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The short path to virtue

Janne-Tuomas Seppänen
04 Apr 2012

Websites that try to get you to do something promise things. At 36, I am far too old to be very literate in today's social web, but I know that considerable amount of Cynicism is appropriate when encountering these promises.

Take for example a search engine that promises to help save the world's rainforests. You only need to accept the premise of the promise, that giving most of ad-click revenue to WWF more than offsets the ecological impact of extracting materials and energy, manufacturing, transporting, advertising, use and disposal of the goods and services people cause by following the advertisements. Perhaps the grand promise has currency (it seems to be creating some), and Diogenic demons should stop defacing such value-adding proposals.

If you believe, clap your hands, don't let Tink die. Hope and optimism in the face of facts is adorable. I'd rather be Peter Pan too.

But a lesser promise in the website's promotional video should not get applause from anyone: see, it says your normal internet search uses industrial datacenters burning through gigawatts of Evil Electricity and warming the planet so its Baa-aa-aad, while the website's server only uses Greenpeace Electricity so its Goo-oo-ood. Nevermind that these search results come from Bing using massive industrial datacenters burning through gigawatts of... yeah, the same stuff you use now to read this.

Given this predisposition, I agonize when Peerage of Science tries to get people to do something by making promises. What if there are people like me out there, judging those promises? Promises like this one: "The primary purpose of Peerage of Science is to foster and develop the practice of science [...] while promoting the interests of Peers."

So, when Peerage of Science got the opportunity last week to make an early launch of a new part of the service, I was overjoyed with the chance to deliver part of that promise. Peerage of Science Commissions is a service for both the organizations in need of high-quality peer review, on a tight schedule if necessary, and Peers well deserving recognition and financial compensation for wielding their expertise and skills in reviewing. Peerage of Science Commissions was originally planned to start later, when many Peers already would have a PEQ-score and number of completed reviews to show their abilities in a given field. But when the 3rd European Congress of Conservation Biology (ECCB) contacted us asking if Peerage of Science could help in arranging an additional reviewer for their student awards abstracts, on a very short notice, we decided to go ahead with announcing the first commission. Peerage of Science therefore told Peers last Wednesday evening that ECCB needs one reviewer, to evaluate 15 abstracts, by Monday, for a 500€ compensation. Announcement also said that PEQ-score would be one of the criteria for choosing the reviewer.

Then, I waited, agonizing. Peerage of Science had just made several promises. Would anyone be willing to commit? I knew that 15 Peers already have a PEQ-score, but would any of them be interested? Would the ECCB scientific committee choose a person with a PEQ-score, and thus set a precedent that growing your reviewer reputation is actually valuable?

The engagements started snapping in. Allowing for the planet to do its thing around its axis once and make office hours happen globally, Peerage of Science was happy to deliver contact information and, where present, reviewing reputation of 32 interested Peers to ECCB on Thursday. Five of those Peers had a quantitative reviewing reputation in Peerage of Science. Even better, one of them had an outstanding reviewing reputation, with 4 completed reviews, three of them already evaluated and a total PEQ-sum in double digits. Best of all, after some deliberation the ECCB scientific board decided to commission the reviews from that outstanding Peer.

Now, a week from the promise, the reviews have been done, the reviewer tells me everything went well and was told by ECCB the reviewing job was excellent. The five hundred units of tokenized quantification of reciprocal altruism will be paid to a Peer who deserves them. Little piece of the grand promise delivered, agony subdued.

We aim to have many of these opportunities in the future, and are building a dedicated section of the web application to handle Commissions. Peerage of Science will actively solicit commissions from funding agencies with research plans to evaluate, universities in need of external reviewers to help in recruiting decisions, conferences in need of abstract evaluation, and so forth. No need to wake your cynic hounds here, we are not hiding the fact that this is part of the secondary purpose of making money as well. Peerage of Science will be charging a fee from the commissioning organizations, in addition to negotiating best possible compensation for the Peers.

Perhaps someday, when the UN assembles something like the climate change panel, you will have the chance to apply for the task through Peerage of Science, and get the post too, based on your excellent reviewing reputation. To make this happen we as a community need to create an active and trustworthy peer review service. So continue the good work you have done as reviewers so far, and do send your next manuscript to Peerage of Science.

Finally, a quote from the commissioned reviewer:

"I think Peerage of Science should be particularly useful for early career scientists, since it will give PhD students the opportunity to hone their reviewing skills, and postdocs or other junior researchers a way to highlight their ability to write thoughtful reviews--something which is otherwise difficult when one is not a member of any editorial boards of journals. Although of course I'm happy to have the opportunity to earn a little money this time, my main motivation for being active in Peerage of Science is indeed because I hope that the reputation I can build as a good reviewer will eventually lead to an invitation to join the editorial board of a scientific journal."

I certainly endorse all of those statements. Peerage of Science can be both an opportunity to learn, and an opportunity to advance your career in science.

About Janne-Tuomas Seppänen

One of the founders of the service, and a postdoctoral researcher at University of Jyväskylä, Finland.

What, cynical, me?

Alexander the Great came to Corinth, met the founder of Cynicism who was enjoying the sun. The mighty, absolute ruler of the entire world leaned over and asked Diogenes if there was anything he could do for the philosopher. Diogenes answered: "Yes. Stand a little out of my sun."

A true Peer he was.


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