The future of peer review

How can we support and acknowledge peer reviewers? How can we involve early career researchers in peer review? What is the future of peer review? These are just a few of the topics I recently discussed with some of BioMed Central’s Editors.

We are all in some way involved in, or affected by, peer review; as editors, reviewers, authors, readers, patients, and indirectly as members of the public. Many of us play more than one role at different times. It is therefore important that we strive to improve the peer review process, and look at how it can evolve to meet the needs of the communities it serves.

The future of peer review was the focus of panel discussions at the BioMed Central Roadshows in Melbourne, Sydney and Auckland earlier this year and will be discussed again next week at our London Roadshow. While in Australia and New Zealand, I spoke to some of BioMed Central’s editors to get their thoughts on peer review – its current state of play and potential future.

How can we support and acknowledge peer reviewers?

As the research output grows, there is increased burden on researchers to peer review, something which they must fit into already busy schedules. How best can we reward them for this vital work? I asked the editors I spoke to for their thoughts on why scientists peer review, and how we can best acknowledge their contributions.

James Beeson, Editorial Board member for BMC Medicine, feels that “they [researchers] see it as part of an important process; they submit manuscripts, so they feel an obligation to review manuscripts in return.”

These thoughts echo the results of a large survey conducted by Sense About Science, in which many researchers reported that they peer review because they like to play an active role in their communities, enjoy improving papers, and like getting to see new articles early.

Most reviewers, if it’s actually in their area of expertise like to do the review – it gives them an opportunity to get ahead of the literature, know what other people are doing, and influence the field.”


Phillipa Hay
Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Eating Disorders

Phillipa Hay, Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Eating Disorders, feels that editors play an important role in decreasing this burden, by selecting appropriate reviewers:

“Reviewers only have so much time, so they are prioritising where and who they do reviews for. Being careful in your selection of reviewers is therefore very important and being very clear about why you’re inviting them. Most reviewers, if it’s actually in their area of expertise like to do the review – it gives them an opportunity to get ahead of the literature, know what other people are doing, and influence the field.”

On the subject of acknowledgement for peer reviewers, Stephane Guindon, Associate Editor for BMC Evolutionary Biology, feels that opening up the process is the best way:

“Personally I’d be really happy to be given the opportunity to make my review available to other people, the public. If you make it open, people are more willing to invest the time in doing it.”

Involving early career researchers in peer review

One way to decrease the burden on the existing pool of peer reviewers is to involve early career researchers.

Phillipa Hay explained the importance of encouraging involvement of early career researchers in peer review:

“Making it open for people to have a co-reviewer or a junior reviewer who they mentor, and having processes to really facilitate that, are important because they encourage the next generation to develop confidence and skills.”

We know that early career researchers want to review because ultimately being reviewers makes them better authors.”


Sabina Alam
Editor, BMC Medicine

Adding to this, Sabina Alam, Editor of BMC Medicine, highlighted that early career researchers are often already involved in peer review, but not receiving recognition. She went on to explain that:

“Moving towards this more collaborative form of peer review would reduce the burden on the senior researcher, and give credit to the early career researcher as well as provide experience. We know that early career researchers want to review because ultimately being reviewers makes them better authors.”

This view was also echoed by Sarah Hayes, an early career researcher herself, on her experiences of peer review. For early career researches who want to learn more, Jigisha Patel, BioMed Central’s Associate Editorial Director for Research Integrity, recently wrote the first in a series of step-by-step guides to peer review.

What is the future of peer review?

All of the editors I spoke to felt there is value in the current peer review system. Phillipa added that we need to just keep working at making it more efficient”, while Stephane sees the future as more open:

“Giving an opportunity to participate in an open process would mean that we wouldn’t talk any more about a published article alone, we would talk about a published article and the reactions to this article, i.e. a string of connected responses to a main published article.”

Your chance to join in the discussion

Next week, the BioMed Central Roadshow will take place in London, giving you the opportunity to continue the conversation. Elizabeth Moylan, Senior Editor for Research Integrity will chair a panel discussion on what’s new in peer review with panellists David Liberles, Section Editor for BMC Evolutionary Biology, Kathryn Maitland, Editorial Board Member for BMC Medicine and Miranda Robertson, Editor of BMC Biology.

You can sign up here to attend the free roadshow in central London, and you can also follow the day’s events and contribute to the discussions online via twitter by following #BMCRoadshow.

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