Is It Acceptable For Academics To Pay For Privatized, Expedited Peer Review?

from the bumps-along-the-way dept

Academic publishing is going through a turbulent time, not least because of the rise of open access, which disrupts the traditional model in key ways. But in one respect, open access is just like the old-style academic publishing it is replacing: it generally employs peer review to decide whether papers should be accepted, although there are some moves to open up peer review too. As this story from Science makes clear, commercial publishers are innovating here as well, although not always in ways that academics like:

An editor of Scientific Reports, one of Nature Publishing Group’s (NPG’s) open-access journals, has resigned in a very public protest of NPG’s recent decision to allow authors to pay money to expedite peer review of their submitted papers.

According to the Science article, there are now several companies making millions of dollars from this kind of privatized, expedited peer review. Here’s more about Research Square, the one employed by NPG:

“We have about 100 employees with Ph.D.s,? says Research Square?s CEO, Shashi Mudunuri. That small army of editors recruits scientists around the world as reviewers, guiding the papers through the review process. The reviewers get paid $100 for each completed review. The review process itself is also streamlined, using an online “scorecard” instead of the traditional approach of comments, questions, and suggestions.

Authors pay $750 to NPG, and are guaranteed a review within three weeks or they get their money back. Research Square seems to be flourishing:

So far, Mudunuri says, the company has about 1400 active reviewers who have scored 920 papers. The company pulled in $20 million in revenue last year.

Still, the question has to be whether this leads to key benefits of the peer review process being lost. After all, the system is not just about accepting or rejecting papers. The NPG editor who resigned, Professor Mark Maslin, is quoted as saying:

“Deep consideration and a well thought out review is much more important than its speed. I have had brilliant reviews which have considerably improved my papers and I really appreciated all the time taken.”

The other issue is that the expedited, paid-for route is discriminatory:

“My objections are that it sets up a two-tiered system and instead of the best science being published in a timely fashion it will further shift the balance to well-funded labs and groups,” Mark Maslin, a biogeographer at University College London, tells ScienceInsider. “Academic Publishing is going through a revolution and we should expect some bumps along the way. This was just one that I felt I could not accept.”

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Comments on “Is It Acceptable For Academics To Pay For Privatized, Expedited Peer Review?”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Well, if someone pays $750 to get their “expedited” review and instead of getting a proper, full, peer review, they instead get a scorecard saying “Your research is crap”, with little to tip them off as to why, then I guess I don’t have much of a problem with it, actually.
If they’re actually paying for a rubber stamp on their shitty research then there’s definitely a problem.

Yes, I know I'm commenting anonymously says:

The ethical issue is about the independence and objectivity of the reviewers, That is also why we pay judges a really good income.

On the other hand, a journal that uses this kind of `service’ will probably lose influence quickly because of the inherent quality-problems. It’ll probably sort itself without too much fuss.

andrew_duane (profile) says:

Someone needs to peer review their math

Doing the math here, assuming each review had only one reviewer paid to do it, that’s $750 – $100 = $650 per review. $650 x 920 scored papers = $598,000. Yet the company claims $20,000,000 in revenue last year?

Maybe the $750 is just an application fee, and there are many more demands for money afterward (like a FOIA fee of $5 per page to print the review?).

DannyB (profile) says:

I have a better question

> Is It Acceptable For Academics To Pay
> For Privatized, Expedited Peer Review?

An even better question:

If they get a poor review, which means poor value for their money, can they:
* write a bad review of the peer reviewer on Yelp?
* complain on consumerist, and to the better business bureau?
* sue for deceptive advertising?
* sue because their 1st amendment right to publish a bad paper is being suppressed by a bad peer review?
* sue for copyright infringement, because the reviewer’s browser or pdf reading software had to make an unlicensed copy of the academic paper in memory in order for the reviewer to read and review it?

Could Righthaven, Prenda, Rightscorp, Rockstar, Intellectual Vultures or Ms. Streisand offer any additional suggestions?

Spaceman Spiff (profile) says:

Paid peer reviews?

This just invites fraud and other “bad” things! Any “scientific” paper that relies upon paid reviews should be considered suspect and unpublishable. My father was a physicist who published significantly. His articles were all peer reviewed appropriately. He must be rolling over in his grave (if he had one – after donating his body to medical science, the remains were cremated and scattered over the Rocky Mountains) about this! FWIW, he was a Guggenheim fellow, director of NCAR and the NSF, and chairman of the dept. of physics of two major universities, amongst other stuff.

Real science requires close scrutiny, and paid reviews don’t do that! The intention of the reviewers may be good (get paid for their time, but still perform due diligence), but the possibility for corruption cannot be constrained – it must be eliminated!

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Even worse than being for-profit

The review process itself is also streamlined, using an online “scorecard” instead of the traditional approach of comments, questions, and suggestions.

This sent more chills up m spine than the fact that money is involved. Eliminating comments, questions, and suggestions also eliminates most of the value of peer reviews in the first place.

Peer reviews aren’t just about detecting bogus papers — that’s actually a minor purpose of them. Peer reviews are about ensuring that what the paper says accurately reflects what the researcher has determined and is trying to say. Reducing or eliminating the back-and-forth of the peer review process results in peer reviews that aren’t terribly useful.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re: Re: Even worse than being for-profit

The invisible hand of the market, my butt. The truth is, the market can and will be gamed. Why has the invisible hand not freed up the telco market if it’s so effective?

