Social media and open access as a new form of peer review

Peer-reviewing an article is a process used in order to guarantee the quality of the research conducted. However, traditional peer review processes are sometimes considered slow, which stifles innovation, and researchers do not know who is reviewing them as these mostly remain anonymous. According to Thomas Pickard, social media and open access can provide an alternative to peer reviews  by using methods such as comment crowdsourcing, public reviews that include the reviewer’s reputation (determined by peers) to weight the review score.

More and more  open publishing platforms are emerging, such as F1000 Research, PeerJ and the Journal of Participatory Medicine. These employ methods such as invited moderation, post-publication content, post-publication measures of quality and impact, and community-based reviews.

Another benefit of social media and open access is that researchers who publish their work in open access journals will increase their online presence and thus be more likely to be found, read and cited by other readers. Traditionally, access to research papers published in journals is closed to many potential readers because they cannot pay the access fee. Open access and ICTs such as Twitter and Facebook can increase availability:

According to the Budapest Open Access Initiative, open access achieves its goal of “free and unrestricted online availability” through two central tenets: (1) depositing refereed journal articles in open online archives (called self-archiving), and (2) creating new journals that will not invoke copyright to restrict access to the material they publish. Today, open access journals often employ Creative Commons licenses to ensure unrestricted access. Although over 5,000 open access journals are available today, only 10% of published research in biology and medicine is open access

However, although open access articles can be accessed more frequently, impact factors usually measure citations rather than readership. Indeed, scientific journals that have highest impact (according to impact factor measurements such as Journal Citation Reports) are generally not open access. Nonetheless, this varies from field to field: for instance, in biology open access journals rate highly. Furthermore, when open access is combined with social media, the influence of research articles shifts from publications to individual researchers.

In short, we do not know just yet how social media and open access will influence research. Some believe that it will speed up the research process and help in disseminating findings; others feel that it will undermine the quality of research. There is no doubt, however, that these technologies will play a growing role.