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Will ‘portable peer review’ make science more efficient?

6 Sep, 13 | by BMJ

The academic publication process is not the most efficient of systems. Authors often go through several rounds of submission and rejection trying to find an appropriate publication venue. In fact, it takes on average nearly six months for a paper to reach publication from date of submission, during which time there is plenty of opportunity for competitors to publish similar results.

The reality is that before a paper is accepted by a journal, it is often rejected by one or more others. The reason for rejection need not be a methodological flaw – perhaps the research just isn’t innovative enough for the prestigious titles. During this time, each journal sends the paper for appraisal by experts in the relevant field; peer review. Endless cycles of repetitive review and requests for additional experiments from multiple journals does not necessarily make for efficient scientists, or efficient science.

This is where a new collection of services around ‘portable peer review’ come in. Traditionally, the review process is done within the organisational structure of the journal a manuscript is submitted to. These new peer review services, however, are not connected to specific journals and their aim is to reduce the unnecessary work being done in the publication process.

Companies like Rubriq and Peerage of Science want authors to take their reviews with them as they seek out a suitable home for their manuscript. A new cross-publisher initiative has also been launched to help make the peer-review process less protracted.


Rubriq is a startup attempting to reduce inefficiencies in publishing by providing peer review independent of journals. While others, such as Faculty of 1000, offer this with post-publication reviews, Rubriq focuses on pre-submission review. Rather than replacing peer review completely, however, Rubriq hopes to provide editors with initial insight, allowing them to reduce time to first decision or use it as a filter (by setting a threshold for a minimum score needed to submit). Rubriq see the R-Score (an overall score for the paper based on Quality of Research, Quality of Presentation, and Novelty and Interest) as a new article level metric.

“Rubriq has been formed to address the challenges of the peer review system for scientific publishing, and to recover lost hours from redundant reviews so they can be put back into research. In the current journal submission process, rejection is common, yet reviews are rarely passed along from one journal to the next. This leads to reviewers repeating work that has already been done on the same manuscript by other colleagues. Using data from published studies and reports, the Rubriq team estimates that over 15 million hours of time are spent on redundant or unnecessary reviews – every year.”

Peerage of Science

Rather than authors being the customer, it is in fact publications that subscribe to the Peerage of Science service. 25 have signed up so far, including PeerJ. In effect, journals outsource the organisation of peer review to Peerage of Science on the understanding that other clients can also look at the results. If the first journal rejects a submission, those others can choose quickly whether to snap it up instead. Peerage’s fee is paid by whichever journal ends up the research.

Here’s a breakdown of how it works:

  • Authors submit manuscript to Peerage of Science, before submitting to any journal.
  • Submitting Author decides the deadlines for the four stages of the process, which are thereafter automatically enforced.
  • Once submitted, any qualified* non-affiliated** Peer can engage to review the manuscript.
  • Peer reviews are themselves peer reviewed, increasing and quantifying the quality of peer review.
  • The peer review process is available concurrently to all subscribing journals, with automated event tracking.
  • Authors may accept a direct publishing offer from subscribing journal, or choose to export the peer reviews to any journal of their choice.

Peer Review Consortium

Last month a number of publishers, including big names like BMC, PLOS, eLIFE and EMBO, agreed to give the authors of rejected papers the opportunity to make referees’ reports available to the other publishers.

Authors who submit to a participating journal in the consortium and are not accepted by that particular title, will be able to redirect their paper and referee’s reports to any other journal in the consortium. Referees will be given the opportunity to opt out of having their reports forwarded, or to forward them anonymously (in all cases, the referee’s identity will be anonymous to the author – referees will choose whether they wish to remain anonymous to the editors of the secondary journal).

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