From peer to peer…

Procession of the NoblesPeer review is an integral part of academic research. Loathed by some, the process where one’s work is scrutinised by an anonymous peer is often cumbersome, takes a pretty long time and sometimes can be deeply frustrating. Of course, how the process is handled depends largely on the editor of a journal or conference, and the reviewers that finally get to comment on the work. Personally I can only say that I had both extremely good experiences: Good experiences, where comments where fast, really helpful and on top of great reviews the editor was amazingly supportive. And I had bad experiences; such as the paper for which I’m still waiting for a response a year and a half after submitting it….
Sometimes reviewers comments can be strange: once I received a review full of praise -followed by a recommendation to reject the paper. I’m still wondering if that reviewer ever read his/her review.
But ultimately, and if the process is handled well, peer review can be something very enjoyable. While that doesn’t mean that everybody enjoys receiving critique from an anonymous source and while I have to admit that I have been sometimes frustrated by the reviewers remarks and gone on the defensive when reading them – overall the remarks helped me to make better papers – and that is what counts at the end of the day.
Yet, that does not mean that even with a fast turn around, the time involved in getting the reviews often seems far too long. And sometimes it would be really good to have more than two opinions, especially when the paper/project is in an early stage – and one could do with a bit of a guiding hand. However, here is the catch: it would be pretty much impossible to get early papers published in any journal and get wider feedback, and conference presentations are often to short to elicit detailed feedback. So what is one to do if one wants to have the opportunity to receive a bit of a helping hand and maybe some encouragement?
SSRN is one way of getting early(ish) papers “out there”. But while it is a fantastic distribution network for papers, the feedback I get is rather limited (please tell me if you have a better experience!).
For example, one of my papers is currently 34th in terms of downloads on SSRN (out of over 100,000 papers available on there). My email box should be full with helpful, encouraging and maybe the occasional frustrating reaction – yet day after day my inbox is empty (N.B. in terms of reactions, not in terms of V*agra offers!). Occasionally I tend to think that maybe the paper is just perfect and no one dares to comment on it – but to be honest that usually only happens after far too much wine, and even then I don’t really believe it one bit.
But then I received an email (yes one arrived!) which suggested registering for an account in Philica – a self proclaimed online journal of everything. It sounds like a dream come true: “instant academic publishing” claims the site, transparent, open peer-review, instantly available reviews… I am smitten!
The downside is that the site is pretty new (hey, it’s another beta!) – the domain was registered in March this year – and at least in business the content is still a bit on the light side (aka no paper available). But at least the idea seems seriously attractive to me, and I really hope that soon it will catch on.
One thing Philica must avoid though is becoming just another download source of academic papers (reviewed or otherwise). I really hope that it will become an incubator of academic ideas, with lively, helpful and constructive reviewers – something that is definitely often lacking elsewhere. The only thing we then need is to get publications on Philica acceptable for RAE purposes (if there will be another one…).

If you are interested: Check out

Image: Procession of the Nobles originally uploaded by Josh Thompson.

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