Publons is an online platform dedicated to improving academic peer review. There are two main aspects to what Publons currently does:
- Help bring visibility to all the reviewing activity that researchers do, so they don’t sell themselves short.
- Work with the world’s top publishers to improve the quality and pace of peer review, to get research to the world faster.. –http://publons.com/
Andrew Preston has a PhD in condensed matter physics from Victoria University of Wellington in 2010 and did his postdoctoral research in x-ray spectroscopy at Boston University. He co-founded Publons with the software developer Daniel Johnston in 2012.
Alexander Naydenov, PaperHive‘s Co-founder had an interview with Andew Preston about startups in science and their founders as high-impact entrepreneurs.
What or who motivated you to start a business venture exactly in the field of science?
My background is in physics! I did a PhD in condensed matter in Wellington, NZ and then worked as a post doc in Boston University. During that time I learned a lot about the pressures to publish and saw that peer review was really a critical but undervalued part of the whole process.
We founded Publons because we want to bring accountability and recognition to peer review. Our belief is that this will lead to better, faster, and more efficient research, but it is really slow! We realized there’s very little incentive for experts to review, because all that hard work remains hidden from the world. If you were a fitness coach and in your spare time you helped coach 20 olympians to medals at the olympic games, you would want to put those achievements on your CV. Reviewers (and editors) are a kind of coach – helping refine and improve cutting edge research, but they can’t put these contributions on their CV because it all happens under anonymous circumstances, so it’s really difficult to verify your contributions.
We decided to find a way to highlight all the hard work reviewers do, so they can show the true extent of their efforts and expertise to employers and funding agencies. We found that by helping recognise the efforts and expertise of these reviewers, we could reinvigorate peer review. We started working with some of the world’s top publishers, like The Royal Society and Wiley, and we noticed that more people were willing to review for them and the reviews were being done faster. So everybody is winning and science is being communicated faster.
You are helping some of the smartest people on Earth.
What are the greatest challenges for you when working with them?
What are the greatest benefits?
We’re a little bit unique in that our development team (and Daniel Johnston, my co-founder) are based in Wellington, New Zealand, while the sales and marketing team is here in London. So we rely a lot on interactive tools like Slack, Google docs and hangouts, and of course email. Plus a lot of travel! We make communication a priority, both within the company and with our stakeholders. We try to talk to as many reviewers, editors, and publishers as possible in order to find out what they really need, and then try to build that thing for them.
What kind of culture exists in your organization?
We’re a little bit unique in that our development team (and Daniel Johnston, my co-founder) is based in Wellington, NZ while the sales and marketing team is here in London. So we rely a lot on interactive tools like Slack, Google docs and hangouts, and of course email. Plus a lot of travel!
The digital transition has been huge for scientific work and the publishing industry.
What is your craziest guess about the next big wave of transformation in the field?
I think that at some point someone is going to figure out a significantly better alternative to the Impact Factor. The industry could change pretty quickly then.
So what does the future have in store for Publons?
One thing we’ve realized in the process of building a product that tracks review activity and getting the industry to start to caring about recognizing the effort and expertise required to review, is that there is lots of room to further improve the quality and pace of review – and in turn research. If you look at where Publons is going, it’s not just recognition of review activity, but helping those involved to assess and provide feedback in order to improve the quality of reviews. This will help editors to select the best reviewers, faster, and to be recognized for the role they play. Reviewers will also provide the most helpful feedback to authors and the end result will be better science and research, which is what we’re all about – speeding up and improving science!