Augmented Peer Review

in peer review, altmetrics, publishing, open-access

Last year I was asked to contribute to a special issue on the evolution of peer review. I got quite excited about doing this, but then realised that I really didn’t have the time to write a paper. I’m not a practicing academic, I build products, and while at Mendeley I really had far too much on my plate to find the time to write up a paper. However the topic does interest me, and I am a strong believer that web scale technologies can help with the scientific communication process though a large number of avenues. I was looking through my folder of draft blog posts, and I found the skeleton of the proposal that I had started to put together. I’m posting this up now, including the editoral comments I got on the very rough draft. I remain lucky enough to be in a position to continue to build out the parts of the infrastrucutre that I think can help with all of this. I’ll probably not get around to finishing my thoughts on this proposal in exactly the way that I had been thinking about it last year, but I might flesh out some related thoughts over the coming months.

Delivering an Augmented Peer Review System, one piece at a time.


Rather than trying to replace peer review, I will argue that we should create an augmented version of the system. I propose that web scale technologies can be used to deliver this Augmented Peer Review. I will describe some of the functions of the peer review system and show some of these can already be helped with existing systems, and describe how some of the other functions may be helped in the near future. I will describe in detail how Mendeley has created a technology that can help with one core aspect of the peer review system, assisting in filtering the literature, and I will describe some of our upcoming plans to go further with this. I’ll describe some of the weaknesses of our approach and contrast these to weaknesses in the existing system. I will also describe some experiments that we are planning on running that may validate the predicative power of newly coined metrics. Finally I will argue that getting access to the citation and review graph is the biggest factor in holding back the improvement of the peer review system.


There is little doubt that peer review is a topic of particular interest to academics. The Mendeley search catalog returns over 20 000 items with “peer review” in the title. There is a growing sentiment that “peer review is broken” (I hate your paper ), but broken or not, is it worth asking whether we can improve the current system in any way by applying social or technological changes to the practice of peer review? As a technologist I’m in the lucky position of working on systems that can have an impact on the peer review system from a technological point of view, and so those are the solutions that I will focus on in this paper.

What is peer review anyway?

One of the great problems with offering solutions to the problem of peer review is that it is actually a many headed beast, a Hydra of a system. It is many different things to different people. Some of it’s core functions we can think of as being required, and others are more flexible depending on the policy of the peer review body.

Generally Required:

Generally Optional:

## Augmenting parts of the functionality of Peer Review

Both of these functions are under the pressure of the scale of the literature. In 2008 the Research Information Network assessed that researches in the UK read up to 260 articles each per year (Anon, 2008. Activities , costs and funding flows in the scholarly communications system in the UK Report commissioned by the Research Information Network ( RIN ) Full Report. , (May).). At this rate, assuming no further research were published, it would take a researcher approximately 77000 years to read their way through the items cataloged in PubMed. Nowadays even a well read well connected researcher can only hope to have a deep familiarity with a fraction of the literature, however even hundreds of millions of documents can be scalably compared with the kinds of data structures and algorithms that have been created for indexing the web, such as schema-less data stores like HBase, and algorithms like map-reduce.

The productisation of checking for similarity in the literature has already begun with the introduction of the cross check service from cross ref . Online services like the journal author name estimator can tell you what journals or articles are like the one you are currently writing . The next step will be to see such services integrated into the writing tools of the researcher.

This is actually where the majority of this article will focus, and it discuss the following:


alt metrics manifesto

Radicchi, F. et al., 2009. Diffusion of scientific credits and the ranking of scientists. Physical Review E, 80(5), p.11. Available at: [Accessed August 16, 2010].

Bollen, J. et al., 2009. A principal component analysis of 39 scientific impact measures. Methods, pp.1-19.

Beel, J. & Gipp, B., 2010. Academic Search Engine Spam and Google Scholar’s Resilience Against it. Journal of Electronic Publishing, 13(3).

Arnold, D.N. & Fowler, K.K., 2010. Nefarious Numbers. , p.5. Available at: [Accessed October 6, 2010].

Editorial Comments

This abstract/outline contains a lot of highly relevant background and several good ideas and important observations. Services like Mendeley and Zotero are in a key position for providing the web-tools for realising open post-publication peer review. What I’m still missing in your outline is a coherent vision for how new papers can be openly evaluated by the community with these tools. Imagine you had infinite resources, what system for open evaluation of the scientific literature would you build? I would like to invite you to contribute a full paper with the hope that you will describe a detailed vision for open evaluation (e.g. Mendeley users rating and reviewing papers and sharing their ratings and reviews). The vision should include a description of the required web-based infrastructure as well as mechanisms of motivating reviewers. Consider including a step-by-step description of the process by which a paper is evaluated. Make sure to address the design decisions listed in the email. Feel free to use figures to communicate the key concepts and processes of your vision. Please note that the innovative features that distinguish your approach from those described in other contributions to this special topic should be clearly communicated in the title, in the abstract, and through the headings and terminology used in the paper.