Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Open access publishing & open peer review

Regular readers of this blog will know I am a supporter of the principles behind open access publishing, as a way of enabling the sharing of knowledge as widely as possible. One of my favourite open access journals is the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR). During the last couple of weeks my dealings with the journal have increased and the journal has introduced a fairly innovative new peer review process.

I have never previously submitted a paper to JMIR or other open access journals, because the university I work for has no way of paying the submission and publication charges (although they spend a fortune on subscriptions to journals - some of which I and my colleagues have published in). This changed a few weeks ago when I persuaded my doctoral supervisors that the high impact factor and relatively fast review process of JMIR meant this was the right journal to submit my latest paper to. I had to make a special case (largely based on completing my doctorate before the next assesment under the Research Excellence Framework) and it was agreed that the university would pay the fees - but that this wouldn't set a precedent for the future.

Therefore I submitted the paper (thanks to help from a member of staff who is allowed to use the universities credit card), let out a sigh of relief and started to wait for the reviewers feedback.

A few days later I noticed on someone's facebook status that JMIR had set up a new open peer review process, in which registered users can sign themselves up as peer reviewers for specific articles currently under consideration by the Journal. Reviewers will be acknowledged by name if the article is published, but remain anonymous if the article is declined.

I noticed that my paper is included in the list (I'm not going to tell you which one as this could introduce bias/conflict of interest), but also noticed another on a topic which interests me, and in which I have some expertise. I clicked on "peer review me" and a few days later had access to the paper for review and the guidelines for reviewers. The process from that point on was the same as it has been when I have been asked by the editor of the journal to review other papers through normal invitations.

I have now reviewed the paper with suggestions for the authors, and wish them luck while they await the editors decision.

This experience has got me thinking further about the nature of the scientific peer review process. Perhaps open peer review, as instigated by JMIR, will move us some way from the shadowy and largely hidden traditional process, some way down the road to the almost completely open editing and reviewing process exemplified by Wikipedia. It will be interesting to see how far "the establishment" will be prepared to go down this road - perhaps spurred on by the speed of publication and citation which is a product of open access journals. The measures of impact such as journal citation factors also seem to be moving towards citation indicators for particular papers. It may be that one day we will also consider social impact as well as traditional scientific impact.

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