The concept of publishing peer review comments alongside an article, to increase transparency in the publication process, is gathering momentum. It is generally agreed by the scientific community that a more open system will improve trust and possibly the efficiency of peer review.
In February of this year, a meeting of editors, publishers, funders, and researchers was held at the headquarters of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) in Chevy Chase, MD (USA) to discuss innovations in peer review, including the publication of peer review reports. Following this meeting, over 130 journals signed an open letter and committed “to enable the publication of all of the content of peer review, but not necessarily the names of reviewers and author responses alongside final, published articles.” Funders have also embraced the initiative. Indeed, representatives of two funders, the Wellcome Trust and the HHMI, along with ASAPbio (a non-profit organisation promoting transparency and innovation in life science communication) have called on more journals to join the cause. They outlined the potential benefits of published peer review (which include improving standards, building trust and the crediting of reviewing) as well as the possible barriers (such as intimidation, reports being used to evaluate the author and the “weaponization of reviewer reports”) in a recent article published in Nature. Overall, the authors concluded that the positives outweigh the negatives. Ultimately, it will be down to each journal as to how they will implement ‘open review’. For example, the PLOS journals will let the authors decide whether the peer review is made public and will allow the reviewers to decide whether they remain anonymous or not. This follows a survey of PLOS peer reviewers in which a minority of respondents who were not in support of posted reviews indicated that their publication should be the decision of the author.
It will be interesting to see whether this model of transparent peer review is fully adopted, how it evolves over time and whether the scientific community find it a valuable activity.
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