Traditional models of peer review occur pre-publication by selected referees and are mediated by an Editor or Editorial Board. This model has been adopted by the vast majority of journals, and acts as the filter system to decide what is considered to be worthy of publication. In this traditional pre-publication model, the majority of reviews are discarded as soon as research articles become published, and all of the insight, context, and evaluation they contain are lost from the scientific record.
Several publishers and journals are now taking a more adventurous exploration of peer review that occurs subsequent to publication. The principle here is that all research deserves the opportunity to be published, and the filtering through peer review occurs subsequent to the actual communication of research articles. Numerous venues now provide inbuilt systems for post-publication peer review, including ScienceOpen, RIO, The Winnower, and F1000 Research. In addition to those adopted by journals, there are other post-publication annotation and commenting services such as hypothes.is and PubPeer that are independent of any specific journal or publisher and operate across platforms.
One main aspect of open peer review is that referee reports are made publicly available after the peer review process. The theory underlying this is that peer review becomes a supportive and collaborative process, viewed more as an ongoing dialogue between groups of scientists to progressively asses the quality of research. Furthermore, it opens up the reviews themselves to analysis and inspection, which adds an additional layer of quality control into the review process.
This co-operative and interactive mode of peer review, whereby it is treated as a conversation rather than a selection system, has been shown to be highly beneficial to researchers and authors. A study in 2011 found that when an open review system was implemented, it led to increasing co-operation between referees and authors as well as an increase in the accuracy of reviews and overall decrease of errors throughout the review process. Ultimately, it is this process which decides whether research is suitable or ready for publication. A recent study has even shown that the transparency of the peer review process can be used to predict the quality of published research. As far as we are aware, there are almost no drawbacks, documented or otherwise, to making referee reports openly available. What we gain by publishing reviews is the time, effort, knowledge exchange, and context of an enormous amount of currently secretive and largely wasted dialogue, which could also save around 15 million hours per year of otherwise lost work by researchers.
Open peer review has many different aspects, and is not simply about removing anonymity from the process. Open peer review forms part of the ongoing evolution of an open research system, and the transformation of peer review into a more constructive and collaborative process. The ultimate goal of traditional peer review remains the same – to make sure that the work of authors gets published to an acceptable standard of scientific rigour.
There are different levels of bi-directional anonymity throughout the peer review process, including whether or not the referees know who the authors are but not vice versa (single blind review), or whether both parties remain anonymous to each other (double blind review). Open peer review is a relatively new phenomenon (initiated in 1999 by the BMJ) one aspect of which is that the authors and referees names are disclosed to each other. The foundation of open peer review is based on transparency to avoid competition or conflicts born out through the fact that those who are performing peer review will often be the closest competitors to the authors, as they will tend to be the most competent to assess the research.
It’s not too hard to see that the practices of and attitudes towards ‘open science’ are evolving amidst an ongoing examination about what the modern scholarly system should look like. While we might be more familiar with the ongoing debate about how to best implement open access to research articles and to the data behind publications, discussions regarding the structure, management, and process of peer review are perhaps more nuanced, but arguably of equal or greater significance.
Peer review is of enormous importance for managing the content of the published scientific record and the careers of the scientists who produce it. It is perceived as the golden standard of scholarly publishing, and for many determines whether or not research can be viewed as scientifically valid. Accordingly, peer review is a vital component at the core of the process of research communication, with repercussions for the very structure of academia which largely operates through a publication-based reward and incentive system.
Openness in scholarly communication takes many forms. One of the most commonly debated in academic spheres is undoubtedly open access – the free, equal, and unrestricted access to research papers. As well as open access, there are also great pushes being made in the realms of open data and open metrics. Together, these all come under an umbrella of ‘open research’.
One important aspect of open research is peer review. At ScienceOpen, we advocate maximum transparency in the peer review process, based on the concept that research should be an open dialogue and not locked away in the dark. We have two main peer review initiatives for our content: peer review by endorsement, and post-publication peer review.
