The Era of Post-Publication Peer Review

Two of my most favorite writers include Thomas Friedman and Ivan Oransky (@ivanoransky).

I remember reading The Lexus and the Olive Tree by Thomas Friedman. It was eye opening. Years later, I met Ivan Oransky at a media communications meeting organized by the Council for Responsible Nutrition. About this time, he started Embargo Watch and Retraction Watch. These blogs transformed my perspective on science communications.

Now it drives me crazy to hear scientists rail against the media, the internet, and other circumstances where common people have an opinion. Trying to surround and constrain social media is fruitless. Pandora’s box is open. Because of globalization and the revolution in information technology most recently outlined by Friedman and Mandelbaum in “That Used to be Us”, science will change. Social media is available to everyone, even those interested in science. Social media allows for self expression. And it will bring the era of post-publication peer review.

So when I saw @ivanoransky’s tweet ‘The replication in psychology discussion continues with smart comments at @edyong209’s post bit.ly/yVLPxt, I immediately linked to Ed Yong’s (@edyong209) blog ‘A failed replication draws a scathing personal attack from a psychology professor’.

It was worthwhile. Insightful. Ed Yong is a scientist writing about his critique of a peer reviewed paper. The blog and its comments are the heart and soul of  post-publication peer review. Since the beginning, science is dependent upon this quote from Ed’s blog:

Results need to be checked, and they gain strength through repetition. On the other hand, if someone cannot repeat another person’s experiments, that raises serious question marks.

Ed Yong is correct when he states, “Scientists get criticized for not carrying out enough replications – there is little glory, after all, in merely duplicating old ground rather than forging new ones.”. Ultimately, we gain insights as scientists debate assumptions and approaches. By using different approaches, testing different hypotheses, we adopt new perspectives based on the totality of the evidence.

However, for me, the key insight is that the process doesn’t stop with publication. In fact, because of social media, the discussion expands beyond the select group of reviewers. With social media, the potential for give-and-take among differing views explodes. Already, websites like HealthNewsReview.org are evaluating news stories that make a therapeutic claim.

Will post-publication review stop with journalistic articles? I don’t think so. This is the most exciting development with post-publication peer review.

It will be disruptive for scientists to learn that their contributions are no longer cast in stone after being reviewed by a select field of peers and an editor. Where it will lead, I do not know.  But I am glad to be living today!

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About Michael McBurney

Personal Blog | Nutrition science | Generally curious about impact of social media and open access journals on science communication. Employed by DSM.
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