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Peer Review Problems, Highlighted

With increasingly time-pressed reviewers, papers with errors, ill-conceived conclusions, or outright fraud can make it through the scientific peer-review process to be published, even in highly regarded journals, writes Julia Belluz at Vox.

The post-publication peer review site PubPeer, which was started in 2012, enables problems with published papers to be pointed out, the anonymous PubPeer developers tell Belluz in a Q&A.

"The idea for PubPeer was born of the frustration of observing so many uncorrected and unacknowledged flaws in published work — a very widespread sentiment among researchers," the developers say.

The site has garnered some 25,000 comments, has helped uncovered instances of fraud, and has itself been the subject of a court case dealing with an author seeking the identities of his online critics, Belluz reports.

Still, the comments left at PubPeer, she notes, are more civil than most Internet comments.

"It's extremely difficult to invent a damaging criticism of a good paper, even if you want to. Just saying something is crap or nitpicking is deeply unconvincing," the developers say, noting that they do moderate comments and require them to be based on verifiable data.

"So the whole issue of conflicts of interest and trolling is not nearly as serious as elsewhere: a comment has force if it makes a good point that a reader can check, and if it does, it matters little who made it," they add.

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