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Tweeting like Wallace

Janne-Tuomas Seppänen
18 Sep 2013

TL;DR: Peerage of Science announces Twitter integration here. But please read the post too.

Solar wind roaring through its amber sail, IKAROS is somewhere on the far side of the Sun now. Johannes Kepler would be pleased to see his "ships adapted to the heavenly breezes" become reality, though it took us 400 years. Galileo Galilei would undoubtedly be happy too, having been the original peer reviewer for the idea Kepler mentioned in a letter to him, before finally publishing his findings (about comets, not nanotechnology satellites) in a book few years later.

Fast forward two centuries, to another famous peer reviewer, Charles Darwin. Evaluating a manuscript attached to a letter from junior scientist Alfred Russell Wallace, he judged that "I shall, of course, at once write and offer to send to any journal". Darwin enlisted two additional peers, Charles Lyell and Joseph Hooker, for the pre-publication peer review. As a result, less than six months after Wallace had clicked "submit" somewhere in Malaysia, his essay was published (do note that mail from Malaysia took four months to reach Darwin).

This is the original format of peer review. A scientist writing a letter to a peer he or she respects, describing an idea or finding, and asking what the peer thinks of it. Your peer might find problems in your reasoning and convince you to change or drop it entirely, or provide insight that leads to even more meaningful discovery, or the peer might wholeheartedly encourage and support immediate publishing to the society at large.

And then to our glorious new millennium. Messages from Malaysia, or indeed from planetary orbit, are now easily broadcasted to 2.4 billion internet users practically instantaneously. In a few minutes, anyone can find out who the leading scientists are on, say, conchology. Moreover – should I ever suspect I might have made a ground-breaking finding on the shape of mollusc shells – it would now be socially acceptable for me to directly contact Dr. Brian Morton and ask what he thinks.

Kepler, Galileo, Wallace and Darwin would stand in awe if they saw the incredible technological progress we have made. But they would be utterly thunderstruck to find out that the delay in scientific publishing is now longer than it was for Wallace. If you take into account that most papers take a few of these iterations down the journal prestige ladder, it is even worse. Modern scientific publishing in fact operates on a Keplerian schedule. Large part of that delay results from finding and waiting for peer reviewers.

from: Björk & Solomon 2013. The publishing delay in scholarly peer-reviewed journals.

The same gentlemen (well, at least Wallace) would also admire the social advances and egalitarian communication of our age. Elitism, ethnic and gender prejudices, economic disadvantage and other social ills have not vanished from the world. But back in the day when Wallace wrote The Revolt of Democracy, the concept of a non-white non-male not-born-wealthy scientist standing on a podium presenting her results to the most eminent members of academia, would have been absolutely inconceivable. Today, she may well be among the most eminent members of academia. However, just like in 1858, Wallace would still find in the bastion of academic publishing a system where a member of appointed elite (old age is still usually required, while a beard is no longer mandatory) selects two or three peer reviewers to judge for publishing decisions.

But I am not writing this to gripe about shortcomings of legacy systems. I am writing this to encourage a modern return to the original format of peer review. Are you an author, peer reviewer, editor (or just curious bystander) of a new manuscript, and think other scientists should come and judge the work before it is edited and distributed to the pubic? Then why not send a modern letter, in the spirit of Kepler and Wallace?

Starting today, Peerage of Science features Twitter integration! Authors can, if they so choose, enable tweets of their manuscript title with a special link from within Peerage of Science. Once enabled by authors, the feature also opens for others peers, so that reviewers and editors can also recommend this manuscript in Twitter. Tweeting does not make a manuscript or peer review public. Anyone trying to access a peer review process is still required to have a validated user account and peer reviewing privilege in Peerage of Science. Peers can authorize Peerage of Science to use Twitter for identification, giving them seamless access from links in tweets straight into the peer review process in question. Someone following a tweeted link without user account in Peerage of Science is directed to ask for invitation, so tweeting about your manuscript is also a great way to get new peers in your field to sign up.

Tweet like Wallace!

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