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Fee-for-service peer review system?

  1. Mar 20, 2008 #1
    This thread does not contain a proposal for a new research topic. However, I think this forum is the most appropriate place for this thread; of course, I welcome the moderators to move it as they see fit.

    I am wondering whether the goals of this forum (the Independent Research forum) and of the Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology http://fqxi.org/ might be met jointly by the establishment of a fee-for-service peer review system. Here is how I thought to pitch a proposal to FQXi; I am interested in what people here think of it.

    Proposal for an FQXi-administered market-based approach to support the independent researcher

    One of the challenges faced by FQXi is to devise a means to support alternative research by those who are completely disconnected from the scientific community without 1) funding crackpots, 2) wasting the time of talented scientists, or 3) creating an administrative nightmare for FQXi. The purpose of this note is to propose a solution to this dilemma.

    The current system at FQXi is doing an excellent job, in my opinion, of funding alternative ideas among those who are already a part of the established scientific community. In the most recent funding cycle, thirty grants have been awarded, with an average amount of $75.5k, of which only two or three (one being Garrett Lisi) went to someone without a standard academic affiliation. Clearly, it is not feasible (or even particularly helpful) to rely on grants of this type or amount to “find the next Einstein” who may be working in a patent office, raising her children, living in the third world, or who knows what.

    This proposal is based on the observation that the independent researcher requires peer review, not grant money. Money can be helpful, though, if it is used to buy peer-review. I propose that FQXi promote the independent scientist through the establishment and oversight of a free market for the review process. Applicants could submit a paper as if submitting to a journal. FQXi could then pick the most promising-looking of these (based on a very cursory review) and then pay a professional scientist to review what otherwise might be rejected without review from a standard journal. With a high enough fee – say, one or two thousand dollars? – even the most skeptical (Lubos Motl?) might be persuaded to spend one or two days providing a thoughtful review. In this manner, between 40 and 80 independent investigators each year could receive a review for the cost of only one of the thirty grants approved annually by FQXi. A fee-for-service review system may seem distasteful to some, and could easily be rejected out of hand. This is precisely why it has not been tried and what makes it innovative. Fee for service just might be the only way for an independent researcher to receive any feedback whatsoever.

    FQXi would adopt the goal of becoming the premier clearinghouse for independent research in theoretical physics on the internet. Some journals, e.g. Foundations of Physics, might actually appreciate FQXi for doing this because it might decrease the number of alternative submissions that they get. This could be treated as an experiment designed to answer the question: what is the best that can be produced by trolling among independent researchers on the internet? It should be done in a manner that FQXi does not become embarrassed if nothing of value shows up, and clear that FQXi takes no stance on the crackpot status of any particular investigator.

    Here is how I would envision this process working. First, FQXi would allow individuals to register as an “independent investigator.” This would include name, address, affiliation (if any), and (say) a short abstract. Approval would be at the bureaucratic level and would NOT be designed to weed out crackpots. Each investigator would then be allowed to archive manuscripts on the website. Each investigator would also have an account into which could be deposited money from any source – fQXi grants, grants from some other source, or even personal funds. The investigator would use this money to offer a reviewer fee to anyone of his or her choosing, and in the amount of his or her choosing. Professional physicists and philosophers could register as “reviewers,” and may or may not be members of fQXi. Offers could be open, for example, to anyone who is a registered reviewer, or could be open only to a subset selected by the investigator. An important duty of the investigator would be to identify the most appropriate reviewer(s). If an ideal scientist is not registered, then some sort of standardized invitation along with the offered fee for review could be emailed to the scientist.

    Different levels of review could be requested, with level defined in terms of effort expended by reviewer (time spent) as well as length and quality of the review. (Single paragraph summary, line-by-line commentary, or anything in between). Reviews would be posted publicly. Each review would spawn a discussion thread open to posting by anyone and could include the author’s response.

    Registered reviewers could always, of course, do a review for free, which could be as thorough or as limited (e.g. “this looks interesting but I can’t follow it” or “this looks bogus because of abc”) as desired. This would be intended to encourage comments from the professional reviewer who has 5 minutes to peruse something but may otherwise not post because they feel they have not spent adequate time understanding the research.

    In addition, anyone on the internet would be free to post comments and engage in a discussion, anonymous or not, along the lines of the Independent Research forum at physicsforums.com, or along the lines of philica.com. This would be separated from professional reviews.

    What do you think? Would my proposal be a good idea?

    -- straycat
  2. jcsd
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