Peer review under scrutiny

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Peer review is a key process in the publication of scientific research, and often finds itself under scrutiny and the topic of debate. Discussions around the future of peer review and problems with current models have led to experiments with open peer review, post publication peer review and double-blind peer review. At BioMed Central we offer a range of peer review models across our journals, including (to name just a few) open peer review on GigaScience and the medical titles in the BMC series, BMC Biology’s re-review opt out policy, and Biology Direct’s now well established model of author-driven open peer review.

We’ve also recently been conducting some research of our own. The Biology and Medical Editors, with the help of Frank Dudbridge, statistician at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, conducted a study to measure the quality of reports provided by author- and editor-suggested reviewers. Additionally, we looked at whether the quality of peer reviewers’ reports differed between journals operating on open and closed peer review models.

By comparing reviewer reports for manuscripts submitted to BMC Infectious Diseases (a medical journal operating on an open peer review model) and BMC Microbiology (the biology counterpart operating on a closed peer review model), we found that there was no difference in the quality of reports from reviewers suggested by the authors or those suggested by the Editor. Intriguingly though, we found that reports on the open peer review model scored more highly on questions relating to feedback on the methods, constructiveness and the amount of evidence substantiating the reviewers’ comments. These results were presented as a poster (which is available on F1000Posters) by Maria Kowalczuk, Deputy Biology Editor, at the 7th International Congress on Peer Review and Biomedical Publication 2013.

BioMed Central’s BMC series medical journals were also the subject of research conducted by Sally Hopewell and colleagues, presented at the congress. These journals operate on an open peer review model that includes making the reviewers’ reports available alongside the published article. This allowed the researchers a rare glimpse into the peer review process, which is so often conducted behind closed doors. They found that reviewers often picked up on issues such as overstated conclusions, but missed other points related to reporting of the study.

Peer review will always be debated, and researchers and editors should continue to look for more innovative ways to improve the process. Elizabeth Moylan, Biology Editor at BioMed Central will be discussing our recent findings along with other aspects of peer review at a session at SpotOn on Friday 8th November (session hashtag: #solo13peer).