What to expect at SpotOn London 2016

We’ve been busy putting the final touches to SpotOn 2016 which is happening this Saturday at the Wellcome Collection and we are now delighted to be able to announce our exciting line up of events!

Please come along for tea, coffee and breakfast between 9am and 9.30. To get the day underway, Rachel Burley from BioMed Central will be welcoming everyone to the event in the auditorium. This will be followed by a performance from Dr Sam Illingworth and spoken-word poet Dan Simpson showcasing peer reviewed poetry. Don’t forget, you can still enter our competition to win £50 worth of Amazon vouchers and have your poem read out at the end of the day.

Next up will be Dr Noah Moxham from the University of St Andrews who will be taking us on a journey through the prehistory of peer review, setting the scene for our future gazing discussions later on.

Attendees will then get the chance to pick between two breakout sessions: ‘Peer review - an ethics and research integrity perspective’ or ‘Getting creative with the future of peer review’. The full abstracts of these can be read below.

Peer review - an ethics and research integrity perspective?


Editors and Publishers are constantly grappling with how to improve peer review by increasing the speed of peer review, by experimenting with different models of peer review and exploring new initiatives. Alongside this are the pressures that are increasingly put on researchers to publish - fuelling perverse incentives and fraudulent practices.

How can we improve peer review to ensure it is robust? Are there ways for all parties involved publishers, editors, institutions, peer reviewers and authors to work together more transparently and ethically?

This session will be a panel debate aimed at finding practical solutions to some of the current issues facing peer review and publishing. If we could all agree to do one thing, what impact could that have for 2030?

We hear views from:

  • Theodora Bloom, Executive Editor, The BMJ
  • Matt Hodgkinson, Head of Research Integrity, Hindawi
  • Anthony Ross- Hellauer, OpenAIRE2020 Scientific Manager at Göttingen State and University Library, University of Göttingen.
  • Chaired by Elizabeth Moylan, BioMed Central

Getting creative with the future of peer review –

A panel of creative minds to explain their ideas or visions about what future peer review platforms might look like. In particular, about decoupling the process from that of ‘traditional’ or ‘formal’ publishing routs.


Peer review forms the basis for our scholarly communication system through a process of validation and verification. However, it is constantly changing within an evolving ‘Open Science’ framework, and questions are arising about its ability to perform as a function as more and more research is pushed through a generally out-dated publishing process. Innovations in peer review are aligning themselves with other Web technologies, and disrupting what we might think of as the traditional, closed ‘black box’ process. Will peer review adapt into a workflow more akin with Wikipedia, Stack Overflow, or GitHub? Will we see it transform from an exclusive into a crowd-sourced process? How do factors like accountability, anonymity, and fairness play a role in an open peer review world? How will emerging technologies integrate with, or decouple themselves from, legacy publishing models? Representatives from PaperHive, River Valley Technologies, Authorea, and Overleaf will present their creative visions for the future of peer review, and you’ll get to vote for your favourite!

  • Jon Tennant, ScienceOpen
  • Kaveh Bazargan, River Valley Technologies
  • Karolina Mosiadz, Authorea
  • John Hammersley, Overleaf
  • Alexander Naydenov, PaperHive

Just before lunch we’ll hear a series of lightning talks presenting possible solutions and peer review products. The speakers will be:

  • Robert Kiley, Head of Digital Services at Wellcome on Wellcome Open Research.
  • Joerg Heber, Executive Editor, Nature Communications on some preliminary results from their transparent peer review trial.
  • Karolina Mosiadz, Authorea on Revolutionising Peer Review
  • Andrew Preston from Publons on New Ways to Recognise Peer Review
  • Sam Illingworth on Poetry & abstracts.

Lunch will be served!

Undoubtedly one of our highlights is a video link with Ivan Oransky, co-founder of Retraction Watch (which has been pre-recorded to avoid potential technical faults on the day, and Ivan will be taking questions from the audience via Skype).

In the afternoon attendees will once again be able pick one of two breakout sessions: ‘The future of peer review is 25 years ago… but no-one seems to have noticed’ or ‘Applying artificial intelligence to peer review... what could possibly go wrong?’ The full abstracts of these can be read below.

The future of peer review is 25 years ago… but no-one seems to have noticed


This year marks the 25th anniversary since the launch of the arXiv — the first and by far the biggest preprint server for scientific papers in the world.  It was originally devised to help theoretical high-energy physicists to share their papers quickly and efficiently with their colleagues. Its scope has since grown to include papers from most other branches of physics, mathematics, computer science, and even quantitative biology.  For many of these disciplines it is the principal means by which scientists distribute and establish priority for their results, though the majority of papers in arXiv are also submitted for publication in traditional peer-reviewed journals. arXiv also provides a means for discussion, and thereby a proxy peer review, of results before publication — the most famous example being the 2011 paper reporting faster-than-light neutrino measurements by the OPERA experiment underneath Gran Sasso in Italy. It was also the place that subsequent replications, analyses and refutations appeared in the following weeks and months. Many objected to the practice of science being aired to the public in this way. But isn’t this exactly what a working system for open peer review looks like?

Some object that what works in physics may not work as well in other disciplines. In health sciences in particular there are concerns that preprints could have adverse consequences. But with a host of new servers being launched — including bioRxiv for the biologists, chemRxiv for the chemists,  engrXiv for the engineers, socArXiv for social scientists — is there any way back? And if the future is open, isn’t this the future of peer review?

