Doctor: Michaïl Kovanis

Title: Modeling the complex system of scientific publication

Supervisors: Raphaël Porcher, Ludovic Trinquart

Doctoral school: ED 393 Epidemiology and Biomedical Information Sciences, Université Paris Cité

Date of thesis defense: 02/10/2017

Jury: Geneviève Chene, Didier Torny, Philippe Ravaud, Flaminio Squazzoni, Dominique Costagliola, Raphaël Porcher


The peer-review system is undoubtedly the gold standard of scientific publication. Peer review serves a two-fold purpose; to screen out of publication articles containing incorrect or irrelevant science and to improve the quality of the ones deemed suitable for publication. Moreover, the role of the scientific journals and editors is to ensure that valid scientific knowledge is disseminated to the appropriate target group of scientists and to the public. However, the peer- review system has recently been criticized, in that it is unsustainable, inefficient and slows down publication. In this PhD thesis, I used complex-systems modeling to study the macroscopic behavior of the scientific publication and peer-review systems. In my first project, I modeled empirical data from various sources, such as Pubmed and Publons, to assess the sustainability of the system. I showed that the potential supply has been exceeding the demand for peer review by 15% to 249% and thus, the system is sustainable in terms of volume. However, 20% of researchers have been performing 69% to 94% of the annual reviews, which emphasizes a significant imbalance in terms of effort by the scientific community. The results provided evidence contrary to the widely-adopted, but untested belief, that the demand for peer review over-exceeds the supply, and they indicated that the majority of researchers do not contribute to the process. In my second project, I developed a large-scale agent-based model, which mimicked the behavior of the conventional peer-review system. This model was calibrated with empirical data from the biomedical domain. Using this model as a base for my  third project,  I developed and assessed the performance of five alternative peer-review systems by measuring peer-review efficiency, reviewer effort and scientific dissemination as compared to the conventional system. In my simulations, two alternative systems, in which scientists shared past reviews of their rejected manuscripts with the editors of the next journal to which they submitted, performed equally or sometimes better in terms of peer-review efficiency. They also each reduced the overall re- viewer effort by 63%. In terms of scientific dissemination, they decreased the median time from first submission until publication by 47% and diffused on average 10% to 36% more scientific information (i.e., manuscript intrinsic quality x journal impact factor) than the conventional system. Finally, my agent-based model may be an approach to simulate alternative peer-review systems (or inter- ventions), find those that are the most promising and aid decisions about which systems may be introduced into real-world trials.

Link to download the thesis

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