Monday, October 30, 2006

Flu Evolution Revisited and Biology Direct's Foray into Open Peer Review

Anyone interested in scientific publishing and/or the flu should check out a new paper in the journal Biology Direct. The paper suggests a new way of thinking about flu evolution. Whether you agree with the authors or not (I am still not sure), what is most interesting about this to me is that the reviews are posted online as are the authors responses. See the paper here and some stories about it here and here.

Biology Direct is an Open Access journal that is experimenting with the peer review system. Their experiment is quite intriguing in its methods. For details see here and here.
Basically, the author is charged with selecting reviewers and then getting the reviews. Then the paper can be published along with the reviews, whether they were positive or negative. The author can make changes based on the reviews or can choose not to. Thus someone could publish complete crap, but since the reviewers will be named publically, hopefully the reviews will indicatethat it is crap. The key to this is that the author has to select people from the Editorial Board that then select the reviewers. So as long as the Editorial Board is reasonable, the review process should be OK (note - I am on the Editorial Board although I have not been asked to do anything yet).

Do I like this system? I am not 100% sure. But I admire Eugene Koonin and colleagues for trying something different and giving the world an example of a possible way to get around the flaws of the current review system. Of course, to me, the most important thing is that the journal is Open Access, which means that anyone out there can get a fascinating look at peer review for free.

For example, people should really check out the paper and the reviewers comments and the authors responses. Or even better check out some other papers in the journal. It makes for a good read.

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