Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Reviewers and open science: why PRO?

As of yesterday, our paper outlining the PRO Initiative for open science was accepted for publication in the journal Royal Society Open Science. It marks the end of many tweaks to the basic idea, and hopefully the beginning of a new era in peer reviewing: the empowered peer reviewer. The basic idea behind the PRO Initiative is that the peer relationship is fundamental in science, and it is this relationship that should drive cultural change. Open science is necessary, possible, and overdue. As reviewers, we can make it happen.

What is the PRO Initiative? Signatories on the Initiative agree that after 1 January, 2017, they will not offer comprehensive review for any manuscript that does not have open data and open materials (ie, they are placed for all to access on a reliable host, such as those listed here) or at least justifies the lack of openness with the manuscript itself. If a reviewer receives such a manuscript to review, they can contact the editor to ask the authors to fix the problem so that the review process can continue; if the authors refuse, then the reviewer should offer a simple review that focuses only on the lack of data, and does not recommend acceptance. The manuscript was incomplete, after all; it should not become part of the scientific record in that form.

Science is, of course, complicated, and so the Initiative is a bit more complicated too; read the full paper for more details. But the basic idea is that reviewers are the ones who define how to review a paper to ensure that good science is rewarded. There's nothing sacred about the current non-interactive, comprehensive review system; this makes sense in a past world where physical manuscripts were being sent through the mail. Clearly, in this world you don't want a back-and-forth between reviewers, because that would take ages. Now, however, reviewers can ask for a fix instantaneously. I have, for instance, noted that a manuscript was missing a figure, and gotten a new manuscript in a day. If a manuscript does not meet certain minimal standards, there is no reason for a reviewer to continue the review. Ask for a fix; it's your right as a reviewer.

Is open science important enough that reviewers should change the way they review? I say yes, absolutely. Ultimately, though, that is up to you as a reviewer to decide. I hope that you'll decide to stand with the other reviewers who have signed the PRO Initiative. In the coming year before the Initiative takes effect, we'll be organizing events at conferences to talk about open science. Let's change science together!

If you do support the Initiative, head over to the website to get social media avatars to show your support!

[Read the paper -- Sign the Initiative -- More resources for open science]