March 04, 2006

Accountability in peer-review systems

In most peer-review systems, the identity of the reviewers is kept secret. This is supposed to protect the reviewers from pressure or retaliation. Double-blind peer-review, in which the identity of the authors is kept from the reviewers, is a popular variant. The justifiction here is fairness, while in practice, true anonymity is difficult to ensure.

In any case, the authors of a conference paper or journal article sign their name on their work. On the other hand, the reviewers who have a major influence on whether the work will be published, are never held publicly accountable for their reviews. If many reviewers take their role very seriously, many more hide behind their anonymity to produce inappropriate output. Worse, the program chairs and editors who rely on the reviewers's work, have no real incentive system to correct the situation.

The quality of reviews could be dramatically improved by bringing the activity into the mainstream of research output, and counting it as such in performance evaluations. For example, in the free publication scheme I proposed earlier, reviews could be published in the same structure, and linked to the reviewed article (either by text analysis, or with an explicit typed link). The review article would be signed by the reviewer, and be part of his/her publications. This would also allow reviewing of reviews, because just like an author benefits from reviews to improve the presentation of research work, a reviewer may improve his/her reviewing skills through peer-review...