There's been a long, ongoing debate in the academic world for a while concerning the changing nature of peer reviewed academic journals. It started a few years ago when a few new peer reviewed journals felt it made sense to put their content online for free. Traditionally, academic journals were extremely expensive (becoming big money makers for their owners), but there were questions about how this limited advancement of science, since not everyone could afford those journals. At the same time, there were questions about whether or not this limited progress, since many who might challenge or be inspired by certain research could never read about it. It looks like some online journals are now taking the concept of openness to a new level. Rather than just making the content free online, one online journal is taking out the peer review part -- and letting anyone act as the peers. Basically, it's a recognition that there are some problems with the traditional peer review system, where two or three anonymous reviewers (picked by the journal) have incredible power over whether or not a paper sent to them ever sees the light of day in a journal. It's definitely a small sample size, and it can lead to plenty of good research never getting published. At the same time, even peer reviewers make some big mistakes, as various cases of academic fraud have shown in the past few years. The idea with the new journal is admitting that the published papers may certainly be questionable, but it's much better to get them out there so that anyone can review them and express their opinion on whether the research is solid or not. The hope is to generate a lot more conversation and spur additional research early on, rather than waiting until it's gone through the longer, formal process. Of course, things change slowly in academia, and some may worry that people who publish in such a journal will only do so if they don't think they can make it through the old peer review system. Still, it's an interesting experiment that hopefully will get some usage. In the meantime, we can't wait for the next iteration on the idea, when someone (the Wikipedia folks, perhaps?) decide to set up an online scientific journal that's in wiki format. Not only will people be able to critique a paper, they'll be able to fix the parts of the research that are wrong, or add to it with supporting research.
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