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Peer Reviewed Tweets: The Future of Open Access

By Flora S. Lipo

Earlier this year, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy issued a memo requiring all papers stemming from federally-funded research to be accessible to the public within a year of publication. Publishers greeted the announcement with cautious approval, but industry experts are divided over how this will impact the publishing landscape.

As the push for open-access scientific research has strengthened recently, scientific publishers have tried to keep pace with new platforms and methods. Nonetheless, the entire process of peer-review remains hidden from public view, and most research papers still require specialized knowledge of the field and its jargon to comprehend.

Now a new publisher hopes to overcome these challenges with an innovative approach: publishing all of its research on Twitter. Peer Reviewed Tweets (PRT), a publication of PhysicsCentral Publishers, soft-launched last Friday. Its Editor-in-Chief, Dr. Rebecca Thompson, started the publication to bridge the gap between scientific research and the taxpayers who fund most of it.

"I believe Albert Einstein once said 'if you can't explain it simply, then you don't understand it well enough," said Dr. Thompson. "At PRT, We take that one step further: If you can't explain all of your research in 140 characters or less, you probably don't understand it at all."

All research papers published in Peer Reviewed Tweets will have to include a title, research summary, and author name in 140 characters or less. Currently, most journal papers range in length between five and twenty pages.

Example research tweets from the PRT feed

Despite these stringent restrictions, Thompson and her team of editors vow not to sacrifice quality or accuracy. Every tweet submitted to Peer Reviewed Tweets will undergo a rigorous peer review process, much like most journals today.

But there's a few key differences. All referee reports and responses will be in the form of tweets viewable to anyone with an internet connection. Correspondence — just like the research papers — must be kept to 140 characters or less.

Using Twitter as a publishing platform, Thompson and her editors hope to dramatically cut costs and streamline the process of peer review. Submitted tweets, if accepted, will be published generally within a day or two, and all research published on the feed will require an author publication fee of $1500.00 — roughly $10-11 per character.

"PhysicsCentral Publishers strives to be among the most cost-effective publishers in physics and is committed to a sustainable model that makes PRT affordable for authors who have lots of money, but comparatively little to say,” commented Brian Jacobsmeyer, PRT Treasurer/Publisher.

Not Fast Enough?

Although Peer Reviewed Tweets hopes to drastically quicken the pace of peer review, one to two days is too long for some researchers. Inspired by the popular arXiv preprint server for research papers, a team of physicists from Cornell University have already started a pre-print Twitter feed for their research called TwarXiv (pronounced Twar-kive).

Oftentimes, researchers can find published research tweets on the TwarXiv seconds or even minutes before they've been published on Peer Reviewed Tweets. Consequently, many researchers in the fields of astrophysics and geophysics see little use for the antiquated services PRT provides.

"Why should I sit around refreshing the PRT feed when I already saw the same research two seconds ago on the TwarXiv?" asks James Roche, an astrophysicist from George Mason University.

TwarXiv pre-print tweets often appear seconds or minutes before their publication in PRT. See the full TwarXiv feed here.

Name Games

In addition to concerns about timeliness, PRT has already faced discrimination claims from physicists with long names. Because all research tweets must include the first initial and last name of the lead researcher, physicists with particularly long names have little real estate left for their research.

One such researcher, Vinaya Sathyasheelappa from NYU, believes the name requirement unfairly targets many physicists with last names exceeding 10 characters.

"With the processing fee, it costs nearly $200 just to print my name. This is long-name discrimination, plain and simple," Sathyasheelappa said.

When asked to comment, PRT editor James Riordon argued that researchers need to evolve with the fast-pace, character-limited realm of electronic publishing.

"Researchers with longer names have a number of options such as using a pseudonym or legally shortening one's name," said Riordon. "We still strongly believe that there are more than enough characters to include a thoughtful, complete contribution to the physics literature despite the name requirement."

PRT is off to a somewhat shaky start, but its editorial staff believe a strong demand for succinct research will sustain the fledgling publication. For now, the journal focuses exclusively on physics, but the editorial team hopes to create journals for biology, chemistry, and cat pictures in the near future.

PRT's Feed:

The TwarXiv:


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