Despite the fact that it is almost universally agreed that peer review is important or extremely important for ensuring the quality and integrity of scholarly communication, there is a surprising paucity of research into the practice. In a recent article in Nature, Professor Flaminio Squazzzoni and colleagues discuss this topic and suggest that improved infrastructure and collaboration are required in order to perform the systematic research needed to answer crucial questions regarding peer review. Such questions include the relative effectiveness of methods used for peer review (single blind, double blind, open peer review, etc) and how each method may influence reviewer behaviour.
The authors describe how the scarcity of systematic research into peer review is, in part, due to difficulties in accessing the required data. Publishers may be reluctant to share such data due to concerns over confidentiality, and studies to date often draw on information from only a few journals, restricting their generalisability. However, the authors suggest that with better infrastructure to facilitate data sharing, this hurdle could be overcome.
With better data sharing infrastructure, hurdles to accessing data for peer review research could be overcome.
Many of the article’s authors are members of PEERE, a group that seeks to “improve efficiency, transparency and accountability of peer review through a trans-disciplinary, cross-sectorial collaboration.” The group released the PEERE Protocol for sharing data on the peer review process in 2017 and have piloted a number of data-sharing initiatives. The next step, they say, is to develop a blueprint for data sharing and a proof-of-concept infrastructure which complies with General Data Protection Regulations and other principles of ethical data management. In line with the movement towards increased data sharing in other sectors, data sharing infrastructure for peer review research could draw on existing digital innovations used in scholarly publishing, such as ORCID and Crossref.
The authors conclude that with the collaboration of publishers, independent journals, learned societies and public bodies, obstacles to data sharing can be removed and the required infrastructure can be developed. After all, outcomes of this research promise to yield processes to enhance the reliability, rigour and relevance of scientific literature, which will ultimately benefit us all.