Peer Review Is F***ed Up – Let’s Fix It

Michael Eisen | it is NOT junk | October 28, 2011

Peer review is ostensibly one of the central pillars of modern science. A paper is not taken seriously by other scientists unless it is published in a “peer reviewed” journal. Jobs, grants and tenure are parceled out, in no small part, on the basis of lists of “peer reviewed” papers. The public has been trained to accept as established truth any science that has gone through the gauntlet of “peer review”. And any attempt to upend, reform or even tinker with it is regarded as an apostasy.

But the truth is that peer review as practiced in the 21st century biomedical research poisons science. It is conservative, cumbersome, capricious and intrusive. It slows down the communication of new ideas and discoveries, while failing to accomplish most of what it purports to do. And, worst of all, the mythical veneer of peer review has created the perception that a handful of journals stand as gatekeepers of success in science, ceding undue power to them, and thereby stifling innovation in scientific communication.

This has to stop. In honor of Open Access Week, I am going to lay out what is wrong with peer review, how its persistence in its current form harms science, scientists and the public, and how we can restructure peer review to everyone’s benefit. [These ideas have emerged from over a decades worth of conspiring on this topic with Pat Brown, as well as myriad discussions with Harold Varmus, David Lipman, Vitek Tracz, my brother Jonathan, Gerry Rubin, Sean Eddy, other board members and staff at PLoS, and various and sundry people at meeting bars].