In thinking about the merits or otherwise of peer review (“Slay peer review ‘sacred cow’, says former BMJ chief”, 21 April), I can say that in my own specialist field, I’ve had some very good suggestions from reviewers, especially those from top-end specialist journals. Glamour journals have not done as well.
Nevertheless, in general, I have to agree with Richard Smith. It’s become obvious that any paper, however bad, can now be published in a journal that claims to be peer reviewed. As a badge of respectability, “peer reviewed” means nothing. There will never be enough competent reviewers for the number of papers that are being published.
Georgina Mace, professor of biodiversity and ecosystems at University College London, fears that “abandoning peer review would make scientific literature no more reliable than the blogosphere”. But that is already the case. You have to read a paper to find out if it’s any good.
All papers should first appear on archive sites, where feedback can be gathered before eventual publication. And when published, all papers should have open comments at the end. This is already happening with journals such as eLife and Royal Society Open Science.
That would mean that people judging you for jobs and promotion would have to read the papers rather than rely on near-useless surrogates such as impact factors and citations.
Of course, the amount of rubbish would be large, but no larger than it is already.
And above all, it would make publishing much cheaper. There would be no more huge charges for open access.