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Friday, 4 October 2013

Open access and peer review

We’re likely to be hearing about John Bohannon's new article in Science, "Who's afraid of peer review?" Essentially the author created 304 fake papers with bad science and submitted one each to an 'author-pays' open access journal to test their peer review. 157 of the journals accepted it, 98 rejected it; other journals were abandoned websites or still have/had the paper under review at time of analysis. (Some details are interesting. PLOS ONE provided some of the most rigorous peer review and rejected it; OA titles from Sage and Elsevier and some scholarly societies accepted it.)

Sounds pretty damning, except...

Peter Suber and Martin Eve each write a takedown of the study, both well worth reading. They list many problems with the methodology and conclusions. (For example, over two-thirds of open access journals listed on DOAJ aren't "author-pays" so it's odd to exclude them.)

But the key flaw is even more obvious than the flaws in the fake articles: his experiment was done without any kind of control. He only submitted to open access journals, not to traditionally-published journals, so we don’t know whether their peer review would have performed any better. As Mike Taylor and Michael Eisen point out, this isn't the first paper with egregiously bad science that's slipped through Science's peer review process either.