In a previous post, I mentioned that Einstein had been unhappy with the idea of anonymous peer review.
The key word here is anonymous. I am certainly not suggesting that peer review is bad, but simply that making it anonymous degrades the efficiency of the review system. The reason, as I see it, is that the reviewer is not held to the same standard as the person being reviewed. It does not foster discussion, it does not give much of an incentive for the reviewer to actually try and understand work that seems obscure. I know that in my industry, code review is the norm, but I’ve never heard of anonymous code review.
In the case of ideas and research, anonymous peer review also works as a form of censorship. On average, it is much easier to get past an anonymous reviewer you don’t know anything about by presenting stuff that everybody in the field understands as opposed to stuf that is hard to understand and hard to explain. I took examples in the field of computer science, but I’m pretty sure that the same thing happens to obscure fields of physics.
So, how can we fix that? I think that we now have the technology, or at least we are getting pretty close to it. We know how to build a web application that displays mathematical formulas pretty well. We know how to build moderated public forums of discussion that can deal with very high levels of traffic. Most publications are now in electronic form. Why not combine these technologies? What about a public forum where you post pre-print articles in electronic form for everybody to review, where reviews can contain maths and diagrams and whatever or even annotate or modify the original document? The evolution and discussion of the article could then take a nicely laid out discussion thread.
I think we have the technology.