The Referee Project

A new paradigm for evaluating research


The Referee Project is a non-profit initiative that develops reliability scores for research papers, ranging from 0 to 100. We calculate these scores using a detailed taxonomy of research weaknesses. Moreover, a bug bounty program motivates individuals to identify flaws in these papers. Each identified weakness becomes part of the metadata, clarifying why a paper received its specific score. Users can easily access this metadata through APIs. This transparency helps researchers and others understand the strengths and limitations of various studies.

Isn’t it crucial to know the reliability of the research you rely on?

The Problem

The Referee Project addresses critical flaws in research evaluation and paper reliability communication. Academia’s emphasis on publishing has skewed incentives, distorting the scholarly record. Meanwhile, the existing system offers only vague indicators of paper reliability—papers are labeled as published (trustworthy), retracted (untrustworthy), or unpublished (questionable). We aim to revolutionize this system by implementing a universal reliability score, underpinned by a standardized research weakness taxonomy and a dynamic bug bounty system.

Academic Peer Review is Broken. Referee Can Fix It.

The current academic peer review system faces several significant issues that undermine its effectiveness and integrity:

  • Poor Incentives: There is a lack of incentives and motivation among peers to conduct thorough and diligent reviews.
  • Cultural Conflicts: Academia often lacks a culture of open criticism, which is crucial for rigorous scholarly discourse.
  • Opaque Criteria: Reviewers frequently apply their personal standards to evaluations, and the reviews remain confidential, adding to the opacity of the process.
  • Extended Delays: Researchers endure long wait times and numerous delays during the peer review process, causing significant setbacks in the dissemination of new findings.
  • Difficulty in Referee Recruitment: Editors often struggle to find appropriate referees, which leads to further delays and complications.
  • Superficial Review Focus: Referees may prioritize the aesthetics and perceived interest of a paper over its scientific merit, thus favoring subjective criteria over objective scientific validity.
  • Rejection of Innovative Research: Pioneering, risky, or interdisciplinary research is disproportionately likely to be rejected, which discourages innovative thinking and stifles the development of new ideas.
  • Negligence in Reviewing Technical Content: Referees frequently overlook thorough checks on mathematical equations or theoretical proofs, potentially missing critical errors.
  • Bias Influenced by Author’s Reputation or Affiliation: The review process can be biased by the author’s identity or institutional ties, perpetuating a system of status-based inequalities.
  • Lack of Transparency: The reluctance of journals to publish referee comments obscures the review process, making it difficult for the academic community and the public to gauge the credibility of research and the rigor with which it was reviewed. In addition, outsiders have to pour through the review narratives to understand and classify the problems with papers.

Current Approaches

There are numerous initiatives aimed at addressing the problems highlighted previously, primarily through two approaches:

  1. Incentivize referees by either paying them for their time or offering bounties for well-written holistic reviews 
  2. Create communities to provide feedback collectively


There’s just one problem with these efforts: they’re all echoes of the current system that doesn’t work. And why doesn’t the current system work? Because all the evidence suggests that most academics don’t want to do the hard work of peer review. 

Even among those who take reviews seriously, few can be expected to master all aspects of a research paper, from statistical nuances to sampling procedures. This is precisely why peer reviews exist—to have another set of eyes catch potential flaws. Despite this, even the most diligent scrutiny can allow some errors to slip through, leading to the publication of papers with overlooked defects.

A final flawed assumption of these initiatives is that only academics can conduct such reviews. The field of software security demonstrates that many non-academic individuals possess the motivation and capability to master complex systems, sometimes even surpassing academics in their expertise in specific cases.

Let’s stop relying solely on academics to solve this problem!

Telling Quotes

"People have a great many fantasies about peer review, and one of the most powerful is that it is a highly objective, reliable, and consistent process.”
Richard Smith, CBE FMedSci
“Reviewers [are] strongly biased against manuscripts which [report] results contrary to their theoretical perspective”
Michael J. Mahoney, Penn State
“Our field doesn’t have a culture of open criticism. It’s not considered okay.”
Simine Vazire, professor of psychology at the University of Melbourne and editor-in-chief of Psychological Science