Post-publication review as an efficient alternative to pre-publication peer review

Andrew Gelman of “Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Sciencewrites:

Peer review is fine for what it is—it tells you that a paper is up to standard in its subfield. Peer reviewers can catch missing references in the literature review. That can be helpful! But if peer review catches anything that the original authors didn’t understand . . . well, that’s just lucky. You certainly can’t expect it.

I get why you like peer review even if you’re not one of the winners, even if you haven’t directly benefited from the peer-review system the way the above people have. The reason you like “peer review” is that it seems better than two alternatives: (1) “political review” and (2) “pal review.” For all its flaws, peer review is (usually) about the quality of the paper, not about politics, logrolling, trading of favors, etc. Sure, this sometimes happens—sometimes a journal editor will print flat-out lies because he’s friends with the author of an article—but peer review, with its layers of anonymity, really can allow papers by outsiders to get accepted and papers by insiders to get rejected. Not always—some politics remains—but I see the appeal of peer review as a preferable alternative to a pure old boys’ network.

But . . .

3. The actual alternative to peer review is . . .

Instead of thinking of the alternative to peer review as backroom politics, think of the alternative to peer review as post-publication review, which, in addition to all its other benefits (most notably, you can get out of the circle of ignorance of “the peers”), has the benefit of efficiency.