In the editorial in August’s Nature Chemical Biology, we share our thoughts on peer review. As you can imagine, the exact timing of an editorial on this topic coincides with the peer review trial and debate going on over at Nature, but the thoughts within the article (as well as many related ideas) are frequently on our minds. My most recent inspiration, however, comes from a trip to a convenience store to buy some toothpaste. The veritable cornucopia of choices (even within a single brand!) made me wonder: if we need 50 different kinds of toothpaste to satisfy what seems a fairly simple concept (of cleaning our teeth), how will we, in the face of an equally overwhelming number of choices, ever come to an agreement on a system as complex and important as peer review? I guess one comforting thing is that until we can figure out a better way to conduct this process, our current method seems to be working pretty well.
Some major questions on our minds:
How do we make sense of all the different options being proffered as changes to the current peer-review system?
How long do new ideas need to be tested before we agree that they are better or worse than the current system?
Is it a reasonable expectation that scientists make time to referee papers on a voluntary basis, as is being explored in the Nature trial?
How would we prevent scientists from encouraging their friends to submit overly positive reviews?
What rewards could/should there be for acting as a referee?
Can/does science exist outside of a political environment, where professors need to worry about the good opinion of their peers?
Obviously, this topic is of great significance to us, and we have many ideas of what the answers to these questions could be. But we already know what we think about it – tell us your thoughts!
Catherine (Assistant Editor, Nature Chemical Biology)