Opportunities of a more Open and Transparent Peer Review
Peer Review Week 2016, Article #4
During the last decade the peer review system, a key research quality assurance mechanism, has come under close scrutiny. Traditional peer review methods fail to meet the requirements and needs of today’s rapidly evolving research ecosystem, which is characterised by an increasingly digital and interactive scholarly communication, a growing number of research actors and highly specialised communities dealing with complex problems, as well as a rapidly growing science production. Current peer review workflows are not scalable and often operate like a black box. A number of recent fraud and bias cases in scientific publishing make it particularly evident that the current system is in need of improvement (just to list a few: Faked peer reviews prompt 64 retractions, It’s a Man’s World — for One Peer Reviewer, at Least, PLOS ONE ousts reviewer, editor after sexist peer-review storm, Publishing: The peer-review scam).
Alternative peer review methods such as Open Peer Review try to increase transparency and encourage honest open responses by the reviewers. Open Peer Review has been adopted by journals such as the British Medical Journal, Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, and a majority of BioMed Central publications. Another example is the publishing platform f1000research, which has an open post-publication peer review system in place.
An international study from 2012 suggests that many researchers, who already have published and reviewed in higher quality, international, and English-language journals are overall satisfied with the peer review system used by scholarly journals (69%). However the study makes also clear, that “most researchers believe there could be improvements to the process”. Over 50% percent of respondents rated Open Peer Review to be effective (20% Open Peer Review, 25% Published Open Peer Review). The reasons expressed by the respondents are that Open Peer Review ensures that the reviewers are “honest, more thoughtful, and less likely to be vitriolic in their response”. In addition, “publishing names and reports helps the reader decide on the quality of the work and encourages dialogue” (Mulligan).
In a recent small survey the YEAR Network, about 200 early career researchers expressed their opinion on how they would prioritise the suggested Open Science policy actions by the European Commission. Among other, the surveyed young researchers see a high priority in experimenting with more open and transparent peer review, and promoting a discussion on evaluation criteria of research. [A preliminary evaluation of the results will be published shortly on the YEAR website.]
In the EU coordination and support action OpenUP we address this by focusing, among other topics, on innovative peer review practices. Our goal is to test previously defined Open Peer Review workflows in dedicated pilot studies. An example is the pilot study on Open Peer Review for Conferences. The requirements and workflows will be elaborated and defined in close collaboration with researchers, publishers, institutions and conference organizers. In a second step the workflows will be applied and tested in a dedicated pilot study with the aim to assess applicability and acceptance within the scientific community. See more about our activities
Mulligan, A., Hall, L. and Raphael, E. (2013), Peer review in a changing world: An international study measuring the attitudes of researchers. J Am Soc Inf Sci Tec, 64: 132–161. doi:10.1002/asi.22798