The standard approach to publish a scientific research output is through peer review, a process through which independent experts scrutinize papers submitted for publication and evaluate their quality and integrity. For years, peer review has been the accepted tool to guarantee the quality of scientific papers.
Based on their expertise and independent assessment of the paper, reviewers advice editors what to do: publish it or reject. They indicate issues that need to be addressed through critical comments which, traditionally, are only accessible to authors and editors. The rejection rate of papers is high, particularly in high impact factor journals. The competition to publish in those journals is fierce and most papers miss the high bar of approval.
Not that reviewers are free from blame in this flawed reviewing system. The main criticism directed against reviewers are bias, inconsistency, abuse of peer review and that reviews take too long to be sent back to authors. This has led to increasing call for open peer review: making reviewers’ comments and identity accessible to the public.
The Quest for Open Peer Review
According to a survey conducted by OpenAIRE2020 on 3000 individuals, 60% of the respondents supported the idea of publishing reviewers’ comments. According to Philip Campbell, editor-in-chief of Nature, 62% of authors have demonstrated keen interest to see reviewers’ comments online. Elsevier’s research shows that out 259 people invited for a pilot project 70% participated in an open peer review. Moreover, 45% of the participants do not see any problem with unmasking their identity. Nonetheless, only 2% of journal publishers give full access to the comments.
Peer review is usually anonymous: the authors and the public don’t know who reviewed a certain paper. But there is an ongoing discussion about the need to reveal the reviewers’ identity to increase the transparency of the review process. On the other hand, some argue that the risk outweighs potential benefits: reviewers might decline to participate. Nevertheless, so far this idea has not garnered enough support; the RAND Europe survey showed that only 3.5% of journals have a policy of unmasking the identity of reviewers.
SciMag – Researchers debate whether journals should publish signed peer reviews (February 12, 2018)
Smith, R. (2006). Peer review: a flawed process at the heart of science and journals. Journal of the royal society of medicine, 99(4), 178-182.
Elsevier – Is open peer review the way forward? (September 22, 2016)
Ross-Hellauer, T., Deppe, A., & Schmidt, B. (2017). Survey on open peer review: Attitudes and experience amongst editors, authors and reviewers. PloS one, 12(12), e0189311.