Tag: peer review

The aftermath of “the Creator” controversy at PLoS ONE

In the beginning of March, social media erupted with a controversy around an article published in the open-access journal PLoS ONE that cited “the Creator” as a source for design of human hands. Now that three weeks have passed, what are some of the lessons learned?

The article and initial reactions

First of all, the source of the controversy. The article included a number of references to the Creator, including a following statement in the abstract: “The explicit functional link indicates that the biomechanical characteristic of tendinous connective architecture between muscles and articulations is the proper design by the Creator to perform a multitude of daily tasks in a comfortable way.” References to the Creator were further also made in the article itself, both in the introduction and conclusions.


While the article was published online on January 5th, the public controversy only started early March, when James McInerney, Chair in Evolutionary Biology at University of Manchester, tweeted his outrage at the statements made in the paper, by calling the publication “a joke”. He later noted that his strong language was due to nuisance with creationism for over 20 years.

However, the publication that had been under the radar for about two months now got massive attention in social media. During a single day, 2nd of March, some rather strong responses were posted in the PLoS ONE article comments. A number of commentators who presented themselves as editors and reviwers of PLoS One threatened to withdraw from the journal. The same day, PLoS issued a statement that they would examine the concerns raised.

Reviewing the effectiveness of peer review process – Scirev

scirevHow efficient is peer review in scientific journals? How long time does it take to get the reviewers’ comments? Were the comments useful? What is the time period you can count with from submitting to publication? How was the review process in general?

We have information about the impact factors of the journals according to various measures and indicators, and one can check up the authors’ impact factor or the influential articles of a journal in Publish or Perish. However, these things give information about the articles that have been published.

At the same time, there is little information about the peer review processes in the various journals and the time it takes. Being a senior researcher, one usually gathers this knowledge over time through experience. However, these are questions that become more and more relevant also for PhD students (and ambitious Master graduates who want to write something from their thesis), as the article-based PhD is gaining prominence in a number of countries. As long as the dissertation is dependent on articles being published, these questions about the review process and the time it takes, can have a significant impact on the candidates writing process and time management.

This far, this kind of information passes between colleagues based on first hand experiences and maybe some good recommendations from others. You might hear that some journals are particularly slow in processing, whereas others are known for their effectiveness, and furthermore, this seems to vary from time to time. As such, the information is rather fragmented and incomprehensive.

To get some more systematic information, the website SciRev might become relevant. The ambition of SciRev is to make the review process more transparent by sharing information about the review process, its quality and the time it has taken – both for articles that have been published and those that have been rejected. By this, they hope to incentivise the journals to be more efficient and to critically examine their editorial and review processes.

New report from CSHE on peer review

UC Berkeley’s Center for Studies in Higher Education (CSHE) recently published a report based on the Future of Scholarly Communication Project. The report was prepared by Diane Harley and Sophia Krzys Acord, and is titled “Peer Review in Academic Promotion and Publishing: Its Meaning, Locus, and Future”. The overall project focus has been on how “academic values—including those related to peer review, publishing, sharing, and collaboration—influence scholarly communication practices and engagement with new technological affordances, open access publishing, and the public good“.

Earlier phases of the project had highlighted the need for a more nuanced way of rewards in academe, that would amongst else not be so focused on quantitative publishing metrics. The report also highlights some of the eminent issues for peer reviewing at this point of time, such as: assessing interdisciplinary scholarship, hybrid disciplines, the development of new online forms of edition making and collaborative curation for community resource use, heavily computational subdisciplines, large-scale collaborations around grand challenge questions, an increase in multiple authorship, a growing flood of low-quality publications, and the call by governments, funding bodies, universities, and individuals for the open access publication of taxpayer-subsidized research, including original data sets.

This indicates new types of challenges and opportunities – leading to a new type of environment for existing peer review practices. Provided that peer review does form the basis for most judgments in academe, both with respect to publishing but also with respect to evaluations – it is indeed extremely important to shed more light into the practices.

The report covers five aspects:

  1. an overview of the state of peer review in the Academy at large
  2. a set of recommendations for moving forward
  3. a proposed research agenda to examine in depth the effects of academic status-seeking on the entire academic enterprise
  4. proceedings from the workshop on the four topics noted above
  5. four substantial and broadly conceived background papers on the workshop topics, with associated literature reviews

You can download the whole report here.