The identity of the founders of PubPeer, the popular and controversial post-publication peer review website, was until recently shrouded in mystery. In a post published on August 31, the founders unmasked themselves, announcing the reorganization of PubPeer as the non-profit PubPeer Foundation. The three-year old website was founded by Brandon Stell, a neuroscientist at the National Center for Scientific Research, Paris, along with Richard Smith and George Smith who preferred not to reveal their affiliations. Treasurer Boris Barbour and Secretary Gabor Brasnjo are also part of the foundation’s board.
According to the blog post, The PubPeer Foundation was registered in California in December 2014 and its goal was “to help improve the quality of scientific research by enabling innovative approaches for community interaction.” Stell launched the website anonymously in 2012 because, “If it was a disaster, I didn't want my name attached to it. I could also foresee, if it worked well, that people who were unhappy with comments on their papers could potentially put pressure on me to remove those comments.” The founders decided to break their anonymity because they wanted to “seek philanthropic funding to improve and expand the website,” and it would have been difficult to register a non-profit foundation without any names attached.
In an interview, Stell recalls that as an undergraduate in the University of Colorado, Boulder, he attended journal clubs where published papers were discussed and argued upon. These discussions inspired him to create a forum that could support deliberations on published research, leading ultimately to the launch of PubPeer.
PubPeer has attracted wide attention from academia. Since its launch, the platform has garnered over 35,000 comments by users who can choose to post their comments anonymously. This option of invisible commenting attracted controversies, including a defamation suit by a researcher who claimed that anonymous derogatory comments posted on the website about his work cost him his job. Stell is, however, unfazed by such incidents. He said, “There will always be risks of lawsuits but hopefully we’ll see more people responding to critics with raw data instead of lawsuits.”
Stell believes that the establishment of The PubPeer Foundation will “help grow the community of post-publication peer reviewers and further encourage quality science.”