A new project has been launched recently, the Peer Reviewers Openness Initiative (PROI). Similarly to ScienceOpen, is grounded in the belief that openness and transparency are core values of science. The core of the initiative is to encourage reviewers of research papers to make open practices a pre-condition for a more comprehensive review process. You can read more about the Initiative here in a paper (open access, obviously) published via the Royal Society.
Data should be made publicly available.All data needed for evaluation and reproduction of the published research should be made publicly available, online, hosted by a reliable third party. [I’m an author; help me comply!]
Stimuli and materials should be made publicly available.Stimulus materials, experimental instructions and programs, survey questions, and other similar materials should be made publicly available, hosted by a reliable third party. [I’m an author; help me comply!]
In case some data or materials are not open, clear reasons (e.g., legal, ethical constraints, or severe impracticality) should be given why. These reasons should be outlined in the manuscript.[I’m an author; help me comply!]
Documents containing details for interpreting any files or code, and how to compile and run any software programs should be made available with the above items.In addition, licensing or other restrictions on their use should be made clear. [I’m an author; help me comply!]
The location of all of these files should be advertised in the manuscript, and all files should be hosted by a reliable third party.The choice of online file hosting should be made to maximize the probability that the files will be accessible for many years, and to minimize the probability that they will be lost for trivial reasons (e.g., accidental deletions, moving files). [I’m an author; help me comply!]
Stephanie Dawson, CEO of ScienceOpen, and Jon Tennant, Communications Director, have signed the PROI, both on behalf of ScienceOpen and independently, respectively, joining more than 200 other researchers to date. Joining only takes a few seconds of your time, and would help to solidify a real commitment to making the peer review process more transparent, and helping to realise the wider goal of an open research environment.
Hello there, and Happy New Year from the new Communications Director of ScienceOpen!
My name’s Jon, and I’m currently finishing up my PhD at Imperial College London, where I’m a palaeontologist! (think Ross from Friends..) This year, I’ve been fortunate enough to join the ScienceOpen team to help grow their communications and networking abilities, and continue to realise the benefits of their pretty cool open research networking platform.
Those of you who know me will be aware that open access and more broadly, open science and communications, is something that I’ve been quite active in over my short career as a researcher. Some of the more ‘open-related’ projects I’ve been involved with include the writing of the Open Research Glossary, as well as challenging the AAAS on non-optimal publishing practices. For those of you lucky enough not to have met me yet, I’m highly interested in a whole array of factors that influence scholarly communication, including:
Publishing and disruptive technologies and innovation
Access to raw data and reproducibility
Community building and the power of social networks
Social media for researchers
Science communication, public engagement and outreach
Academic assessment and altmetrics
I’ll be taking over the reins from Liz Allen, who will shortly announce her new non-profit role. Rest assured that she will continue to spread the word about the importance of open. On behalf of the ScienceOpen team, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Liz for helping to establish our brand and offering her personal support as I get up to speed with the nuances of the job. Over the next few months (and onwards), I hope to help to raise awareness of what ScienceOpen does, and why it should be part of the essential toolkit for researchers, along with a host of other innovative applications that are bringing research into the digital age.
Why ScienceOpen? Well, apart from the obvious name, I support their ideals that science deserves to be open, transparent, and equal in every way. This essentially is the inverse of the traditional method of scholarly communication of publishing via journals, which are closed, opaque, and beset by inequalities on all fronts, the foremost being financial. ScienceOpen offers a valuable service that doesn’t replace traditional publishing, but compliments it through having a community aspect of driving open peer review, which is still the golden standard of acceptability for published research. Combine this with a hefty archive of both open and non-open research articles, and you have a valuable platform for developing research networks and building upon the published literature in an open, transparent, and community-driven way. For me, this is just one of the many ways in which the way we conduct research and disseminate those results is changing for the better, by harnessing the power of the Web and the opportunities it gives us for greater inter-operability throughout academia.
Alongside my activities here, I’ll be continuing my research and finishing the dreaded thesis, as well my science communication activities, in particular for the PLOS Paleo network which is great fun! So essentially combining my three favourite things: research, science communication, and open science policy and communications. Yay!
You can contact me on Twitter, or drop me an email if you wish. I look forward to working with ScienceOpen, and with them the global research community!