Sunday, January 8, 2012

CPR Raison d'être

Academic peer review has historically been framed as a strict and rigid process by which manuscripts are submitted, vetted, and finally published.  In reality, the practice of academic peer review is organic, and happens informally on a daily basis throughout the Astronomical (indeed, every) community.  Through discussions over coffee or tea or malted beverages, presentations at journal clubs and our own readings, the merits of manuscripts are discussed, debated, questioned, and acclaimed with the insight of domain experts.  Many of these points, were they to make their way back to the authors, referees, or editors in a timely manner, would yield marked improvements of clarity and completeness in the final published work.  Unfortunately, the product of these many disparate conversations is almost never archived in any formal way, and is thus lost.  It is this resource we wish to capture here at CPR : the collected peer review of our community.

Modern open access websites like allow for authors to submit their manuscripts for public dissemination before (or even instead of) acceptance and publication in Journals and Proceedings.  While the merits of this practice may be debated (freedom from the tyranny of hostile referees and Journal page charges vs. unleashing unvetted science on the public), what is not debatable is that a significant number of authors choose to exercise this freedom, and it has become accepted practice in the field of Astronomy.  This opens a window of opportunity for the community to impact the final published work via feedback and critique before the work is published (and therefore immutable).  We envision this site as a first attempt to facilitate the interaction of the community as a whole with individual authors and referees.  We hope that this site can help capture, in an open resource, the informal discussions held at institutions everywhere.  Here the community can leave comments summarizing their own informal discussions on a paper; authors can subscribe to comments on their own papers, clarify points and respond to criticisms; and referees can refer to it as an additional resource when providing their review of a submission.  

Blogs are a proven environment for the posting of information and the free trade of ideas on that information.  They are also notorious for allowing spammers and flamers to disrupt the community.  At CPR we’ve set a moderate bar of requiring signed posts, with the hope that we’ll be able to recognize friends and colleagues, and ignore the noise.  The success of this idea is now on your shoulders.  Take your laptop to journal club and astro coffee.  Jot down comments, questions, and issues using the CPR blogs.  This is all extremely important information.  Let’s share it!  We encourage you to refer this site to friends and colleagues, so that we can establish a thriving ecosystem, and your own posts do not disappear into the void.  Finally, we encourage you to post to the main CPR site your ideas, comments, and suggestions on how to make this implementation more useful.