With the advancement of information and communication technologies, science is entering a new epoch. The proliferation of online, open access data, software and article repositories now enables scholars to use and share information more efficiently than ever before. As a result, we are witnessing the transformation of traditional research conducted by localized groups depending on their own resources and merits, to a more dynamic and globally interconnected effort, where ideas, data and scientific software are instantly accessible to the entire academic network. This transformation bears significantly positive consequences both for science and society. Free online access to academic material means that scientific research can now be built on firmer ground, be more visible, and have a greater impact. Open access to scientific knowledge also benefits society by allowing policy-makers, institutions, grant-awarding bodies and the general public to make better-informed decisions.
There is, however, an essential ingredient missing from this emerging scientific landscape: a mechanism for the open and transparent qualitative assessment of scientific contributions. At present, the formal qualitative evaluation of academic articles —the end-product of scientific research— depends on undisclosed reviews by few anonymous referees assigned by the editors of academic journals. Traditional journal peer review has been repeatedly criticized as slow, unreliable and susceptible to bias or even fraud. There is a growing conviction among scholars that science and society would profit from the scrutiny of original scientific ideas and results by the entire academic community whose collective knowledge is likely to result in more accurate and objective evaluations.
Our organisation was founded to bring together scholars who envision a future of open and transparent scientific collaboration that will benefit both science and the society in general. We believe that the journal monopoly over scientific assessment lies at the heart of today’s problematic model of scholarly evaluation and communication as it foments competition over collaboration. We propose a complementary, transparent open peer review process arranged and handled by authors themselves, which can help dissociate research evaluation from academic journals. Journals can then play a different, but also important role of selecting and publishing articles that based on community assessment deserve a wider dissemination.
The LIBRE approach of opening up the review process to the scientific community can be implemented in parallel to current academic publishing practices. There is no formal reason why academic journals should not accept to publish articles that have been previously openly and transparently evaluated by a number of experts. In fact, by adopting this strategy journals can reduce the risks associated to accepting articles based on a limited number of reviews by academics who do not have real incentives to be thorough and impartial. At the moment we are building a list of journals that have already agreed to support author-handled open peer reviews and we hope that this list soon grows to include a significant number of journals from all scientific disciplines.