The focus of the open access movement is the peer-reviewed scholarly paper. Peer review is an important tradition in science, a way of assuring quality in a published paper through careful review and critique by the researchers peers. However, it is not the only means of ensuring quality in science, nor necessarily even the most important one!
Another way scientists assure that we are on the right track is through challenging our assumptions. This should include the assumption that peer review is truly necessary and desirable, right? It's only scientific!
Consider these two hypothetical experiments:
Experiment A: passes peer review, but cannot be replicated
The research is completed and the results written up for publication. The paper passes peer review with flying colours, and is published. However, a number of researchers attempt to replicate the results - without success!
Experiment B: replications with no peer review
The researcher posts methods and results on the world wide web. The experiment captures the imaginations of researchers around the world, and the experiment is replicated and the same results retrieved, over and over again. The researcher does not feel a need to publish in a peer-reviewed journal for career reasons; being more interested in research per se, the researcher just goes on with more experiments (posted on the web again) and never bothers with peer review at all.
The point I think I have made here is that in science, replicability of a study is a far better means of assessing the accuracy of research results than peer review. In an open source science environment, many experiments could be replicated in less than the average time it takes to publish a peer-reviewed paper. Indeed, if the experiment involves fairly simple equipment and techniques, why not have students involved in doing the replications?
In the electronic environment, it should be possible to develop means of tracking replications of a given experiment.
This does not necessarily mean that peer review would not be necessary and desirable; but perhaps it is not necessary for every piece of research.
Thanks to Drexel University's Jean-Claude Bradley and his Blogger Lab Notebook for the inspiration!
This post reflects my personal opinion only and does not represent the opinions or policy of the BC Electronic Library Network or the Simon Fraser University Library.