Reimagining peer-review

By dwhly | 8 August, 2012

Late last year I was approached by Hilmar Lapp at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center to keynote their iEvoBio conference in Ottawa this July, immediately following the historic Evolution 2012 conference also in Ottawa this year – the “First Joint Congress on Evolutionary Biology.”

I was impressed by the Open Source Commitment that captures the central ethos of their event:

iEvoBio and its sponsors are dedicated to promoting the practice and philosophy of Open Source software development and reuse within the research community.

Hilmar asked me to speak about how peer-review is changing, and what the potential is for it moving forward.  I readily accepted.

I gave a talk called “Reimagining peer-review,” the video of which is available below. My slides (with notes that include further detail and citations) are available here.

Essentially, the talk goes something like this:

While (quite sophisticated) elements of peer-review were first used in the written form of the Talmud as annotated by rabbis over a thousand years ago, the modern form of peer-review we associate with academic journals is something that has only been practiced since the 18th century, and in widespread use since the end of WWII.

The need for peer-review and the infrastructure to enable peer-review have both been driven by changes in distribution technology (such as the printing press, the carbon copy, the Xerox machine, and now the Internet).

As we look forward, the Internet clearly gives us the potential to reimagine how collaboration and distributed review can be facilitated not only in academic, but more broadly in civic and public domains – extending, improving and applying the lessons that scholars have used towards the information we all rely on in our everyday lives.

I gave our first public glimpse at the prototype which was well received (visible at the end of the video).

I was so impressed by the community of evolutionary biologists that were present in Ottawa. Nearly every talk dealt not only with the complexities of this extraordinary field, but also software systems that the presenter had invariably developed herself in order to further extend her research. This group is a perfect match for us as we begin looking to early communities to give us early feedback on how an open and distributed peer-review model can best be designed and be effective.

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