Communication and peer review should be universally separated

By Jan Velterop

For a very long time – centuries, in fact – scientific communication took place via publication of research results and analyses in journals. Those journals were published, printed, and distributed on behalf of scientific societies, and later also commercial outfits, sometimes on an exchange basis, but mostly via subscriptions sold to centres of learning and research and, to a lesser degree, to others, such as research and development departments of large manufacturing companies. Although articles were sometimes peerreviewed, only well after the second world war was peer review introduced as a routine process for virtually all articles submitted to journals. This served various purposes, not least to limit the amount that was published, as printing and distributing journals was expensive and a judgement had to be made as to what was truly worthwhile spending scarce money on, which led to many journals selecting on criteria of perceived quality and relevance to their intended readership. The time the process took between initial submission and publication was usually quite long, sometimes very long.

With the advent of the internet, the need for print and physical distribution, and the costs associated with that, disappeared. This could have meant a complete re-think of the way science was communicated, but traditions stuck, and most of scientific communication still takes place on the old print paradigms, devised in the print era. Communication still takes place via journals, articles being peer-reviewed before publication (even though space considerations, important when they had to be printed and physically distributed, had largely disappeared). Peer review has taken on a significance of its own, and is widely considered very important. The system of peer review lends credibility, and even prestige, to formally published articles, but it holds back the speed of communication which electronic communication technology could improve massively. In other words, the communication of research results is held back – “held hostage” even – by the perceived need for pre-publication peer review.

Peer review can be a good start of a proper discourse between scientists, but its necessity for quality assurance and relevance to an intended audience is debatable – and debated. It seems that peer review is needed more for the purposes of career advancement and reputation management than for scientific progress per se.

The technology allows both processes – communication and peer review – to be separated. In a few areas, such as large parts of physics, this has already become a matter of course, with “preprints” being posted first (the communication), and peer review (an assessment process) being carried out afterwards. In a few other areas, preprints are also coming up, though still slowly.

My view is that these processes should be universally separated, in the interest of the speed and efficiency of scientific progress.


About Jan Velterop

Jan Velterop (1949), marine geophysicist who became a science publisher in the mid-1970s. He started his publishing career at Elsevier in Amsterdam. in 1990 he became director of a Dutch newspaper, but returned to international science publishing in 1993 at Academic Press in London, where he developed the first country-wide deal that gave electronic access to all AP journals to all institutes of higher education in the United Kingdom (later known as the BigDeal). He next joined Nature as director, but moved quickly on to help get BioMed Central off the ground. He participated in the Budapest Open Access Initiative. In 2005 he joined Springer, based in the UK as Director of Open Access. In 2008 he left to help further develop semantic approaches to accelerate scientific discovery. He is an active advocate of BOAI-compliant open access and of the use of microattribution, the hallmark of so-called “nanopublications”. He published several articles on both topics.


Como citar este post [ISO 690/2010]:

VELTEROP, J. Communication and peer review should be universally separated [online]. SciELO in Perspective, 2018 [viewed ]. Available from:


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