There is no such thing as the free market. It’s not free. And the invisible hand is notoriously bad at freeing it up.

tqk (profile) says:

Shashi Mundunuri == American Journal Experts

Damn, this subject depresses me. Budding scientists all over the world just trying to break into their dream line of work, and they find an industry of vampires waiting to drain them before they get anywhere near getting funding to do original work. PhD candidates are getting $4.50 an hour to “edit” papers written by ESL authors, the former just trying to pay off student loans and the latter trying to get traction in an English only dominated private publishing industry.

It all makes me wonder why anyone would want to bother with STEM. They’d be better off learning to be carpenters or plumbers. Screw the Universities. If you’re not graduating from one of the few prestigious ones, you’re wasting your tuition money, for years of frustrating mental abuse.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Shashi Mundunuri == American Journal Experts

Becoming an academic is far from the only STEM-oriented career!

You’re correct; I should have just said science research career. However, I didn’t mean just a career in academia teaching. I once wanted to get into astronomy, then I read Stoll’s Cuckoo’s Egg. After defending his thesis, all that was open to him was sysadmin. There are hundreds of qualified researchers spat out each year, all fighting for one or two positions, and they’re dead in the water if they can’t find funding for their research.

Remodeling kitchens looks pretty attractive when you look at it that way.

Bamboo Harvester (profile) says:

Is anyone really surprised?

It’s the global warming nutters. Since their “data” can’t pass any kind of actual, established scientific scrutiny they want to change the way it’s tested.

I’ve seen piles of “peer reviewed” papers by AGW supporters wanting to do away with the Scientific Method simply because their theories won’t pass it.

It’s insane what we’re (NOT!) teaching our kids in school any longer.

BernardoVerda says:

Re: Is anyone really surprised?

Oh god — not another one…

Look, it’s really quite simple, even if you don’t understand the science:


1) the conclusions of the world’s scientists (climatologists, physical chemists, oceanographers, paleontologists, etc, etc.) based on many, many decades of scientific inquiry, which when is all said and done essentially confirms that the naturally expected consequences of physics and chemistry first identified (and even roughly calculated) back in the mid and late 1800’s, do in fact hold up when investigated in greater detail and with superior technological resources,


2) the world’s scientific community is utterly dominated and completely run by a bunch of fools who can’t reliably do basic math — but yet manage to thoroughly hoodwink national governments and international research institutions in order to maintain an uncertain trickle of departmental funding


3) there’s a vast global conspiracy of the world’s scientists, acting on behalf of political cabals and all the world’s governments, to promulgate a phony “Global Warming” scare for Nefarious Purposes (that all those vastly differing national governments can not merely agree on, but actively co-operate on (efficiently and effectively, yet!) and successfully keep secret, and against which aforesaid evil machinations the word’s brave, embattled, badly disadvantaged coal and petroleum industries are our only hope.

Go ahead; take your pick.

If you still find this issue at all difficult to discern, perhaps you could try to properly acquaint yourself with the actual, “real deal” genuine, scientific basis underlying this matter — but I’m not sure you’ll find that approach productive, either.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Is anyone really surprised?

So, I guess we should put you down in the Global Warming Nutters column?

A lot of today’s scientific community appear to have forgotten what “theory” means. Don’t start your reply with “Oh god — not another one…” if you want your point of view to be taken seriously.

Me, I don’t know. What I do know is Earth’s ecosystem is hideously complex, there’s a huge fusion reactor roaring away just outside our atmosphere, and we’ve billions of years of history that tell us its all been pretty unstable throughout that time. We only barely understand what the sun’s really doing.

Yet you’re positively convinced the skeptical side is clearly wrong? How scientific of you.

BernardoVerda says:

Re: Re: Re: Is anyone really surprised?

Seriously — the basic theory is well over a century old. Even the first rough calculations are well over a century ago (and they have since proven to be well in the ballpark).

And since then, no countervailing phenomena have been found, that would provide a sustainable reason to believe that the otherwise straight-forward, entirely predictable consequences of some very basic physical chemistry would somehow fail to (is somehow failing to) produce the straight-forward, entirely predictable consequence.

More CO2 in the atmosphere means more heat retained, hence global warming, and climate change, sea-level rise, etc, as a result of that warming.

The observed data (what a coincidence! Who would’a thunk!) is that this has in fact been happening, and is continuing to happen at an accelerating rate — a rate that hasn’t been observed in the history of the human species, let alone human civilization. And the last time the planet saw similar changes, it came with one of the greatest ecosystem upheavals in the paleological record (and paleontologists, for some reason, refer to these events as “great extinctions”).

Appealing to things like some magical “Solar Mysteries” is at this point either rank ignorance or the most cynical deception.

But some people still want us to dismiss this all as “just a ‘theory'” (Hint: in science, a “theory” is not just some idle speculation).

So yeah — at this point, “AGW Skeptiks” are pretty much on par with “Scientific Creationists” and anti-vaxxers. The evidence is overwhelmingly against them, and there’s a lot of it. The big holdouts are known ideologues, religious cranks, and well-paid PR professional bamboozlers (gosh… guess who’s paying those guys — or better, don’t guess; it’s on record).

So yeah: “not another one”, please. Pretty please? Pretty please… with a cherry on top?

GEMont (profile) says:

May I take your New World Order please.

Should it be legal??

Well, considering that regular bribery of politicians by corporations is perfectly legal, why not!

After all, laws are now being manufactured by Hollywood and Billionaire Koch Brother thin-tanks, for dissemination to “well-oiled” politicians to enact into laws of the land.

Why shouldn’t corporations be the only ones to be able to get their phony product-promoting studies published and prevent any contradictory science from doing the same as well.

Its an Ownership Society now and if you aint an owner, then you’re owned. Get used to it.

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