Friday, April 17, 2015

Publons

The "publon" is "the elementary quantum of scientific research which justifies publication" and it's also a website that might be interesting for you if you're an active researcher. Publons helps you collect records of your peer review activities. On this website, you can set up an account and then add your reviews to your profile page.

You can decide whether you want to actually add the text of your reviews, or not, and to which level you want your reviews to be public. By default, only the journal for which you reviewed and the month during which the review was completed will be shown. So you need not be paranoid that people will know all the expletives you typed in reply to that idiot last year!

You don't even have to add the text of your review at all, you just have to provide a manuscript number. Your review activity is then checked against the records of the publisher, or so is my understanding.

Since I'm always interested in new community services, I set up an account there some months ago. It goes really quickly and is totally painless. You can then enter your review activities on the website or - super conveniently - you just forward the "Thank You" note from the publisher to some email address. The record then automatically appears on your profile within a day or two. I forwarded a bunch of "Thank You" emails from the last months, and now my profile page looks like follows:



The folks behind the website almost all have a background in academia and probably know it's pointless trying to make money from researchers. One expects of course that at some point they will try to monetize their site, but at least so far I have received zero spam, upgrade offers, or the dreaded newsletters that nobody wants to read.

In short, the site is doing exactly what it promises to do. I find the profile page really useful and will probably forward my other "Thank You" notes (to the extent that I can dig them up), and then put the link to that page in my CV and on my homepage.

9 comments:

msleifer said...

I have mixed feelings about this. The traditional thing to do on your CV is to just list the journals you have reviewed for. I suspect that nobody ever verifies this list, so it is in principle good to have a way of doing so.

However, in small fields, where a journal publishes maybe one or two papers in the area per issue, I suspect that authors could use this to identify the reviewer of their paper. Personally, I don't care too much about my own anonymity, but other people do.

Secondly, displaying full details of your reviewing activities may backfire from a career perspective. The danger is that hiring/tenure committees may think that you are wasting time doing too much reviewing, particularly if you review far more papers than you publish. Giving just a list of journals gives the committee some idea of how often you are asked to review, which is what they really want to know, without revealing further details that might be damaging.

Phillip Helbig said...

I've just had a quick glance at the links. Is the idea that you put up the actual referee reports that you have written? If so, there is a danger that refereeing will become less anonymous, which might not be what some journals, authors, and other referees want.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Matt,

There are various privacy options on that site. You can for example just show that you reviewed for the journal's publisher and not for the journal. One can edit the date, but I don't see an option to hide it (or only show the year). Maybe it's something one could suggest to them to add, I'll send them a note about this. Thanks for bringing it up.

You are right of course in that the current culture is that reviews are anonymous. I don't think it's a good culture though, I believe that it's the main reason peer review is so sick. That people are afraid others will not like their sophisticated opinions is only pretend. What they are really afraid of is that they'd actually have to think before writing a review. I think we all have received a bunch of these totally ridiculous reviews that only demonstrate the reviewer didn't even read the paper. This would then be totally embarrassing, thus forcing people to spend time on their reviews, and they don't want to have to think about other people's work. That is the true reason people don't want to publicly stand to their reviews and it's also why the system is almost broken. Best,

B.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Phillip,

You didn't actually read what I wrote, did you? As I said, you don't have to add your reports at all. Or you can upload them for your own record, but not make them public. As I said to Matt already, I think that anonymous peer review is a problem rather than a merit. But be that as it may it is clearly presently the standard, and the people who put up that site are not forcing anybody to change anything about this standard. They are merely giving reviewers an opportunity to collect credits for their efforts. Best,

B.

Phillip Helbig said...

"You didn't actually read what I wrote, did you? As I said, you don't have to add your reports at all. Or you can upload them for your own record, but not make them public."

Yes, I did read it. At least it's possible to put up the reports and make them public. I don't see why one would need to upload them for one's own record, but then again some people would rather outsource their archives.

Phillip Helbig said...

"You are right of course in that the current culture is that reviews are anonymous. I don't think it's a good culture though, I believe that it's the main reason peer review is so sick. That people are afraid others will not like their sophisticated opinions is only pretend. What they are really afraid of is that they'd actually have to think before writing a review. I think we all have received a bunch of these totally ridiculous reviews that only demonstrate the reviewer didn't even read the paper. This would then be totally embarrassing, thus forcing people to spend time on their reviews, and they don't want to have to think about other people's work. That is the true reason people don't want to publicly stand to their reviews and it's also why the system is almost broken."

There is certainly some truth to this. On the other hand, there are some good reasons for remaining anonymous as a referee. For example, someone writing a negative report about a paper written by someone with whom one has recently applied for a job. In a perfect world, sure, it wouldn't matter, but the world is not perfect.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Phillip,

Yes, I understand this, which is why it's pointless trying to force people to make their reviews public. However, while we clearly do not live in a perfect world, I think we should at least aspire to make it better. And science should be objective and about science, not personal. As long as scientists have to worry about making public an opinion about somebody else's work, this isn't properly working, and to me it indicates the system isn't functioning as it should. It is an illusion to assume that the problem is solved by just making reviews anonymous. This just brings in more problems. Now people might no longer be afraid to voice their opinion in reviews, but they also have no reason to get an objective opinion to begin with. Instead, what they often do, is just try to support their own research agenda and stifle everything else. And besides this, I doubt that anonymous comment in reviews really has any impact. If the paper gets rejected, you just go and submit it elsewhere, and in the end it will get published just by chance. There's no learning curve in that, other that you learn some journals have crappy editors. The papers that I reject as a reviewer - they almost all get published in some other journal, and none of the authors seems to ever think about my comments. And why not? Well, because they don't have to. Nobody knows of these reviews, so why bother?

Best,

B.

Greg Metcalfe said...

"There's no learning curve in that, other that you learn some journals have crappy editors."

But that can be a steep learning curve, in fashionable fields.

RMS said...

What they are really afraid of is that they'd actually have to think before writing a review.

That is why I created a Publons account, and make as many of my reviews open as journals allow (some do not allow reviews to be published, strangely): to show to journals thinking of inviting me to be a reviewer that I put time and thought behind my reviews.