NASA called a press conference in December to announce a major new discovery. Researchers had documented a new strain of bacteria that uses arsenic rather than phosphorus as one of its biological building blocks. The press speculated on what this find could mean for extraterrestrial life and interviewed the paper’s authors. At the same time, scientists were scrutinizing the paper on-line.
According to an article in Nature, the place of peer review is migrating from the safe sanctums of journal editors’ meetings to the unregulated world of the Internet. Through blogging, Twitter, and on-line comments, the review of science continues even after a study is published. And the pace is much faster.
The change heralds some potential positives for scientists. A website called Faculty of 1000 organizes post-publication peer review along a kind of Amazon rating system for articles. These scores may help faculty demonstrate excellence when going up for promotion. The next step seems to be a more open process of pre-publication peer review. Editors and authors, however, will resist that change in hopes of preserving at least one place where review is rigorous and controlled.