Pando thinks it can fix the broken academic peer-review process. But is it actually broken?

By Cale Guthrie Weissman , written on September 26, 2013

From The News Desk

Writing an academic paper is an undoubtedly arduous process. Getting it published and reviewed, however, is even more so. Academic papers are generally diffused through journals, which utilize an elaborate vetting process to make sure the best and the brightest papers get published. Journals choose the best works to review and then ask a peer group of two to three other academics to meticulously comb over the work. 

This doesn't sound terrible, right? But on the other hand, the number of PhDs given each year is increasing, so we're seeing a huge influx in papers written and research performed. This is causing some academic new-comers to fear that they may not be able to get their scholarly voice heard in the old peer review process.

Richard Price, CEO and founder of the startup, thinks now is the time to change this. And today he's getting an extra boost, because the company has raised an $11.1 million Series B round of funding led by Khosla Ventures is an open-sourced platform for academics to submit and review papers. This makes it easier for work to be submitted, as well as give others more access to works they otherwise wouldn't have had. Price sees as a necessary innovation for the academic system, because it allows for more academics to participate in the scholarly process. He believes this platform can recreate peer review.

"Academia's goal is to get every publication on the Internet for free," Price told me.

In his words, "We're building a reputation system to incentivize science." Those who participate build an academic reputation on the site based on their participation. This means that Academia's platform isn't merely a repository for papers, it's also a social network for academics. Price sees this as a new way for a burgeoning academic to build his or her reputation.

Once this takes root, envisions a future sans journals. As Price put it, "My strong belief is that in the future there will be no intermediary."

Of course, these are fighting words where the current system is concerned, and will most certainly be met with criticism from those ensconced in that system. And why not? While the academic process can be deemed slow, why shouldn't it be? The best articles should be the ones that shine through the rubble, and this platform could be seen as a drastic lowering of the bar. Price would counter saying that the issue isn't necessarily speed but access, and the ability for legitimate new-comers to participate with their peers.

Already the site has quite a handful of users. Price says the 4.3 million scientists have been actively using (that's 25 percent of the world's 17 million academics). And the site sees 8 million people visiting it each month.

As for a business model, he didn't seem to have a set plan in mind just yet. While he did throw out a few ideas, his primary intent now is to get more academics to use the platform and then figure it out from there. But that will also require an admission on current scholars that the academic process needs fixing. While some academics have begun to sign on, it's going to take a much larger paradigm shift to have this become the new scholarly trope.

Until then, Price is going to have to prove to the ivory tower why slow and steady may not be the best possible way.

[Image Credit: Wikimedia]