PubPeer founder neuroscientist Brandon Stell

For the past few years post-publication peer review (PPPR) has grown in influence and one particular website, PubPeer, has become the primary go-to place specifically for blunt PPPR. The kind that happens in journal clubs in labs across the world. Comments on PubPeer have led to numerous serious corrections and retractions of flawed articles. I’m most familiar with its role in the STAP cell case.

Brandon Stell of PubPeer
Brandon Stell of PubPeer.

Both the founders of and most of the commenters on PubPeer have remained anonymous.

That is until today.

The founders have publicly identified themselves in a blog post and formed a new non-profit organization, The PubPeer Foundation.

Founders include Brandon Stell, George Smith and Richard Smith. Also with the founders on the PubPeer Foundation Board of Directors will be Boris Barbour and Gabor Brasnjo.

Who are these guys?

RetractionWatch (big HT to them) has an interesting interview with PubPeer founder Stell. I highly recommend reading it. Jennifer Couzin-Frankel over at Science also has a nice piece on this development.

Stell is a neuroscientist and Co-Team Leader at the Brain Physiology Lab in Paris, the source of his picture above.

I was trying to learn more about the other two founders, George Smith and Richard Smith. From Couzin-Frankel’s piece it appears that the brothers want to remain relatively out of the limelight, and their very common names may very well aid them in that. Couzin-Frankel does write that Richard was a grad student who briefly worked in Stell’s lab and George is a web developer.

As to the Foundation, RetractionWatch has a helpful quote from Stell on looking ahead:

What role do you hope PubPeer plays moving forward? What plans do you have for the Foundation?

We hope that the PubPeer Foundation will provide us with more opportunities to develop the site in ways that will help grow the community of post-publication peer reviewers and further encourage quality science. As more of us scientists become accustomed to commenting on papers, and as that becomes more of a part of the overall scientific process, I think we’ll be able to finally up-end the backwards reward structure that is currently in place in science.  Hopefully we can get to a point where the data are much more important to a scientist’s career than the journal that published them.

To form the PubPeer Foundation, the leaders could not remain anonymous. It seems like a good thing that the founders of PubPeer have identified themselves. They deserve a lot of credit for having had a transformative impact on how science corrects itself. They’ve also faced tough situations such as being sued by Fazlul Sarkar, a case that is still working its way through the legal system. Sarkar wants to know the identity of some anonymous PubPeer commenters. I predict that the PubPeer Foundation will now receive substantial financial support, which in part can be used to get legal assistance for possible future challenges.

PubPeer has grown quickly, now has a striking following with around 300,000 pageviews/month and contains 35,000 total comments.