post by Bill Gardner
Austin Frakt responded to a recent post of mine on how to speed up the diffusion of research from the university to policy makers. In my post, I argued that to encourage researchers to communicate their results to decision makers and the public, we need more publications like Health Affairs that have as many as possible of the following attributes:
- Writing that is conscise, data-driven, and policy-relevant.
- Good editing and high production values.
- Quality and prestige through peer review, providing academics with career incentives.
- Authors and readers from every stratum of the policy discourse world, and every provider / stakeholder discipline (including patients!).
- Excellent social media marketing to get articles into the discussion.
- And it must not be the creature of any provider guild or health industry.
Austin agrees, but makes the following crucial observation
I’d add “timely.” Therefore, I would also rethink one of these items: peer-review (#3). To be sure, it’s a crucial element of primary publication of research results. But it takes a long time. Inserting it into a translational, dissemination process risks missing the window of opportunity for maximum impact and utility. Timing is everything.
This is an excellent point. I would say that policy discourse needs contributions from researchers at several velocities, including the very quick response that blogs provide. However, the faster you go, the harder it is to have peer review.
So, can we add timeliness to our web policy journal without sacrificing peer review? No. But let's keep in mind that peer review is not an end-in-itself. The goal is quality and having a reputation for quality (it is the latter that incentivizes academics). Peer review is just a means to those ends.
I have two suggestions. The core of the imagined web policy journal must be peer-reviewed publications so that it remains anchored in science. It could, however, also include some more timely outlets:
- The journal could publish something like the Policy Forum in Science, and something like the OpEd page of The New York Times. These would be solicited pieces of < 1000 words that appeared perhaps weekly. This would require an editor who could anticipate issues that would be relevant, find authors who could respond on a fast turn around, and give those authors critical feedback to improve their pieces.
- The journal could sponsor one or more bloggers who would publish, for limited tenures, under the journal's brand. These pieces would appear without prior editing to achieve immediacy. However, the journal would maintain an editorial board that would be charged with monitoring the blogs and periodically rating their insight, accuracy, and objectivity. The board could replace bloggers who did not meet the journal's standards.
These schemes would add a measure of review and selection to high velocity writing. Being a policy blogger for (say) Health Affairs would contribute more to an academic's reputation than publishing the same words under her own name. Moreover, having the imprimatur of a prestigious journal would greatly increase the visibility and impact of a blog. Conversely, having processes of article and blogger selection and pre- or post-publication review would help the journal insure that these more timely publications maintain its standards.