Transparency, Openness and Peer Review

When BMC was founded 20 years ago, a lot was different. The open access (OA) movement was still in its infancy, the digital movement towards both the production of and engagement with content was just beginning to transform the way we work, and like many other systems and processes, peer review was adapting to changes brought on by online technologies.   While much has changed since then what hasn’t changed is BMC’s commitment to the scholarly community and our progressive and transparent approach to publishing.

As the first OA publisher, BMC has been a pioneer in the publishing sector. Openness is one of our hallmarks, and the promotion of a fair, efficient and transparent approach to the peer review process has been inherent in our process from the start. We have always supported innovation in peer review; we introduced open peer review in 1999 and have continued to experiment with different peer review models over the past two decades, including double-blind peer review, results-free peer review and portable peer review. In our 20th year of publishing, we have  therefore taken the opportunity to further consider how best to align our mission of promoting transparency in peer review with our dedication to providing you, our research community with better tailored services to support their needs, development and engagement with the journals.

In support of the drive to make research more open, we  are now beginning the transition to implement the publication of reviewer reports for all peer reviewed content. The signing of reviewer reports will be optional. That is, reviewers will be able to choose to remain anonymous if they wish or they can choose to sign the report if they want their name to be publicly associated with it –commonly known as transparent peer review. A transparent peer review workflow shows readers the process behind editorial decision making, increases accountability, and helps recognise the work of editors and peer reviewers. This decision, taken in consultation with the community, represents a positive approach that will enable us to promote diversity in our reviewer pool, increase transparency and accountability in the peer review process and provide an improved service for our authors.

Over the past several years, we have gained a great deal of experience in the implementation of transparent peer review that has prompted us to re-evaluate the mandate for reviewers to have their identities publicly associated with their reports at some of our titles. A primary motivating factor was feedback we’ve received from potential reviewers, some of whom find this requirement to be an impediment to participating in the peer review process. Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that removing the requirement for reviewers to sign their report will increase reviewer uptake, allowing us to more broadly engage the community of potential reviewers and to secure reviewer panels more efficiently for our authors.  The evidence suggests that in particular early career researchers feel reluctant to engage with the review process, or less confident in providing the same level of candour in reports, if their names will be publically shared. Publishing anonymous peer reviews can therefore greatly increase the transparency of the review process, which can lead to an improvement in review quality, better support early career researchers, and, crucially, increase overall confidence that the peer review process is working effectively. Of course, any reviewers who wish to continue to sign their reports will be most welcome to, and their names will continue to be linked to their contributions.

As a global publisher we have a responsibility and a desire to support our scholarly community as best we can. By moving towards implementing this approach for all of the BMC Series titles, we are responding to the increasing desire amongst the research community for transparency in the peer review process, whilst also creating a constructive environment where reviewers feel supported and valued and able to provide honest and constructive feedback.

We hope offering transparent peer review for journals across a wide range of subject disciplines will bring many benefits. However, we recognize that these changes may take time to be fully supported across different disciplines. As always, we will continue to consult with you, our community as we go through these changes and we remain committed to being guided by this feedback. As we move into BMC’s 20th year, we move into it with the same publishing drivers that have always defined our progressive, open and inclusive approach. Enabling enhanced author choice and increased diversity within the reviewer pool is just one example of the extension of that commitment, and we look forward to the support of our authors and reviewers in helping us achieve these goals.


*The BMC journals will be moving across in stages, a process which will be complete by Q4 2020. Please do bear with us during this time as the changes take place. If there are any queries or concerns, please get in touch with your BMC contact.

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