Democratizing Science: From Peer-Review to Public-Review

Charles Mueller and Jennifer Buss

It’s time to change the way we validate and communicate science. The golden standard within the scientific community to facilitate the communication of knowledge is peer-review. Unfortunately, this process becomes more dysfunctional with each passing day.  Earlier this week, a major publisher of medical and science articles, BioMed Central, found itself in a peer-review scandal. They were forced to retract 43 papers because the papers appeared to have been approved through a fabricated peer-review process. This is just more evidence that we have spent more than enough time trying to perfect a system that is archaic and easily abused. The definition of insanity is trying to do the same thing over and over while expecting a different result.  We are insane to think traditional peer-review can still work. It is time for a change. That change should be to create an open-source, public-review system for science. We need the Wikipedia for science publications.

Whenever we have let a select few individuals or groups determine what is right and wrong the power has been abused. Every single time. It was only when individuals or groups gave the power back to the people could the situation improve. When Martin Luther nailed the Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the All Saints Church in Weitenberg in 1517, he gave power back to the people and away from the Catholic Church. The Napster revolution signaled to the world that people wanted to decide what was good music rather than the major record labels. Now artists can create and distribute their own music through a variety of avenues such as iTunes or CD Baby. Major publishing houses used to tell us what was worthy of publication, but this has changed since the emergence and growth of the e-book market. Now, authors connect to their audiences through blogs and e-books, meaning we decide what is worth reading and should be published.

Let’s give the power back to the people to analyze and review science. Let’s bring democracy back to America when it comes to science. In all the other democratic processes we have, the people have a voice. Why are we refusing to give them a voice in science? People want to have a say in science. This is evident by the recent rise in popularity of crowd-funded science. Furthermore, the government has already seen the value in crowd-sourcing parts of science (data-gathering) and the federal agencies actively promote the input of all US citizens during their rulemaking processes. We clearly understand there is value in the opinions of the masses and this is part of the reason the science community is pushing so hard for open-access to scientific information: an educated society is a better society. An open-source, public-review system for science creates an open-access forum for spreading knowledge, essentially giving the science community what they want. Yes, there will need to be a lot of important discussions about how we make this happen, but we should be spending our time working on this solution rather than just trying to fix the peer-review problem.

Fixing the peer-review process by opening it up to the people will only help improve the veracity of all information in the digital age. It empowers the people with the message that they are part of the scientific process and encourages them not to be afraid of it. The more people we have thinking scientifically, the more honesty we will have when it comes to our information. The golden standard, peer-review, is corroded and falling apart. Let’s give the power back to the people and create an open-access, public-review system for validating and communicating our scientific knowledge.