When I listen to people talk about improving peer review, I often detect a paradox: the importance of embracing academic collegiality while acknowledging the cutthroat nature of academia. They highlight concerns about potential retaliation if peer reviewer anonymity were compromised and relate researcher worries about competitors scooping their preprints. In addition, all the evidence suggests that most academics are reluctant to help improve their fellow colleagues’s work by conducting peer reviews, often declining opportunities, procrastinating on them, or increasingly relying on generative AI to hasten their reviews. And let’s not ignore the use of paper mills and brokers that poison the research record. It’s evident that while academic collegiality is an admirable goal, it often conflicts with the real-world experiences of academics.

This dichotomy not only undercuts the idealistic image of a collegial academic environment but also signals a critical flaw in the peer review structure. As Simine Vazire, professor of psychology at the University of Melbourne and editor-in-chief of Psychological Science, conceded on a Freaknomics podcast, “Our field doesn’t have a culture of open criticism. It’s not considered okay.” If open criticism is not a foundational element of an evaluation system, then how robust is the system in the first place? If open criticism—a cornerstone of scientific inquiry—is self-suppressed, can we truly trust the robustness of the academic peer review system?

At Referee, we recognize these issues and propose a necessary shift. Traditional peer review, relying on the voluntary contributions of overburdened academics, fails to reach its potential. Our approach takes the peer out of peer review. This is not just some provocative slogan but a necessary condition to improve integrity of research evaluation. By democratizing peer review beyond the ivory tower, we remove significant barriers that hinder the advancement of human knowledge. We integrate structured, anonymous, and professionalized review processes, protecting reviewers from the pressures of academic rivalry and personal bias, ensuring that the reliability of papers are evaluated purely on their merits.

There is a vital space in the knowledge curation landscape for direct, unfiltered criticism, and that is where Referee steps in. We welcome the expertise of academics but believe that democratizing the review process is essential for a truly robust and fair academic discourse. Of course, we encourage academics to participate, but we reject the need for a gated community of credentialed peers.

Come join us. Let’s not merely patch a failing system—let’s rebuild it for a new era of transparency and fairness in academic rigor.