Peer2ref: A new online tool for locating peer reviewers

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Findings published in the peer reviewed journal BioData Mining…” A sentence like this instantly adds credibility to a scientific article. But it isn’t simply the name of a prestigious journal that assures readers of an article’s validity; it’s the knowledge that the research has been peer reviewed.

Peer review, the process by which scientists critically evaluate their colleagues’ methods and findings, has been essential to scientific discourse for centuries. In those early days of scientific research, with fewer journals and lower levels of specialization, scientists found it relatively easy to devote their time to assessing new findings. However as the pace of research has expanded, so too has the number of articles and the number of journals set up to publish them. Scientists, already faced with increasingly full to-do-lists, have struggled to keep up.

Exacerbating this problem is the specialization of many articles, which now come from increasingly narrow fields of research. This expansion of the body of scientific knowledge and the resulting compartmentalization of many research fields means that locating qualified peer reviewers can be a major challenge.

In an article published in BioData Mining this week Miguel A Andrade-Navarro et al introduce Peer2ref a new software package developed to help address this problem.  Peer2ref is a fully automated method for helping authors and editors select qualified reviewers to referee scientific manuscripts. Using abstracts from articles listed in PubMed, Peer2ref is able to create ‘disambiguated author profiles’ for potential referees. These profiles differentiate between authors who share identical names and contain a reference list of their previous publications. Peer2ref then uses the abstract to generate a list of keywords by assigning frequently used words a ‘score’ which reflects their importance to the text. This allows users to search for authors and editors in specific fields using keywords related to the subject an article, making Peer2ref highly effective at finding experts in narrow fields of research.

Despite the best efforts of publishers, the hunt for appropriate peer reviewers can sometimes be the most challenging part of the publication process. Online applications like Peer2ref have the potential  to help bridge the gap between the fast paced, highly specialized world of modern research with the rigorous assessment and oversight provided by the tradition of expert peer review.

Peer2ref is free to use and available online via the following link. If you’d like to join discussion about how online applications such as this can aid the peer review process, please leave a comment below.