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.
For the majority of scientists, peer review is seen as integral to, and a fundamental part of, their job as a researcher. To be invited to review a research article is perceived as a great honour due to its recognition of expertise, and forms part of the duty of a scientist to help progress research. However, the system is in a bit of a fix. With more and more being published every year and ever increasing demands on the time and funds of researchers, the ability to competently perform peer review is dwindling simply due to competition with other aspects of duty. Why, many researchers might ask, should they spend their valuable time reviewing others work for little to no recognition or reward, as is with the traditional model? Indeed, many publishers opine that the greatest value they add is through managing the peer review process, which in many cases is performed on a volunteer basis by academic Editors and referees, and estimated to cost around $1.9 billion in management per year. But who actually gets the recognition and credit for all of this work?
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.
Most of us, whether we are researchers or not, can intuitively grasp what “profile fatigue” is. For those who are thus afflicted, we don’t recommend the pictured Bromo Soda, even though it’s for brain fatigue. This is largely because it contained Bromide, which is chronically toxic and medications containing it were removed in the USA from 1975 (wow, fairly recent!).
Naturally, in the digital age, it’s important for researchers to have profiles and be associated with their work. Funding, citations and lots of other good career advancing benefits flow from this. And, it can be beneficial to showcase a broad range of output, so blogs, slide presentations, peer-reviewed publications, conference posters etc. are all fair game. It’s also best that a researcher’s work belongs uniquely to them, so profile systems need to solve for name disambiguation (no small undertaking!).
This is all well and good until you consider the number of profiles a researcher might have created at different sites already. To help us consider this, we put together this list.
Non-profit: independent, community driven
Publisher: Thomson Reuters
Scopus Author ID
Researcher Network: Academia.edu
Researcher Network: ResearchGate
The list shows that a researcher could have created (or have been assigned per SCOPUS) 7 “profiles” or more accurately, 7 online records of research contributions. That’s on top of those at their research institution and other organizations) and only one iD (helpfully shown in green at the top!) is run by an independent non-profit called ORCID.
Different from a profile, ORCID is a unique, persistent personal identifier a researcher uses as they publish, submit grants, upload datasets that connects them to information on other systems. But, not all other profile systems (sigh). Which leads us, once again, to the concept of “interoperability” which is one of the central arguments behind recent community disatissfaction over the new STM licenses which we have covered previously.
Put simply, if we all go off and do our own thing with licensing and profiling then we create more confusion and effort for researchers. Best to let organizations like Creative Commons and ORCID take care of making sure that everyone can play nicely in the sandbox (although they do appreciate community advocacy on these issues).
Interoperability is one good reason why ScienceOpen integrated our registration with ORCID and use their iD’s to provide researcher profiles on our site. We don’t do this because we think profiles are kinda neat, they are but they are also time consuming and tedious to prepare (especially 6 times!).
We did it because we are trying to improve peer-review which we believe should be done after publication by experts with at least 5 publications on their ORCID iD and we believe in minimizing researcher hassle. This is why our registration process is integrated with the creation of an ORCID iD, which could become pivotal for funders in the reaonably near future (so best for researchers to get on board with them now!).
So given that it seems likely that all researchers will need an ORCID iD (and boy it would be nice if they would get one by registering with us!), then what is also important is that all the sites listed in the above grid integrate with ORCID too and that hasn’t happened yet (you know who you are!). The others have done a nice job of integrating by all accounts.
In conclusion, publishers and other service providers need to remember that they serve the scientific community, not the other way around and this publisher would like to suggest that everyone in the grid please integrate with ORCID pronto!
Reviewing with ScienceOpen, the new OA research + publishing network, is a bit different from what researchers may have experienced elsewhere! To see for yourself, watch this short video on Post-Publication Peer Review.
Q. For busy researchers & physicians, time is short, so why bother to review for ScienceOpen?
A1. Firstly, because the current Peer Review system doesn’t work
David Black, the Secretary General of the International Council for Science (ICSU) said in a recent ScienceOpen interview “Peer Review as a tool of evaluation for research is flawed.” Many others agree.
Here are our observations and what we are doing to ease the strain.
Anonymous Peer Review encourages disinhibition. Since the balance of power is also skewed, this can fuel unhelpful, even destructive, reviewer comments. At ScienceOpen, we only offer non-anonymous Post-Publication Peer Review.
Authors can suggest up to 10 people to review their article. Reviews of ScienceOpen articles and any of the 1.3mm other OA papers aggregated on our platform, are by named academics with minimally five publications on their ORCID ID which is our way of maintaining the standard of scientific discourse. We believe that those who have experienced Peer Review themselves should be more likely to understand the pitfalls of the process and offer constructive feedback to others.
Martin Suhm, Professor of Physical Chemistry, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Germany and one of our first authors said in a recent ScienceOpen interview “Post-Publication Peer Review will be an intriguing experience, certainly not without pitfalls, but worth trying”.
A2. Second, reviews receive a DOI so your contributions can be cited
We believe that scholarly publishing is not an end in itself, but the beginning of a dialogue to move research forward. In a move sure to please busy researchers tired of participating without recognition, each review receives a Digital Object Identifier (DOI) so that others can find and cite the analysis and the contribution becomes a registered part of the scientific debate.
All reviews require a four point assessment (using five stars) of the level of: importance, validity, completeness and comprehensibility and there’s space to introduce and summarize the material.
