February 20, 2006

Peer review market

Prompted by the Korean stem-cell research scandal, Klaus Jaffe argues for reforming the system of peer review of scientific papers (in Nature). He reminds us that "market forces are known to optimize complex systems where multiple players have conflicting interests" and goes on to suggest the following:
First, a central digital repository receives a paper for a fee 'x'. Potential referees then bid to review the paper, and, if approved by the author, receive a fee 'y < x'. Payments are made at the end of each month, allowing for exchanges where an author pays by reviewing other papers.

Referees who can recommend an appropriate journal for the paper and provide the required reference are given due credit and might eventually raise their fee. Authors wanting additional improvements to their work might also pay a higher fee.

Soon, an active exchange could take off where referees quote their position in the peer-market as eagerly as authors quote their citation impact. This system could diminish the workload of referees, by reducing the need to review the same paper for different journals. Eventually this system might be run as an independent peer-review exchange for a profit.

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