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Online platform allows researchers to claim credit for grant peer review

Publons expands from crediting journal peer review

by Dalmeet Singh Chawla, special to C&EN
January 30, 2020 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 98, ISSUE 5

Publons, a website that allows peer reviewers to claim credit for refereeing manuscripts, is expanding its remit to grant peer review.

Last month, the London-based firm launched the initiative by creating six profiles containing grant reviewing activity. All six profiles were of researchers reviewing grant applications for the Russian Science Foundation (RSF), one of the first funders participating in the project. Now, more than 100 profiles listing grant reviews exist on Publons, which says it has more than 2 million active users worldwide.

The initiative follows survey results released by Publons in October showing that more than half of 4,700 Publons users worldwide said they were more likely to agree to grant reviewing requests if funders publicly recognized their efforts. Around half the respondents also said they were dissatisfied with how transparent the grant reviewing process currently is.

“We’ve always wanted to expand beyond journal peer review,” Publons director Matthew Hayes says. The new feature allows funders or individuals to post on the site when a referee has completed a review for a funder, as long as both parties have agreed to it. To maintain confidentiality, the site just records the number of grant application reviews a person has done and for which funding agency. For journal peer review, Publons also allows researchers to post the content of their reports when journal policies allow it.

The RSF thinks the content of grant reviews should remain confidential “to reduce the likelihood of possible conflicts of interest,” RSF deputy director general Andrei Blinov tells C&EN. “However, scientists conducting such reviews for the Russian Science Foundation have the right to indicate, including in public, that they are reviewers of the Russian Science Foundation.”

John Hardy, a materials chemist at Lancaster University, is one of the academics to have logged his grant reviewing activity on his Publons profile, noting that he has refereed grant proposals for the National Center of Science and Technology Evaluation (NCSTE) in Kazakhstan. Hardy tells C&EN recording such activity online is useful when convincing senior colleagues you are capable of undertaking such work. Peer review “is rated by your peers as a measure of your willingness to be a good citizen, which may be beneficial if you apply for promotion,” he says.

In addition to the RSF and NCSTE, other funders working with Publons include the UK-based Dunhill Medical Trust, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, and the Czech Science Foundation. Publons is also currently in talks with more funders based in Europe, the US, and Australia, Hayes says.

But it remains to be seen whether and how researchers will benefit from publicly recording their grant review work. “I think it’s helpful to have a trusted platform verify the counts,” says Stefanie Haustein, an information scientist at the University of Ottawa. “Other scholarly metrics like the impact factor and h-index certainly owe much of their popularity to the ease with which they were available online.”

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