I must confess. I did that lazy thing by asking on Twitter for something perhaps I could’ve found out with a little more effort (I have also been relatively lax at actually writing this blogpost about it!). However, it actually resulted in something interesting.
I had just completed a (peer) review for a journal published by Sage and was asked if I wanted to sign up for “Publons” a system that supposedly let you gain ‘recognition’ for your peer reviewing. So, I did sign up but then thought: “hang on…” and this prompted by question on Twitter:
Academic twitter: Has anyone used/signed up for Publons? Can you recommend (or discourage) using it? Thx!— Sam Kinsley (@samkinsley) August 7, 2018
Click through to read the replies. It’s a great sharing of knowledge and expertise around the process of peer review, with plenty of contributions from colleagues with positions as editor in various journals. For example, this from Martin Coward begins to get at some of the issues.
Also, I feel it overstates benefits for authors (i.e. no UK institution gives any significant weight to your reviewing record in the promotion process). And editors can't rate reviews as they can in scholar one – so there is no sense of the quality of the reviews it records.— Martin Coward (@martincoward) August 8, 2018
I won’t try to summarise, or indeed embed, all of the things that were said, please do click through for the whole exchange. I do want to, very briefly, reflect upon this longstanding concern with making peer review ‘work’. The concerns that “Publons” purports to address are real. Peer review is the life-blood of academic publishing but is assumed, rather under-valued (by publishers, some colleagues and institutions) and, it seems, the constant frustration of editorial board members. As my former colleague Prof. Martin Weller has observed this labour represents rather a lot of unrecognised and under-appreciated investment.
An attempted ‘technological fix’ is, of course, not new. There have been various attempts to think about this over the years. When I was working with Martin on ‘digital scholarship’ (see his excellent open access book) the trial of an ‘open’ peer review system for Nature was a relatively recent talking point.
It is not a novel argument but it seems to me that unless and until academics, publishers and institutions stop thinking about lots of forms of labour as a part of a perceived ‘exceptionalism’ and ‘privilege’ of academic life (which I think, if it did ever exist for a few people, is long gone) we are more-or-less doomed to rehearse this debate ad infinitum.