Peer review: should we let the robots take over?

Technologist argues that artificial intelligence could make publishing decisions in milliseconds

May 10, 2017
robot with book
Source: Getty

Many academics bemoan the often thankless task of peer-reviewing other scholars’ research manuscripts before they are published in journals.

So what if peer review became an automated process completed by software? It might be a step too far for some, but a new report argues that it is one of the areas that the research community should be thinking about.

Writing in What Might Peer Review Look Like in 2030?, Chadwick DeVoss, founder and president of StatReviewer, an automated platform that offers journals and authors support with statistics, says that technology could enhance and speed up peer review.

He says that some early artificial intelligence technologies are already being used to address certain issues in academic publishing: for example, identifying new potential peer reviewers from web sources; detecting plagiarism; and flagging up occasions when data have been made up, when researchers have used the wrong statistical tests, and when they have failed to report key information.

Automation could help peer review in other areas, too. Systems to verify an author’s identity, to predict a paper’s impact factor and to suggest keywords are also being developed.

“In the not-too-distant future, these budding technologies will blossom into extremely powerful tools that will make many of the things that we struggle with today seem trivial,” writes Mr DeVoss in the report, published by BioMed Central and Digital Science.

But he stresses that fully automating the publishing processes, including the decision on whether to publish a certain manuscript, “is where a slippery slope gets extra slippery”.

Currently journal editors and peer reviewers give the research community an idea of what is important and help to “distil signal from noise”.

“If we dehumanise that process, we need to be wary about what values we allow artificial intelligence to impart,” he says. “Vigilance will be necessary.”

On the other hand, he points out, automation could shrink to milliseconds the time from submission to publication of a manuscript and therefore expedite scientific communication. It could also get rid of human biases, he adds.

“In the end, if science marches towards a more ‘open’ paradigm, the ethics of full automation become less tricky because the publishing process no longer determines scientific importance,” Mr DeVoss concludes.

holly.else@timeshighereducation.com

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

Daniel Mitchell illustration (29 June 2017)

Academics who think they can do the work of professional staff better than professional staff themselves are not showing the kind of respect they expect from others

As the pay of BBC on-air talent is revealed, one academic comes clean about his salary

Senior academics at Teesside University put at risk of redundancy as summer break gets under way

Capsized woman and boat

Early career academics can be left to sink or swim when navigating the choppy waters of learning scholarly writing. Helen Sword says a more formal, communal approach can help everyone, especially women

Thorns and butterflies

Conditions that undermine the notion of scholarly vocation – relentless work, ubiquitous bureaucracy – can cause academics acute distress and spur them to quit, says Ruth Barcan