I had a conversation on twitter last night with m’learned friend Nige, who runs the most ethical small business I know of.
He pointed me at this blog post by Richard Smith at the BMJ, What is post publication peer review?.
You know, there are days when I wish I hadn’t used the phrase ‘post-publication peer review’ to describe what F1000 does. It’s inevitably misunderstood. Post-publication peer review, as I intended the phrase, is not and never could be a replacement for peer review ‘proper’ (if you like). What F1000 does is look at papers after they’ve been published and say “Hey guys (and gals), this one’s worth reading. Here’s what it purports to say,” dot dot dot.
Peer review ‘proper’ (if you like) says “Yeah, they did the right stuff here, but there are a couple more experiments they should do to be sure,” or something like that. And if you’re reviewing for a glamour mag, you might also get a comment along the lines of “ARE THEY OUT OF THEIR TINY LITTLE MINDS?” or similar. That, especially the first part (whether the experiments were done right, the controls are appropriate, the relevant literature has been reviewed and cetera, &c., etc.) is not going to happen ‘post-publication’. No way, no how, not ever, uh-uh, over Karl Popper’s dead body [check that Popper is dead—Ed.].
You see, the thing is, the real, incontrovertible and indisputable thing is about science, is that it’s all provisional. (Henry has made this point somewhat forcibly several times in the past, most famously by asserting “Everything Nature publishes is wrong”.) Findings reported in papers only ever become less provisional when somebody repeats the experiment in a different lab and gets the same (or similar) results. (Nige and I discussed clinical trials briefly, which is where the ethics thing came up, but even there you should be able to decide on what’s ‘true’ through meta-analyses and Cochrane Reviews and whatnot.)
That, and only that, is true post-publication peer review.
Not chatting about a paper on blogs or in Nature; not commenting on a manuscript thrown up on a pre-print server; not talking about posters; not even F1000.
So, please, can we drop all this nonsense about doing away with peer review (‘proper’—if you like)? It’s not big, and it’s not clever.