Publons: Addressing the Challenges of Peer Review

The longstanding practice of peer review – so essential to scholarly publishing – is facing challenges these days.

One modern complication: the sheer volume of research now being generated worldwide. An estimated quantity of 2 million scientific reports published annually demands an imposingly large number of reviewers. These referees, despite their investment of time and labor, are traditionally unpaid, and do not receive consistent, documented credit or recognition for their efforts.

Editors, meanwhile, struggle to identify, recruit and retain a corps of reviewers capable of evaluating the voluminous research and reporting back within a reasonable interval, as the time required for publication of a peer-reviewed article, in some cases, can now run from six months to a year.

Further complicating matters is the abiding pressure for early-career researchers to make their mark by publishing in peer-reviewed journals. Among these ranks, some of the less scrupulous have proved themselves adept at gaming the review system. Successful ruses, as Retraction Watch has reported, include submitting fictional or real names of reviewers, with false email addresses that return to the authors or to shady editorial firms that unfailingly offer positive reviews. A recent instance of such fraud resulted in a journal retracting more than 100 cancer studies, all demonstrated to have been falsely reviewed.

Despite these difficulties, peer review remains a crucial gatekeeping function in ensuring and preserving the quality and integrity of research. But how can the institution meet these current challenges?

One company that’s taken up the cause, founded in 2012 in the interest of improving and elevating peer review, is Publons, which was recently made part of Clarivate Analytics. The Publons mission, as the company states, is to “speed up research by harnessing the power of expert peer review.” Publons is a resource not only for reviewers but for editors, publishers, and all those with a stake in the quality and timeliness of research.

For reviewers who sign on, Publons provides a public review profile, collecting the reviewer’s work and presenting a verified review history, without breaking any conditions of reviewer anonymity. This profile constitutes a portfolio of contributions and merit, including a peer-review record to include in job and grant applications.

Publons also provides an “academy” for reviewer instruction, with supervised training modules and, upon successful completion, a “badge” added to the reviewer’s profile.

For editors, Publons saves time and effort by furnishing access to new reviewers, whose previous reviewing work can be readily assessed and whose subsequent efforts can be tracked. Reviewers’ email addresses can also be screened as a safeguard against fraud.

In short: For reviewers, Publons incentivizes, rewards, and documents high-quality work; for editors and publishers, it furnishes a pool of experienced, proven reviewers, while increasing engagement with the research community.

Thus far, the Publons platform can boast more than 175,000 researchers, upwards of 900,000 documented reviews, and 25,000-plus journals, over 1,350 of which are formally partnered with the platform. Now joined, Publons and Clarivate Analytics can fully share their commitment to providing the most trustworthy, proven information. Read more about how Clarivate and Publons are supporting peer review in these publications: Nature, The Guardian and The Economist.

To learn more about Publons, please visit the Publons website.