  • Ed Gerstner, Nature Research
  • Cat Williams, Altmetric
  • Frank Norman, The Crick Institute
  • Tiago Barros, F1000
  • Alfonso Martinez-Arias, University of Cambridge

Applying Artificial Intelligence to Peer Review... What Could Possibly go Wrong?


The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) has been a core theme of science fiction for decades, and technology now appears to be catching up with our aspirations at an increasing rate.

Science fiction has traditionally not been kind to the concept of AI – stories and films alike are awash with scenarios where artificially intelligent constructs end up turning on their creators. Frequently, it is not the AI itself which causes the problem – but the assumptions, preconceptions and human frailty of those who define the parameters of the AI's design and performance.

Could the AI systems anticipated by many for the coming decades be used to create a new, better model for peer review? Or would the use of AI merely reinforce the problems peer review is vulnerable to when carried out the old-fashioned, human way? Perhaps more importantly, even if the use of AI for peer review should prove feasible, should we employ this technology to take the place of human reasoning in such a key part of our progression as both a society and a species?

Join us to debate the feasibility – and desirability – of AI techniques in peer review.

  • Chadwick DeVoss, StatReviewer / Next Digital
  • Timothy T. Houle, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School
  • John Gilbey, Science Fiction Author
  • Stephanie Dawson, ScienceOpen
  • Matthew Steven Hayler, University of Birmingham

The final event of the day sees a panel consisting of speakers from Nature Geoscience, Publons, Veruscript and more on the subject of training, asking “Are we doing enough for peer review?” The full abstract and list of speakers is included below.

Are we doing enough for peer review?


Survey after survey tells us that experts consider peer review to be the key element ensuring the quality and integrity of published research. Yet if you ask researchers what formal peer review training they’ve received, the overwhelmingly common response is “none”.  If we all agree that peer review is at the heart of science and research, why do we fail to recognise the effort and expertise of reviewers? Furthermore why are we doing so little to invest in the skills and capabilities of those being asked to do the reviewing?

In this session, we explore the notion that “we need to do more for peer review”. Speakers from Nature Geoscience, Publons, Veruscript and more look at the importance of recognition for review and initiatives to improve review quality, including training and tools.

  • Jillian Adie, Nature Research
  • Alicia Newton, Editor, Nature GeoScience
  • Andrew Preston, Co-founder, Publons
  • Joris Roulleau, Managing Editor, Veruscript
  • Tom Culley, Publons
  • Elisa De Ranieri, Nature Research

The winner of our #SpotOnPoetry competition will be announced at the end of the day. Who is the Bard of Biologists, the Shakespeare of Science amongst you…?

Most of the day will be livestreamed but some of the panels will not be - we recommend you don’t miss out by staying home! If you have to, of course we’ll understand, and you can follow our Twitter hashtags.

The event will then wrap up at 16:30 so all attendees can head out to catch their firework displays. Not forgetting their SpotOn goodie bags!

A scientific poetry competition for #SpotOn16

SpotOn, which will be dedicated to discussing the future of peer review, is less than a month away! To mark the event, hosted by BioMed Central,Digital Science and the Wellcome Trust, we are pleased to announce a brand new competition!

One of SpotOn’s talks will be ‘Peer Review Poetry’ chaired by the Science Communication Lecturer and poet Sam Illingworth and his poetic partner in crime Dan Simpson. To get everyone’s creative juices flowing, we are launching our own science poetry competition in the build-up to the big event.

Maybe you fancy yourself as the Coleridge of clinical trials, the Auden of Alzheimer’s research or perhaps the Shelley of stem cells? Send us your most imaginative verse with a scientific theme! For an added challenge – can you wax lyrical about peer review?

If you’re looking for some inspiration, check out Sam’s poems on his website.

The winning poem will receive £50 in Amazon vouchers AND have their poem read out live at the event by Sam (even if you sadly won’t be able to make it to SpotOn on the 5th of November!)

We are accepting submissions NOW and up until the event, so please send them to the following email address: spoton@biomedcentral.com with the subject line: ’poem’. Please include your name, contact details, and institution/ affiliation.

For all those who can attend be sure to register for SpotOn which takes place at the Wellcome Collection on the 5th of November.

So grab a pen and paper, summon some stanzas, write some rhymes and turn your scientific passions into poetry!

Get involved with #SpotOn16!

What might peer review look like in 2030?

The aim of this years’ SpotOn event is to bring together the research community to collaborate on constructive solutions to the challenges posed by peer review, and to brainstorm bold and drastic ideas which might lead to more experimental innovation.

SpotOn will provide a space for researchers, science communicators, technologists, and those interested in science policy to network in an inspiring environment.

This years’ event will be explore all angles of peer review. Two tracks of events will explore two different possibilities; firstly, improving peer review through practical and feasible measures. Secondly, bold ideas which might lead to more experimental innovation. 

What do we mean by ‘peer review?’ Will technology make the peer review process faster, easier, more transparent? Or will speed overshadow quality and confidence in scientific literature in the rush to share data?  Will pre-print repositories, post-publication 'altmetrics', and research sharing platforms force a complete overhaul of the peer review process?  Will peer review continue to be the best defence against bad science, or will advances in artificial intelligence mean that the not so distant future is entirely peer-less? How might peer review be extended to research data, software and blog posts?

In our draft programme we have space for five community-led, hour-long events. These could be panels, workshops or other interactive sessions. We ask that these events should be issues and ideas-led. In addition, we will have space for ten lightning talks which can be used for product promotion.


Conference organizers

Conference sponsor

BioMed Central
Digital Science