As an editor, I struggle to find reviewers for papers. I need to identify them, convince them to write a review and then convince them to do it in a timely fashion. In this process, I am alone in terms of input — relying on my own sources and bibliographies to identify referees — although occasionally a potential referee turning me down might throw another option my way.
So this new experiment from Nature intringued me. From the Chronicle on Higher Education [subscription possibly required]:
During the three-month trial, the journal will allow authors to decide whether to participate in the open form of review. The manuscripts of those who choose to participate will appear online as preprints, and people who provide their name and institutional e-mail address can post comments about the content. Editors will also send those papers to anonymous reviewers, and will consider all comments in decisions about whether to publish the manuscripts in the journal.
This will run alongside the traditional non-disclosed review process. But the significant part is that, not only will these reviews by non-anonymous but they will be voluntary (much like those who comment on blogs). The non-anonymous part will encourage people to behave themselves (it is disclosed to all) while the voluntary part will open up the review process. It will be interesting to see what this does to the supply of reviews.
A more structured form of this is the NAJ (not another journal) Economics site. There, noted economists publish short comments on papers that have yet to be published. These are not reviews but point to a paper’s potential significance.
Of course, potential problems abound with Nature‘s approach. Spam, conflicts of interest and, as I noted in an earlier post on referee anonymity, potential collusion. But I am thankful for the experiment.