UNIVERSITIES AND COLLEGES expect their faculty members to publish their research results in reputable journals. What makes a scientific publication different from popular articles is peer review. But there is a big increase in online, open-access journals each with different approaches to peer review.

This is part of the reason why so many published research findings are false. Alternative publishing models have developed in response to this. Open access and post-publication peer review are now common.

This new regime raises questions about what defines academic publishing. One problem is the proliferation of predatory open access publishers. Some of these are ready to accept randomly generated articles for publication, apparently following peer review.

What should be considered scholarly output? The key to quality research is that we know what went into producing the reported results. All empirical work should be preceded by a published protocol. This should clearly set out the methods that were used. Without one, it’s difficult to reproduce research findings and identify errors.

Evidence suggests that two or three peer reviewers will not be able to identify all errors in a manuscript. This is one of the main problems with pre-publication peer review. It’s also one reason why open access is so important in the definition of good science. Paywalls on traditional academic journals restrict the number of people who can check the quality of a publication and can encourage mistaken consensus over published errors. All scholarly output must be open access.

And so peer review itself should also be transparent. Pre-publication peer review reports should be open and accessible. Mechanisms to support post-publication peer review should also be supported. Reviewers should be identifiable as experts in their field even if their names are not revealed to the authors, for obvious reasons.

Peer review is important, but I believe that post-publication approaches can be more effective. An additional benefit of open evaluation is the potential for better metrics.

Scholarly writing should be distinguishable from other forms of publication by its transparency. We should know exactly how authors arrive at their findings. Findings published in academic journals should be given special credence because of this.

Academic publishing should be defined by the presence of strict regulations to maximize transparency. Articles that do not meet transparency criteria should not be eligible for research quality assessments. Transparency has its costs, at least in the short term. But without it, true scholarly output will become increasingly indistinguishable from academics’ other forms of writing.

Good science should not be defined by whether or not pre-publication peer review takes place, but by the transparency of the research. Some fear that abandoning our current system might allow more “bad science” to get through. But we have bad science now, and lots of it. As a saying goes, “Bato bato sa langit, tamaan ay huwag magagalit.” By Manny Palomar, PhD (EV Mail March 4-10, 2024 issue)