redundant work being done in the publication process. This separates the review process from the publication process, (one version of the decoupled journal described by Priem and Hemminger, 2012). Companies like Rubriq, Peerage of Science and Science Open Reviewed want authors to take their reviews with them as they search for an appropriate publication venue.

The decoupled journal, from Priem and Hemminger, 2012

In traditional publishing, all aspects of publication are carried out by the journal. Portable peer review services allow the assessment of article content to be performed outside of the traditional journal environment. Image from Priem and Hemminger, 2012.


While the details vary widely, it is similar to traditional journal based peer review. An author submits a manuscript, reviewers are located, and the reviewers provide commentary on the paper. The portable peer review services have generally taken the time to develop detailed rubrics and detailed guiding questions for reviewers. The authors can then revise their manuscripts and take everything to a journal of their choice. The portable peer review services are also working hard to cooperate with journal editors, allowing them to tell their authors that reviews from their service will be welcomed at specific journals. Some journals have instituted polices accepting outside peer review, like Elsevier’s Virology journal. Virology is starting to welcome manuscripts that have been rejected by higher impact journals if they include the original reviews, a revised manuscript and the author’s rebuttal in their submission package. BMC Biology, eLife, Biology Open, PLOS and EMBO are also cooperating and allowing authors to take their reviews with them.

Subscription journals have often mentioned that the management of the peer review process is one of the “value added” services that makes them worth the high costs. The portable peer review services have a variety of options for supporting themselves. Rubriq relies on author fees, right now around $600 per article (it is worth noting that Rubriq pays its reviewers). Peerage of Science is supported by several European universities and journal partners but does not charge author fees (nor does it pay reviewers). Science Open Reviewed helps connect authors and reviewers, allowing them to negotiate reviewing fees if they choose and is supported by Queen’s University in Ontario, CA.

Importantly, these services often mention the desire to develop a “reputation economy” for reviewers. While many reviewers take the time to provide polite, constructive criticism of a manuscript, there are others who may simply say “this sucks.” Knowing who is more likely to provide the former ahead of time could be useful. For example, Peerage of Science offers a “peer review of peer review” that rates reviewer reviews, and provides reviewer scores on reviewer profiles.

Although scientists recognize that peer review has problems, most recognize that it serves a valued role in communicating scientific research. New portable peer review services hope to improve the quality of reviews while simultaneously reducing the amount of redundancy in the publication system.

Works cited:

Priem, J., & Hemminger, B. M. (2012). Decoupling the scholarly journal. Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience, 6.  Available from:


Science Librarian Bonnie Swoger blogs for Scientific American at the Information Culture blog.  This post was originally posted on the Information Culture blog on August 9, 2013.

What is Digital Scholarship?

Map of the Internet 1/16/2005, from

Digital Scholarship is (among other things) scholarly activities such as writing, research, and communications that take advantage of technologies in the digital world. While digital scholarship might be found everywhere from Twitter to Tumblr to WordPress, it frequently centers around the development of scholarly works, and the software platforms which support them. For example, the TAPAS Project is creating a place where scholars can create and edit texts encoded in TEI XML, and publish them in the same space. Editing Modernism in Canada has a similar purpose, but devoted to modern Canadian authors. In the physical and applied sciences, is an indispensable resource for discovering and reading the works of other scholars. The social web has tailored some of its resources to scholarly communications as well, creating a plethora of platforms that fuse bibliographic reference management with social networking — such as Mendeley, Zotero, Connotea, and Papers.

Here at SUNY Geneseo, the faculty and librarians at Milne are working on a number of digital scholarship projects. For example, Digital Thoreau is a digital scholarship project which is creating a web-based scholarly edition of Walden where users can create and view scholarly commentary inline with the text. SUNY Geneseo Journal Publishing is our peer-reviewed open access journal publishing service which uses the Public Knowledge Project‘s Open Journal Systems. You can read the contents of GREAT Day there, and Educational Change, which is a peer-reviewed journal published by the New York State Foundations of Education Association.

If you’d like to learn more about what we’re doing, or if you have a project to propose, please get  in touch with Joe Easterly, Milne’s Electronic Resources & Digital Scholarship Librarian at [email protected]

Peer Review and Open Access Panel Discussion

Join Milne Library in our celebration of International Open Access Week, October 22-26, 2012!

Geneseo faculty members Jane Morse, Gregg Hartvigsen and Brian Morgan will meet to discuss the similarities and differences between the peer review process for open access and “traditional” subscription publications.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012
1:00-2:00 PM
Milne 208

Open Access Week is now in its sixth year, and offers an opportunity for the academic and research community to continue to learn about the potential benefits of Open Access. Our goal is to inspire wider participation in making Open Access a new norm in scholarship and research, so come to connect and discuss the Open Access (OA) movement and its impact on teaching, scholarship and research.

Blogging about peer reviewed research

A growing number of scientists are blogging. Amid posts about the tenure process, stories about recent science-related events, and the need to teach science effectively, scientists are taking time to analyze and thoughtfully discuss recently published peer-reviewed articles.

The question becomes – how do you know when this is happening, and how can you purposely seek out these types of blog posts?

The answer is the Blogging about peer reviewed research icon, now available from

In addition to easily identifying posts about peer reviewed research, the icon also makes it possible to aggregate these posts from around the blogosphere. At the moment, these posts can be found at this Technorati search page, and further aggregation efforts will appear soon.

(Incidentally, I’m not using the the icon here because I’m not actually talking about peer research, and I don’t want to confuse people. You’ll have to follow this link to see the icon.)

If you are looking for research ideas, or are wondering about how the science community is reacting to a recent paper, check out these posts.