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Open peer review: pilot studies reveal promising findings

Rubber squeegee cleans a soaped window and clears a stripe of blue sky with clouds, concept for tranparency or spring cleaning, copy space in the backgroundLast year, an open letter recognising the benefits of transparency in peer review processes was launched: it now has 335 journal signatories. Many of these journals have implemented a range of transparent peer review processes, such as publishing reviewers’ comments alongside articles, with or without reviewer names. But does implementing a transparent peer review process change the behaviour of reviewers? A recent study, published in Nature Communications addresses this question.

The authors assessed referee behaviours at five Elsevier journals that published peer review reports as articles (anonymous or signed) and compared these with behaviours at five journals with traditional review processes. Encouragingly, referees’ willingness to review, recommendations and turnaround times were unaffected by the open process, although younger and non-academic reviewers were slightly more likely to accept an invitation to review and returned reports that were more positive and objective. These findings are broadly in keeping with those published in a previous report from Genome Biology, which found that transparent review did not compromise the peer review process following a year-long trial. Of note, only 8.1% of reviewers agreed to sign their reports in the Elsevier study, with writers of more positive reports keener to do so, leading the study authors to conclude that the “the veil of anonymity is key for open peer review”.

In another recent pilot, the publisher Wiley launched an automated, scalable, transparent peer review platform in collaboration with Publons and ScholarOne, aiming to increase accountability, provide insight into the editorial process, and recognise the work of editors and reviewers. Clinical Genetics was the first journal to join the initiative, in which authors can opt for open peer review when submitting their article and reviewers can choose whether to disclose their names alongside their reports. Each article’s peer review history is openly available, linked to the article, and citable. Since the start of the pilot, there has been a strong demand for open peer review, with 83% of authors selecting this option. However, similar to the findings reported by Elsevier, only a small number of reviewers (19%) have signed their reports.

Ten more journals are joining the Wiley pilot, seven of which previously operated a single- or double-blind rather than transparent review process, reflecting the movement in scholarly publishing to make research more open. Data from such expanding pilots will provide further evidence for the utility of open peer review. However, it looks like peer review can be transparent without compromising the process – with reviewers much more willing for their reports to be published than their names.

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Summary by Beatrice Tyrrell, DPhil from Aspire Scientific

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With thanks to our sponsors, Aspire Scientific Ltd and NetworkPharma Ltd


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