Innovations in peer review: join a discussion with our Editors


Join the BioMed Central Editors on Twitter tomorrow to talk about some of the innovations taking place in peer review…

Peer review wordleInnovation may not be an adjective often associated with peer review, indeed commentators have claimed that peer review slows innovation and creativity in science. Preconceptions aside, publishers are attempting to shake things up a little, with various innovations in peer review, and these are the focus of a panel discussion at BioMed Central’s Editors’ Conference on Wednesday 23 April in Doha, Qatar. This follows our spirited discussion at the Experimental Biology conference in Boston last year.

The discussion last year focussed on the limitations of the traditional peer review model (you can see a video here). This year we want to talk about innovations in the field and the ways in which the limitations are being addressed. Specifically, we will focus on open peer review, portable peer review – in which we help authors transfer their manuscript, often with reviewers’ reports, to a more appropriate journal – and decoupled peer review, which is undertaken by a company or organisation independent of, or on contract from, a journal.

Leading us through the discussion will be our expert panellists – James du Preez, joint Editor-in-Chief of Biotechnology for Biofuels, David Liberles, Section Editor on BMC Evolutionary Biology, and Rosemary Tannock, co-Editor-in-Chief for Behavioral and Brain Functions.

We will be live tweeting from the session at 11.15am local time (9.15am BST), so if you want to join the discussion or put questions to our panellists, please follow #BMCEds14. If you want to brush up on any or all of the models that we’ll be discussing, have a look at some of the content from around BioMed Central’s journals, blogs and Biome below:

– Greg Petsko’s frustrations with the current system of peer review, which “sometimes seems to reflect all the civility of being thrown to the lions in the Coliseum”: Caustic volleys and the sting of peer review: what’s the solution?

– Biology Direct editorial celebrating seven years of open, published peer review: Biology Direct: celebrating 7 years of open, published peer review

– GigaScience’s rationale for rationale for undertaking a policy of open peer review and examples of our positive experiences, plus a call to arms for others to open up opaque publication processes: Peering into peer-review at GigaScience

– Laurie Goodman, Editor-in-Chief of GigaScience on an extremely open peer review experience: Read her blog: Ultra open peer review, and watch her discuss the experience: Assemblathon 2: Unusual ‘meta’ peer review

– Portability of peer review discussed: BioMed Central – a home for all research

– Portable peer review between publishers, blogs by BMC BiologyPeer review – eLife goes portable and the BMC Series: Portable peer-review to prevent a pillar-to-post process

– Some BioMed Central journals welcome manuscripts that have been reviewed through the community peer-review initiative Peerage of Science. Blog: Supporting a new way to peer-review, Biome interview with co-founder of Peerage of Science: Progress in peer review: Janne-Tuomas Seppänen discusses Peerage of Science, and an author’s experience: A new take on peer review – an author experience of Peerage of Science

It’s clear from the above and the many discussions continuing to take place about peer review, that there’s an eagerness for innovation and for changes to the traditional system. So make sure you share your own thoughts on what these changes could and should be by joining us tomorrow on Twitter #BMCEds14, or if you can’t make it, leave a comment below.

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Karl Wooldridge

Like democracy being the worst type of government, apart from all the others, peer review may be the best way we have to ensure quality in published scientific work. One thing I do object to, however, is the facility offered by many journals for reviewers to make comments that the authors do not see. As a reviewer I pointedly indicate on every review that I have no comments other than those for the author. It seems to me that, at the very least, the author should expect to be able to see all of the reasons behind possible rejection of their manuscript. I think the case for attribution of reviewership, while it has its problems, also has merits. Specifically, the job of reviewing, which is normally quite thankless, can at least be attributed to reviewers to increase their profile and demonstrate their scientific citizenship. Secondly, if the reviewer knows that their name will be published they may be less inclined to make unduly critical reviews while hopefully remaining objective.

Maria Kowalczuk

I agree that it is important to communicate clearly all reasons behind a rejection of a manuscript, otherwise the editorial decision is unhelpful and unconstructive. However, confidential comments to editors are quite useful to report some issues. A reviewer might notice an ethical issue with the manuscript that may require further investigation by the editor. Often in such cases reviewers don’t want to make an open accusation that might turn out to be unfounded. For example, a reviewer might let us know that they have been asked recently to review the same manuscript for a different journal. In some cases a referee may want to let the editor know about a potential conflict of interest that might colour their report (but not necessarily prevent them from submitting their report altogether). With more subtle issues of conflict of interest, the reviewer may leave the decision to use their report (or not) to up to the editor.
Maria Kowalczuk, Deputy Biology Editor, BioMed Central.

Elizabeth Moylan

Karl Wooldridge makes some thoughtful points. Just to add, the medical journals in the BMC series operate an open peer review policy ( (and have done so for the past 10 years), and more recently biology titles too, for example, Biology Direct and GigaScience. This ‘openness’ is on two levels. The first is that authors will naturally see the reviewers’ names; the second is that if the article is published, the reading public will also see who reviewed the article and how the authors responded. It makes the process transparent, makes the reviewers more accountable and gives credit. We’ve also found the quality of reviewer reports is higher under a system of open peer review (

We are currently looking into ways to effectively make reviewer reports more discoverable when they are open, particularly to see if we can make them citable, and for opportunities to credit reviewer’s work where possible.

We greatly appreciate the time and effort our reviewers put into the process of peer review and you may be interested in these earlier blog posts here:;

These give more information about the citable ‘reviewer acknowledgement articles’ which we publish:
In this way reviewers can still receive credit for their work even if the manuscript they review isn’t ultimately accepted for publication.

Elizabeth Moylan, Biology Editor, BioMed Central