A: ESE Author Q&A: Daniel Johnston

Welcome to the first of a new regular feature we will be bringing you on the EASEBlog – interviews with our European Science Editing authors.

Through these interviews, we aim to pursue our goals of scientific responsibility, knowledge sharing and communication by shedding more light on the people behind the articles you read in the ESE Journal, provide some further detail and background to the publications, and help spread the messages from the people and their papers to the publishing community and the general public.

So to our very first interviewee: Publons co-founder Daniel Johnston tells us more about his work incentivising and recognising the work of peer reviewers, and offers further insight into his article which appeared in European Science Editing 41(3); Peer review incentives: a simple idea to encourage fast and effective peer review.

The article is now free to access from the EASE website. Download it here.

We begin, by asking Daniel to summarise the themes of the paper he wrote for European Science Editing:

Daniel Johnston: The peer review process is unnecessarily slow and inefficient due to a lack of incentives for researchers to prioritise peer review.  Providing recognition for peer review contributions in a format that researchers can use to advance their career — a service provided by Publons — encourages researchers to prioritise peer review and results in a faster review process.  In addition, indexing the review history of researchers across all publishers makes it possible to provide tools for editors to further improve the peer review process.

EASE: What is your main role at Publons?
DJ: As one of two Publons cofounders my role is part-strategic, part-operational, and has varied a lot over the years.  Currently my focus is on improving the Publons product for reviewers, editors, and publishers.

EASE: How long have you been involved in this area?

DJ: We formally launched Publons in 2013, about four years after we first started work on the idea.
EASE: What are some of the most innovative aspects you could tell us about your work?
DJ: As the first in this space, almost everything we do is innovative by definition!  I’d say the most notable innovation is the idea at the heart of Publons — that you can incentivise better and faster peer review by giving reviewers credit in a format they can add to their resume.
EASE: What do you feel are your most significant work-related achievements?
DJ: Taking that idea and making it work, to the point now where we are seeing 1% of the world’s peer review flow through Publons.  We’re particularly happy to see Publons is already speeding up science, as we’ve seen from before/after analysis of our pilots with publishers.  Offering credit on Publons increases review invitation acceptance rates by about 18% for a typical journal, and decreases review turnaround time by about 8%.

EASE: Those are impressive results.  How did you isolate the effect of the Publons credit? Did you use control groups within the same journal, or other journals as controls?

DJ: We intend to publish the full analysis in the near future, but I can speak a little bit to our methodology:

We can isolate the effect pretty well through two major comparisons: comparing a journal’s peer review metrics before and after the Publons integration started, and comparing metrics for reviewers that ‘opt in’ to Publons versus the metrics for reviewers that ‘opt out’ (i.e. choose not to participate).  The reviewers that choose not to join Publons act as a pretty good control.  By comparing these two reviewer groups before Publons we were also able to determine that the differences were not due to selection bias.

This was a small preliminary study on 15 journals across multiple publishers.  We have around 200 integrated journals on Publons now, so would love for a research team to do a more comprehensive study on the effects of reviewer credit on the peer review process.

EASE: Do you have any interesting projects in the next year or so, that you are able to speak about?
DJ: Providing value to editors is our next big project.  The aim is to not only provide public recognition for the work of editors, but also to supply editors with tools that make their editorial activities easier.  With the world’s largest database of verified reviews there are a lot of exciting tools we can build for editors.

EASE: Some questions now, about the article you wrote for us.  What motivated you to write for ESE?
DJ: It was a good opportunity to reach out directly to a community of editors.  At that time most of the information on our website was tailored to reviewers, so it was nice to focus on how Publons works for editors.

EASE: What impact do you hope this paper could have, what changes could it make?
DJ: I hope it gets editors excited about Publons!  We have really good traction among reviewers and publishers, and expect many more editors to add Publons to their editorial toolbelt as we roll out improvements to our services for editors in the coming months.
The potential impact is enormous: the greater the number of editors and reviewers using Publons, the greater the effect on speeding up peer review and increasing the rate of scientific discovery.

EASE: If people want to read more about this subject, can you name one or two specific articles they should read?
Are there any websites or other resources related to your paper they should seek out?
DJ: I’d recommend readers check out these new resources/articles:

Publons for Editors, Publons
Getting Credit for Peer Review, Science
Will Publons Popularize the Scientific Peer-Review Process?, BioScience


You can find Daniel’s article, in the full August issue of the ESE Journal archive on the EASE website here.

Interview conducted by Duncan Nicholas of the EASE Council.