I first came across Nature magazines take on a new way to review papers at the business|bytes|genes|molecules blog. Since I am an academic scientist , I could not contain my enthusiasm for a new way to get my papers peer reviewed and was very happy to see Nature magazine taking the lead on this. On reading the FAQ associated with this trial peer review process. My enthusiasm was quickly dampened and my initial thought manifests itself as the title to this blog post.
But that said, I am big fan of Natures adoption of web 2.0 and the leadership role its taken with regards to its adoption in the scientific publishing world. This trial does seem like a sincere attempt at trying new things. There is however one big problem. Confidentiality . We all know how painful it is to arrive at that big result. Also typically, only the truly big breakthroughs end up being published in Nature. And though I have found myself complaining many times about how editors just don’t appreciate the novelty and “sexiness” of my scientific finding, I don’t think I would ever submit my paper to be “peer reviewed” online for the reason of confidentiality .Before something is published, sadly, and typically most findings are kept fairly under wraps. Pre-publication information is revealed only during meetings and posters and other such non peer-reviewed fora ( and that too only if your lab is not the super paranoid kind).
I would absolutley dread sharing my hard-earned research findings for all to see before it is published with the online community. And the key line here is “before it is published”. This novel attempt by Nature makes that almost imposible.
I would instead really like NIH, NSF and others funding agencies or possibly even Nature itself, to promote frameworks for electronic lab notebooks . The idea being, that once something is published, then all the data relevant to that publication is made online for peer and public perusal. Almost like the recent decision to make a lot of the clinical trial data public, a move to make publishing scientists put all their data out there will immediately reduce instances of fraud and make tax payer funded science more accountable. Also, now we will all know how typical that “typical data” is , post publication .
Importantly, many times , it is the failed experiments and “outliers” that don’t end up in papers that tell us a lot about the system and represent valuable information.
Supplementary material at “vanity” journals like Nature already run into 10s of pages. It will be great to have an NIH/NSF mandated fixed format lab notebook be made available online as well upon publication.