Described as the Tinder of pre-prints, Papr will let you swipe on scientific works for being “exciting,” “boring,” “probable,” or “questionable.”

Books and papers.

Image credits Johannes Jansson / Wikimedia.

You’ve already got the tap and flick motion of Tinder mastered but let’s face it — that app isn’t really for you. What you’re after is depth, meaning, a mental connection. Well, now there’s a way to use your hard-earned skill to get just that. Preprint server bioRxiv announced an app called Papr which lets you make snap judgements on pre-prints — papers published before they’ve gone through the peer-review process.

Actually, a case may be made that Papr is twice as complicated as Tinder, since you can swipe right, left, up, and down. Each direction corresponds to one of four categories: “exciting and probable,” “exciting and questionable,” “boring and probable,” “boring and questionable,” which is actually exactly how I think about my Tinder matches.

But if you’ve ever had the feeling that Tinder is just too superficial for your taste weeeell… Papr doesn’t do anything to address that. Currently, you can only see the papers’ abstracts, not the full work, you can’t see who wrote it, and you can’t rate them in any way, shape, or form beyond those four categories.

Simple by design

Papr’s co-creator Jeff Leek, a biostatistician at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, says that this simplicity is actually an advantage. Papr’s goal isn’t to become an alternative to peer-review, but rather to help researchers cope with an “overwhelming” number of new papers and to spot areas of interdisciplinary overlap, Leek says. Scientists already use social media to find new papers, he adds, so why not simplify that process and get a general sense of their evaluation while at it?

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And the four-category system works to keep it simple. Other similar-ish services, such as PubPeer, offer users a lot more space to comment and discuss on papers — but that also offers opportunities for foul play and dishonest competition. To prevent users from giving an objectively good paper written by a rival a bad rating, or rating a paper more generously because it was penned by a famous scientist, Papr simply doesn’t show you who wrote what — it doesn’t show author names and doesn’t allow you to search for a particular preprint or author.

Leek had first released an earlier version of Papr late last year but only started publicizing the app on social media earlier this month after his colleagues added a few more features, including a recommendation engine that suggests studies based on your preferences, an option to download your ratings along with links to the full preprints on bioRxiv, and suggestions for Twitter users with similar tastes as yours.

“We don’t believe that the data we are collecting is any kind of realistic peer review, but it does tell us something about the types of papers people find interesting and what leads them to be suspicious,” Leek says. “Ultimately we hope to correlate this data with information about where the papers are published, retractions, and other more in-depth measurements of paper quality and interest.”

In the end, Papr is important as it shows that the scientific community is working on finding more ways to evaluate all the papers being published every day. But whether or not the app will last is yet to be determined. Their website sums up Leek’s opinion on this issue in a very fun tidbit.

“This app is provided solely for entertainment of the scientific community and may be taken down at any time with no notice because Jeff gets tired of it. It is provided ‘as is’ and is not guaranteed to do anything really. Use at your own risk and hopefully enjoy :).”

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