Giacomo Bellani is Associate Professor of Anesthesia and Critical Care Medicine of the University of Milan-Bicocca, in Monza, Italy, staff physician in the general Intensive Care Unit of San Gerardo Hospital and Founder of the startup ReviewerCredits.
First of all, how are you and your family doing during this phase 3 of the emergency COVID-19?
We are (and we have always been) all fine, thank you. As a doctor and in particular as an intensive care doctor, I have been directly involved in the COVID-19 emergency. During the very first days of the emergency, I have been in quarantine (the first 4 days I was literally “living” at the hospital) and afterwards I have worked as an intensive care doctor. Meaning, among those same people who were working in the hospital wearing protective gowns and other safety measures that you all have got to know in these months. I don’t think I am a hero, but simply a person who has done his work, like all those people that stayed at home in smart working. No more and no less. These have been months of great commitment and stress, both emotionally as well as organizationally, a period that now seems just a distant (but still unforgettable) memory together with those days of serious emergency in the hospital.
Can you please tell us more about you, your career and how this entrepreneurial idea has originated?
I am a doctor, researcher and university professor and my professional and academic career takes place mainly in the field of Intensive Care in Italy, but with numerous collaborations abroad.
Like most doctors, researchers, university professors I am an author and reviewer of scientific articles and part of my job is to contribute to scientific research by participating in a fundamental part of the publication process: peer-review, that is the validation of articles before their publication by Scientific Editors.
The peer-review ensures the authenticity, relevance and rigor of the results published at local and international level, avoiding the proliferation of fake news also in the scientific field. An essential job, emerged dramatically in the era of COVID-19: prestigious magazines were forced to retract published articles, since they were not adequately evaluated before publication (an example among all: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/04/covid-19-lancet-retracts-paper-that-halted-hydroxychloroquine-trials).
Although indispensable and at the basis of the whole process of research and publication of scientific articles, the peer-review is almost unknown to “non-experts”. More importantly, the scientists and researchers in the world, who dedicate their time to the review process, are not paid nor receive recognition for their contribution to peer-review.
Their commitment to reviewing, deepening and verifying scientific articles before they are published, and therefore becoming part of universal knowledge, is simply “donated” to science for the good of humanity and progress. At the same time, scientists are measured for their career advancements and for obtaining funds based on their scientific productivity, in which the peer-review activity does not fall.
In this context, together with my friend and colleague Robert Fruscio, we came up with the idea of creating a certification and recognition model of peer-review through the RevewerCredits.com platform.
Therefore, in 2017 ReviewerCredits was born, an innovative start-up and spin-off of the Milan-Bicocca University, where we are both Associate Professors, with the aim of creating a service dedicated to reviewers and publishers.
How do you innovate your company?
Starting from the request for certification and enhancement of peer-review by scientists at an international level and from the increase in scientific research (+ 6.1% YoY), our innovative idea was to introduce a solid certification of the peer-review activity – so far absent and totally devoid of shared standards – and above all to associate with each certified peer-review the provision of virtual credits that can be spent on the platform.
At the same time, we facilitate Editors in their search for reviewers to entrust the process of reviewing articles, considering the growing difficulty of finding scientists available to take on the peer-review task (14 million articles submitted per year, which require revision), helping to build quality standards that now more than ever, with the devastating effects of the pandemic, are essential to ensure the correct review process of the articles before they are published worldwide.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your business and how are you dealing with this crisis?
Surely in these months Robert and I have been overwhelmed by the COVID-19 emergency in our hospital departments and the possibility of dedicating time and attention to our start-up has been limited by the necessary need to recover our strength and dedicate ourselves to our families.
However, over the years, we founders, of clear medical-scientific extraction, have been joined by senior professionals in the field of scientific publishing, digital and business management, who have carried out the ReviewerCredits activities with a continuous dialogue with reviewers and international publishers, whose activity has only been partially slowed down by the COVID-19 emergency, more likely due to new working methods (such as smart-working) rather than for the crisis, on the contrary! Without a doubt, interest in research and peer-review has never been more vivid than it is now. Personally, I was really impressed (and proud!) by how, after a natural moment of bewilderment, the ReviewerCredits team got back to work with immediate energy and enthusiasm. I can only imagine the difficulties faced by Elena D’Alessandro, hired just ten days before the lock down: but thanks to the rapid reorganization arranged by our Executive Director Valeria Mazzon, she immediately entered in full swing!
Did you have to take difficult decisions? And what are the lessons learned?
I would say that there have been no difficult decisions, precisely due to the nature of our activity closely linked to the scientific and research field, which has not undergone production or distribution blocks.
Instead, we had a working crescendo, based however on new and unexpected communication models. Think, for example, of the entire medical-congress sector, which necessarily had to adapt to the new scenario by creating teleconferencing events and the proliferation of webinars in all areas, then moving on to smart-working mode, which highlighted the need to use innovative services of production and management in the peer-review field. Speed of adaptation and flexibility have certainly been the winning reading keys of our company to face the new scenario.
How do you manage stress and anxiety in this phase 3 of the emergency and how do you project yourself and your company into the future?
The ReviewerCredits team has been working remotely since the end of February and I admit that smart working in a start-up is not easy. Indeed, there are no mapped highways and consolidated procedures from previous years that need to be adapted to the new operating method.
Every day there are ideas, innovative proposals, successes and failures: you grow by learning from your mistakes and correcting your strategies with flexibility and speed.
The people who work in ReviewerCredits have great self-motivation skills and enjoy our total confidence to manage individual initiatives independently.
Only by loosening the classic performance control matrix towards strict KPIs will satisfactory results be achieved, reducing stress in an emotionally complex period for everyone.
Who are your competitors and how do you plan to outperform the competition?
In the scientific world there are numerous platforms and vertical sites that deal with the sharing of content and the promotion of articles on the net with “social” mechanisms: Researchgate, Academia, Researcherapp, GrowthKudos, Loops, to name a few examples.
They are platforms with millions of users, often powered by paid search, which only take into account the role of “authors” of scientists and not that of reviewers.
The only site dedicated to peer-review – and our benchmark – is Publons.com.
The success of Publons confirms the interest that peer-review has on the market: founded in 2012 in New Zealand and acquired by Clarivate Analytics in 2017 (giant of the scientific world listed on the NYSE, which manages services based on data analysis and is the owner of for example of Web of Science and Scholarone), went from 500 thousand researchers in 2018 to the current 2 million.
Publons provides peer-review measurement tools to publishers and scientists using companies from their parent group.
The lack of independence and the marginal interest in the social recognition of the peer-review activity makes Publons less favored by the reviewers.
In addition to this, it has the limitation of a not very robust certification system. However, the strength of its large database and the services offered by the site makes Publons the only current interlocutor for Editors in the peer-review process … but now we are here too and we are growing very quickly also thanks to the greater attention that the COVID-19 has brought to our business sector!
We have a different goal than Publons, which is to improve the peer-review process by creating market standards, placing scientists and the recognition of their valuable work at the center of our project.
Your final thoughts on this emergency?
I have heard many people wonder why a vaccine, a cure, a solution for the emergency from Coronavirus has not yet been found.
In a world where everything is connected, immediate and accessible, it becomes almost impossible to accept that the progress of science is dutifully slow and measured.
This emergency reminded us that our certainties may waver and that not everything is predictable, but it has also shown that cooperation and solidarity leads to unexpected results. And it once again reaffirmed how rigorous scientific research, has a crucial impact on the everyday life of each of us.
Like ReviewerCredits, I like to think that we are on the side of those who today, like yesterday, work for a global goal: human progress.