PubPeer Creators Launch Foundation, Reveal Identities (Sort Of)

September 1, 2015

How do you avoid personalizing a website based on critiquing scientific research (or risking professional retaliation for it)? Remain anonymous. That’s what the creators of PubPeer have done for about three years, facilitating crowdsourced critiques of peer-reviewed research published elsewhere. But the creators came out this week in a post on their site. Previously known only as “a diverse team of early-stage scientists in collaboration with programmers who have collectively decided to remain anonymous,” the faces of PubPeer are as follows: Brandon Stell, an American researcher in the brain physiology lab at the University Paris Descartes, and George Smith and Richard Smith, two brothers who still have not revealed their professional affiliations. (Richard Smith once worked for Stell as a graduate student and George Smith is a web developer who helps maintain the site, Stell told Science.)

Boris Barbour, a Paris neuroscientist, and Gabor Brasnjo, a patent attorney based in San Francisco, also have gone public as members of the newly announced PubPeer Foundation to expand postpublication peer review, increase PubPeer’s transparency and otherwise improve the site. “The bylaws of the newly created foundation aim to establish it as a service run for the benefit of its readers and commenters, who create all of its content,” the creators said in a statement on the site Monday. “We feel that a nonprofit organization constitutes the ideal framework through which to pursue these goals.”

In an email interview, Stell said the creators came out to register the California-based foundation as a nonprofit, which “unfortunately is incompatible with our anonymity.” The site hasn’t been without controversy, and it’s involved in an ongoing lawsuit brought by a cancer researcher who says he lost a job opportunity due to anonymous PubPeer commenters. Stell said he and his partners were nevertheless “very proud at how efficient PubPeer has become at alerting scientists to issues with published papers.”

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