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.
Journals like PeerJ have a system where both the reviews and the names of the referees can be optionally made open, and Nature Communications have also recently began to trial this method of open review. In 2000, when BioMedCentral launched, it soon recognised the value in including both the reviewer names and the peer review history (pre-publication) alongside published manuscripts in the medical journals of the BMC series. Since then, a range of journals have adopted a variety of open review models. For example, the Frontiers series now publishes all referee names alongside articles, and EMBO journals publish a review process file with articles, with referees remaining anonymous but Editors being named.
At ScienceOpen our goal is to champion transparency in the peer review process through a system of public post-publication peer review. Every article we publish is open to two layers of evaluation: (1) through a formal peer review process that requires a minimum of 5 publications attached to a user’s ORCID account to maintain a level of expert review, with referee reports published alongside the manuscript; and (2) a public commenting and recommendation service open to every member to invite early career researchers and other members to contribute to the evaluation of scientific research. This dual approach ensures that peer review is a fair, public and civil process, but maintains the reliability and integrity of professional peer review from within the research community.
This is the fourth post in a series on peer review, with other articles on getting credit for review, anonymous or signed reviews, and an overall background to the evolution of peer review.