Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

(Pretentious latin post title for the win!)

The tension in academia–especially science–between communication and discretion fascinates me. On the one hand, you want to be able to discuss your ideas with as many people as possible; on the other, those ideas are your intellectual currency and you don't want them stolen or misappropriated.

The publishing process also intrigues me. It appears to be undergoing a sort of quiet revolution at present, with open access journals becoming more common, and with the review process itself being opened up by journals like Biology Direct. Nature has a commentary on that journal's review/editorial process and how it is faring here.

I'm all for this. I know the arguments about what the anonymous process allows/preserves, but I think that on balance science would be greater served by open peer review. Perhaps it's a naivete to assume that the majority of reviewers play the game correctly–review a paper irrespective of their personal feelings on the authors and their particular theoretical biases. Sure, there are always going to be vindictive wankers. But it's actually very easy to tell a vindictive wanker from someone making justified criticisms. Open peer review means that the wider science community can review the reviewers.

It's also a means to what I see as a desirable end: chopping up undeserved status hierarchies and allowing smaller voices to be heard without fear of career-hurting reprimand. People already mostly find out–through the grapevine or guesswork–who reviewed their paper. And so any wankery that goes on does so anyway, but with the protection of psuedo-anonymity for those playing pay-back games, and without recourse for anyone who has had a grant rejected or employment opportunity stifled. OPR leaves a public trail of cause and effect.

Of course, this means that one has to overcome one's need for approval, be it social or professional, in order to write that justifiably-critical review of someone with more status/funding/publications/associates than you. But science needs brave Gryffindors.

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