Should authors wish to make minor or major changes to their work in response to review feedback, then ScienceOpen offers Versioning. Versions are clearly visible online, the latest are presented first with prominent links to previous iterations. We maintain & display information about which version of an article the reviews and comments refer to, this allows readers to follow a link to an earlier version of the content to see the article history.
A3. Finally, because problems are more visible
When Peer Review is done in the open by named individuals, we believe it should be more constructive and issues will surface more quickly. The resolution of matters arising isn’t simpler or quicker because they are more obvious, but at least they can be seen and addressed.
Here’s a quick overview of ScienceOpen services:
Publishes ALL article types: Research, Reviews, Opinions, Posters etc
From ALL disciplines: science, medicine, the humanities and social science
Aggregates over 1.3 million OA articles from leading publishers
Publication within about a week from submission with DOI
Today’s interview comes from Dr. Janis Vogt, a PhD in Biochemistry and a member of the Thomas J. Jentsch Research Group in the Department of Physiology and Pathology of Ion Transport at the Leibniz-Institut für Molekulare Pharmakologie in Berlin, Germany. Continue reading ““All research should be OA”. We agree!”
There is no doubt that peer review is one of the most crucial features of scientific publishing. A scientific discovery that is written down and then hidden in a secret place is not part of science. Only if it’s made public and judged by the scientific community it enters the next stage and may become part of the scientific record. Some of those discoveries will be immediately rejected and labeled as mere bullshit, others will be accepted as proper science, though simply ignored. Again others will be regarded as useful or even celebrated as scientific breakthrough. It even happens from time to time that long ignored discoveries experience a revival and suddenly become the focus of attention – years and decades after their initial publication.
We all know how peer review works. We have done it for centuries and it has become part of our scientific culture. We’ve learned from our supervisors how it’s done properly and we’ll teach it our own PhDs as soon as we are the supervisors. Interestingly, we rarely reflect on WHY we do things. So, what we need to ask ourselves is:
“Why did we make single-blind pre-publication peer review the gold standard?”
First of all, because it has been the best way to do peer review – at least in times when manuscripts and referee reports have been sent by mail, articles have been bundled issue-wise and distributed as printed journals to libraries worldwide. It simply didn’t make sense to review after the paper was already on the shelves; and it was completely reasonable to send manuscripts to peer review first and print only those articles that have passed this initial quality test. By the way, the second and even more important quality check is still done by the whole scientific community. Reproducibility, or better the lack of it, is a big issue in empirical sciences – although having a peer reviewing system in place.
The peer review process was managed by publishing houses. They knew the secret crafts called typesetting and printing and had taken the trouble to organize the global delivery of their product called scientific journal. The money for all these services was paid by the libraries in form of journal subscription fees. Publishing was hence (almost) free for authors. Space was precious and costly. In such a system it was even more important to pre-select for those articles that are “worth to be published”. With the beneficial side effect that it positively affected the most precious selling point, the Journal Impact Factor. So, only the “best” and “most interesting” papers where selected, “not so important” sections like Material and Methods and References where shortened, and “published” became synonymous with “peer reviewed”. For a deeper analysis of the major disadvantages of the IF see Alexander’s discussion “Journal Impact Factors – Time to say goodbye?” in this blog. Another less beneficial side effect of the label “published”: We all tend to perceive papers as something that is carved in stone.
In the early 1990s, a revolution named World Wide Web started to become reality at CERN. It had the potential to change the world forever – and it truly fulfilled this promise. I think it is legitimate to say that human history can be divided into the time before and after the internet. Meanwhile, information can be stored and distributed in digital form: fast, easy, cheap and with almost no limitation. This led to a paradigm shift in scientific publishing – or as Clay Shirky puts it:
“[…] the word “publishing” means a cadre of professionals who are taking on the incredible difficulty and complexity and expense of making something public. That’s not a job anymore. That’s a button. There’s a button that says “publish,” and when you press it, it’s done.”
Nevertheless, we still do peer review as we did hundred years before. Why not using the advantages of the internet when judging scientific literature? Why do we still let a handful of editors preselect papers, having the journal impact factor in mind when deciding? Why not making it public first and let the scientific community judge afterwards? Why not assessing the “impact” of each article separately instead of referring to the prestige of the journal and using the average number of citations of all articles as measure? Why not making the identity and comments of each reviewer public? Why not letting readers benefit from the reviewer’s thorough analyses and let the readers decide which information they regard as useful?
In the end the reader will have to judge the paper anyway. I think it would be best if the reader had as much information available as possible. Not as a must, but as an option. If you are content with the information “has undergone peer review”, fine. I personally would like to know: How many reviewers? Who are they? Which were the positive and which were the negative points? By no means does this information supersede my own judgment. It simply helps me to assess the quality of the review process, points me at relevant details and enables me to preselect papers by my own criteria. Nothing argues against a pool of papers of heterogeneous quality, as long as I’m able to select in a suitable way:
“Please show me only those articles with at least two positive reviews and an average rating of 80%”
And even better, reviews can now be attributed to a person. It means that you can start building up a reputation as good reviewer – in addition to being a good researcher. Furthermore, I personally would think twice before singing a review and would make sure that I have done a proper job. This does NOT mean that anonymous reviews are of lower quality. Far from it! Hundreds of thousands of conscientious reviewers are working behind closed doors to keep the system running! I simply think it’s time to reward them for their important honorable duty.
No system is perfect and each has advantages and disadvantages. The system of Public Post-Publication Peer Review we offer on our platform ScienceOpen is a step in the right direction – at least in my eyes. I cordially invite everyone to help us further improving it and try to shape it into a system that benefits everyone.