Blogging’s First Peer Review

By Neuroskeptic | August 5, 2013 1:20 pm

Last year, I became the first person to publish in a peer-reviewed academic journal under a blogging pseudonym. Earlier this year I did it again.

I can now announce that I’m also (I think) the first blogger to act as a peer reviewer under my pseudonym.

The manuscript was submitted to a well-known journal and ‘Neuroskeptic‘ was asked to evaluate it. The request came to my neuroskeptic email address, and I submitted it as “Dr N Skeptic” – my real contact details etc. never being involved.

Which is… nice. But I don’t want to say much more about it, because of confidentiality.

So I’ll take the opportunity to say that in general, peer reviewing a manuscript is not very different to writing a blogpost about a paper. There’s a lot of overlap in the thought-processes involved, and the skills required.

However, while I love blogging, I’ve never enjoyed being a peer reviewer. As a reviewer, you’re not just commenting on a manuscript, but also sitting in judgement on it (the final decision is the editor’s, but they mostly go along with the reviewers.)

I don’t like wielding the power of being a reviewer. I worry that having said power makes me responsible for any flaws in the paper if it does get published, or alternatively, that I’ll be responsible for hurting the authors’ feelings (and careers) if it doesn’t.

But the worst part is that I will never really know what part my review played in the story of the manuscript. You never know whether you were right or wrong.

What I like about blogging is that it’s all above board. If I make a mistake then readers can correct me. If I write something profound then people can let me know. Eventually, in the process of open dialogue, the truth will out. It’ll all come out in the wash.

As a peer reviewer, you rarely get that sense of closure. It’s an important role to play, and all scientists have a duty to take part in it. But that doesn’t mean we have to enjoy it.

  • Rebecca Schwarzlose

    I’ve felt the same way about peer-reviewing papers. It’s uncomfortable every which way. Essential, but miserable. Still, congrats on taking pseudonymity to the next level!

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

      Well I’m glad to hear I’m not alone. I would actually be worried about a scientist who got a kick out of peer reviewing. Would suggest they were power-hungry. However I have yet to meet such a scientist.

  • John McIntire

    I’ve peer-reviewed a couple of times and actually enjoyed it, mostly because I’ve mentally framed it as “helping” the authors as opposed to “judging” them. Sort of like if a colleague asked me to contribute my thoughts to a paper, a new perspective can help clarify issues to give fresh ideas, things to look at, alternative ways to interpret data, etc.
    .
    Of course being on the receiving end can suck, especially if the reviewer just seems to be attacking or judging without providing “help”.

  • doubting_rich

    “It’s an important role to play, and all scientists have a duty to take part in it”

    Why?

    Could you not just start an on-line journal on a blogging platform, say “brainscience.com” and invite anyone to submit an article? You keep editorial control only in checking the articles for basic readability, relevance and perhaps ethics, and to ensure that the data is archived and linked. Then the peer review comes in the comments.

    If you track back to links in then you can add links to any article written in response, and of course any response that requires more than a blog comment can be submitted as a new article, with appropriate links both ways. A small publishing fee or membership subscription would cover costs, while perhaps even allowing the articles to be available free to read for those not wishing to comment.

    Peer review is broken. Scandals in some of the more speculative areas of science have not yet hit the mature, hard sciences but they have shown up the deep flaws of peer review, and the papers are out there that will prove to be flawed or fraudulent. Some major issues have been peers being too close to (or indeed having too much antipathy for) authors, lack of transparency and the control publications have over responses. All are addressed by open peer review by a blog which only allows comment under the commenter’s name.

    • John McIntire

      I’m partially sympathetic to your view (I like the idea of open access journals and ability to comment), but I think you are overlooking some of the advantages of professional peer reviewers (as opposed to amateur blog-style). Imagine a climate scientist having to deal with the “reviews” if they published their work online in blog format, and only online. They wouldn’t be able to address 99% of the comments, and wouldn’t want to anyway, as most would be a total waste of time.
      .
      My advisor once said (and I agree with him) that it is our duty as scientists to peer review, to make sure pure crap doesn’t get published. Thus we are serving as guardians to the “scientific” stamp of approval, and the prestige offered by top journals. It is, in general, a job no one else is able or willing to do.

  • Pingback: The zen of addressing reviewers’ comments | lushgreengrassatafridayafternoon()

  • Keith R Laws

    As the vast majority of reviewing is anonymous, the big difference between reviews and blogging is that the reviewing is really about ‘them’ (the authors) and to some extent, blogging is about ‘you’ (whether named or using a pseudonym handle) and them perhaps?

    If we moved to transparent reviewing and publishing reviews (e.g. as we do at BMC Psychology) and had post publication comments – then the contributions of reviewers would be more transparent

  • Pingback: peer review part 2 | Walk In Brain()

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About Neuroskeptic

Neuroskeptic is a British neuroscientist who takes a skeptical look at his own field, and beyond. His blog offers a look at the latest developments in neuroscience, psychiatry and psychology through a critical lens.

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