There is much outcry about the increasing competition in scientific research. Yet, I do not hear comparable outcry about the increasing competition in the Olympic 100-meters dash. I see competition as a very powerful driving force; whether it drives positive or negative changes depends on our metrics and the system. Unlike the metrics for the Olympic 100-meters dash, the metrics for research performance seem rather poor. It is the metrics that make all the difference between competition driving better research or undermining the research enterprise.
The peer-review is the central metric in our current system for scientific research. Yet, sometimes PIs are embarrassed to show the reviews to their students who had done all the work. How can a magazine or journal be any good if it uses poor reviews to judge what to publish and what not to publish ? It cannot!
Evaluating research results will never be as simple as measuring the time for a 100-meters dash. However, I think that is not a justification for the sorry state of our current system and not a reason to despair. We can improve the quality of the peer-reviews by making their contents public, as some journals (such as molecular systems biology, eLife and others) already do. I cannot think of a good reason for other journals not to adopt this good practice. However, most journals refuse to do so. I think that publishing peer-reviews will help increase their quality and will provide useful background and additional (hopefully thoughtful) discussion of the research for interested readers. The content of the peer-reviews will also give us a useful indication for the quality of the journal, perhaps much more useful and meaningful than the summary statistics (first moment) of its visibility and the availability bias.
I would love to hear arguments for and against making the contents of the peer-reviews openly accessible for published papers. Stay tuned for a post on whether the reviewers should be anonymous. What are your thoughts ?