Peer Review : from Blinded to Open : the Way Science is Communicated

Open Peer Review : what is it?  What are the advantages, downsides and challenges for researchers ? Does open review approach give credit to reviewers for the time and effort they put into improving the quality of the manuscripts ... 
In 2017, OpenAIRE released a report - entitled “OpenAIRE survey on open peer review: Attitudes and experience amongst editors, authors and reviewers - that gauged the views towards open peer review (OPR) of over 3,062 editors, authors and reviewers. The results show that OPR is moving mainstream, with high levels of enthusiasm and experience amongst those surveyed. 


From drawback of Traditional Peer Review ... 

‘Often, the closest “peers” in someone’s area of research are also that researcher’s direct competitors ! One solution is to remove the authors’ names from the manuscript, but this double-blind system is not fool-proof, and a reviewer will still often recognize which lab a paper comes from. In addition, any bias towards competitors of the reviewer still remain, even if that competitor is anonymized. Another drawback of traditional peer review is that the referee reports are visible only to the authors and the editor...’ (F1000Research).

...  toOpen Peer Review” (OPR)

Despite being a major pillar of Open Science, OPR has neither a standardized definition nor an agreed schema of its features and implementations. The literature reflects this, with a myriad of overlapping and often contradictory definitions:

* While the term is used by some to refer to peer review where the identities of both author and reviewer are disclosed to each other,
* For others it signifies systems where reviewer reports are published alongside articles.
* For others it signifies both of these conditions, and for yet others it describes systems where not only “invited experts” are able to comment.
* For still others, it includes a variety of combinations of these and other novel methods", - What is open peer review? A systematic review, by Tony Ross-Hellauer, F100Research, 2017 

OPR : Facts, Advantages, Disadvantages, Challenges

The results of the aforementioned online cross-disciplinary survey (conducted for the OpenAIRE2020 project) show the majority of respondents to be in favour of OPR becoming mainstream scholarly practice, as they also are for other areas of Open Science, like Open Access and Open Data. 

A survey has also discovered high levels of experience with OPR (76.2% respondents reporting having taken part in an OPR process as author, reviewer or editor). There were also high levels of support for OPR workflow in terms of open interaction, open reports and final-version commenting.

Taken together, the survey's findings are very encouraging for OPR’s prospects though due care must be taken to avoid a “one-size fits all” solution and to tailor such systems to different (especially disciplinary) contexts. OPR is an evolving phenomenon and hence future studies are to be encouraged, especially to further explore differences between disciplines and monitor the evolution of attitudes.

The benefits of Open Peer Review (OPR) - for authors, readers and reviewers - are indisputable:

  • authors can see who reviewed their work;
  • reviewers' comments put paper in context which provides useful additional information for readers;
  • bias among reviewers are reduced;
  • reviewer’s informed opinion of the work is showed;
  • reviewer’s experience is demonstrated, etc.

Hence, OPR can be seen as a supportive and collaborative process between referees and authors, as well as an ongoing dialogue (rather than a selection system) between groups of scientists to progressively assess and predict the quality of published research

Advantages and disadvantages : reporting from the field … "Isn't this what science is all about?"

“Our recent research […] is now available for commentary and formal peer review in two preprint repositories: SJS (@social_sjs) and bioaRxiv (@bioarxivpreprint). Each of these repositories comes with advantages and disadvantages.

BioaRxiv is already backed by a large community, provides a DOI for indexing and citing, and tracks article usage statistics across the web. Its big disadvantage is that, just like in any other repository, articles simply sit there waiting to be published in a traditional journal in order to acquire some quality indicator —no matter how inaccurate and perverse— that will inform readers and be useful for authors in the advancement of their careers.

SJS, on the other hand, is the first and only repository that facilitates a formal peer review process. Its big disadvantage is that it is not yet supported by a big community that would ensure sustainability and greater visibility...

So, while our article is sitting quietly on bioaRxiv, we are sending personalised invitations to a number of experts in the field to formally review the version hosted on SJS. In less than a week after uploading the article, we already received two signed reviews by known experts in the field. One reviewer is suggesting a revision, making excellent suggestions for improvements that we will have to incorporate in the next version of the manuscript. 

All reviewer comments are posted alongside the article, making it easy for readers to follow the discussion paragraph by paragraph. Openness and transparency make the review process a collaborative effort to detect and correct errors, enrich interpretations and generally improve validity, reproducibility, and quality  - Pandelis Perakakis, PhD, Academic Website, July 1, 2017

What are the challenges of OPR ? … Some opinions :   

@ 'As well as research to assess whether different models of peer review lead to better quality peer reviewer reports, we more importantly need research to assess whether they lead to better quality articles – we need to not lose sight of the fact that that is after all what the process is trying to achieve', - Stephanie Boughton, 15 Jun 2016, BioMed Central blog

@ 'Some researchers, especially those in more junior positions, are afraid that if they are vocal or negatively critical about another researcher’s work in public, especially one who is more senior, then there could be a potential backlash against them for it. Documenting this sort of power dynamic abuse is difficult to see or measure, but certainly impacts upon earlier career researchers, who are perhaps those more willing to engage in more open research practices', - What are the barriers to post-publication peer review?

‘Although open peer review is becoming more common, and addresses several of the issues of anonymous review, a few challenges still remain. A study in the early days of open review suggested that naming referees slightly reduced the likelihood of finding reviewers but did not affect the quality of review. Conversely, other studies suggest that open review provides more constructive reports’ , - F1000Research.

Some examples of Platforms, Journals and Publishers with OPR system implemented


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