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Publons turns peer review into a measurable research output

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Publons is a startup project and a website focusing on the peer review process. Thus, it is the next attempt to solve the widely discussed problems concerning a crucial point of scientific publishing.

“Just as the electron is the fundamental unit of electricity, the publon is the fundamental unit of publishable content – “the elementary quantum of scientific research which justifies publication”. Whenever you see ‘publon’, think ‘research paper’” says FAQ on the website. This means that you can understand its name simply as “research papers”. This general name is not accidental, since Publons has set a general but very ambitious goal – to create a new method of scientific communication that will go beyond old-fashioned academic journals. This goal is clearly declared in the article written by the website funders. Parenthetically, startups that aim to replace journal publishing are contemporary signum temporis in academic publishing. Publons is quite an interesting example of such initiatives.

The main functionality of the website concerns not articles, but reviews. Thanks to every researcher can be credited for the reviews they have done for academic journals, including blind and semi-blind ones. Thus, might be seen as an attempt to make peer review (which is time consuming, difficult and usually an unpaid process) more attractive to researchers. Unfortunately, records concerning reviews of books are not supported.

You can sign up to the page with your ORCID, Mendeley or Google profile, which makes it easily accessible for most researchers (if you do not have ORCID it is a very good idea to set it up). After signing up, you are asked to add your bio, photo and the reviews you have carried out in your academic career. Adding a review, you can keep it blind (then only the name of the journal will be visible for visitors of your profile) or open. You may even disclose the full text of your review and make it public. In other words, you decide how much information you wish to publish about your work as a reviewer. This way, you create your reviewer profile, which can be accessed by any Internet user. The profile includes all the journals you have worked with, the number of reviews you have done, and if you wish, the titles of articles reviewed by you and the reviews themselves. It makes it easier for others to rate the quality of your reviews.

You can also add the post publication peer review of any article in the world, start, or join the discussion about it. All of these activities are rewarded with merit points that aim to increase your reputation as a reviewer. This means that you may gain merit points not only for cooperation with journals, but also for writing content (reviews and discussions) exclusively for After submitting a post publication peer review, you can appoint a peer to verify your work, which will give you additional merit points.

The most interesting thing about Publons is the fact that it equates official peer review with various types of post publication discussions. The Publons team checks every review they receive; hence every post in discussion should be of high quality. On the other hand, we still do not know if Publons is really able to take care of the content quality in every field. Nevertheless, it is quite an interesting attempt to create an entire system of measuring individual input in the academic community, which is not biased by the old fashioned presumptions.

Publons’ founders claimed that:

New metrics will only become truly relevant after a gradual cultural shift in which a significant number of people begin to value them. This means building a community, and building a community is hard. This will be our biggest challenge, and thus our primary focus. We are hopeful though; in our experience most academics are genuinely interested in questions about their work and will gain great utility from stimulating discussions, particularly if they can signal their contributions.

Though this may be madness, there is method in it! I think that Publons is on a good path to create a real community that may change the way of thinking about evaluating personal input in the scientific community.

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