Praise, censure, and the dream of open science

Marcelo Bacciarelli, “Allegory of Justice” (~1792)

Highlighting good-quality work post-publication might be more feasible and of more value than attempting to police data integrity. 

It’s the dream of open science: people post their work online, the community reviews it and provides constructive feedback, and then the authors correct their findings based on that feedback. Any new knowledge produced is rapidly and expertly assessed by the community as a whole, thereby maximising the input that the authors receive as they continue to pursue their lines of enquiry. Everyone participates, everyone benefits.

It sounds great, right? The problem is that almost nobody in the community voluntarily reviews others’ work. We’re all too busy. Peer review is a community service that does not have the cold hard reputational currency of grants and publications, and while appreciated, it is nonetheless undervalued in career terms. Preprints have belatedly and wonderfully achieved mainstream recognition in the biological sciences, but the majority of chatter for the majority of preprints is publicity-based. The comments area of most preprints is empty, with only around 8% of accruing public input.

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