Peer Review Week 2021 – Opening up Peer Review at BMC

In celebration of Peer Review Week 2021 we are opening up Peer Review at BMC, highlighting our plans to further support Peer Reviewers, champion diversity and inclusivity, and discuss future plans and directions as pioneers of Open Access.

Since its foundation over 20 years ago, BMC has been pioneering and advancing peer review. We are dedicated to promoting fair and progressive peer review and are committed to making peer review more inclusive. On the BMC Series and the selective BMC journals (BMC Biology, BMC Medicine, Genome Biology and Genome Medicine) we continue to look at the support we provide to researchers and how we can remove barriers to make peer review more diverse and reach more reviewers.


Global diversity

As the first open access publisher, BMC has openness and accessibility at the forefront of what we do and has ensured that the research we publish reaches an international audience. Our approach to peer review also reflects this diversity. Reviewers are contacted based on their experience and expertise and we approach researchers around the world to review. In the table we show the global diversity of reviewers in our 5 largest journals.

Journal BMC Public Health BMC Infectious Diseases BMC Health Services Research BMC Cancer BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders
Top 10 locations of our reviewers in 2020
1 United States United States United States United States United States
2 Australia Italy Australia China Japan
3 United Kingdom China United Kingdom Italy China
4 Canada United Kingdom Canada Japan Germany
5 China Brazil Germany Germany United Kingdom
6 Italy India Netherlands United Kingdom Italy
7 India Australia China Netherlands Australia
8 Brazil Japan Iran Australia Brazil
9 South Africa Spain Italy India Canada
10 Iran Canada South Africa Taiwan Netherlands

To increase openness and transparency into the peer review process and also to enable increased diversity in our reviewer pool, the BMC Series has introduced transparent peer review. The BMC Series was the pioneer of open peer review that requires that the reviewer’s identity is revealed to the authors. For transparent peer review, reviewer reports are published for all peer reviewed content and reviewers can choose to remain anonymous or sign their report. The move to transparent peer review followed community feedback that reviewers being required to share their name was a barrier for them agreeing to review. Some reviewers may be hesitant to have their name shared, particularly if they are at an early stage in their career or are concerned with having their name revealed to the authors and the public. Giving the option to sign a report allows reviewers to choose for themselves whether they want to reveal their identity.


Supporting peer reviewers

Reviewing for the first time might seem daunting and there may be uncertainty on what is expected from a reviewer and how to prepare a report. By providing support and guidance for our reviewers, we hope to increase clarity on the peer review process and increase their confidence in their role as a reviewer. The BMC Blog Network has resources on ‘how to peer review for beginners’ that will guide novice reviewers in their role. BMC Medicine has a collection of commissioned articles from experts in different types of research methodology that provides peer review tips for junior reviewers.

At the BMC Series, we want to support those who review for us and provide them with the information they need when reviewing a manuscript for a BMC Series journal. We have created the BMC Series Reviewers’ page that provides a guide on responding to our invite to review, how to assess and prepare a report for a BMC Series manuscript and what to expect after reviewing. Editors from the BMC Series were also involved in developing statistics checklists for editors and reviewers to use when evaluating the statistics in manuscripts and these are now part of our standards of reporting.

Editors across the selective BMC journals (BMC Biology, BMC Medicine, Genome Biology and Genome Medicine) and the BMC Series are taking part in an initiative launched in 2020 by Nature Communications to engage specifically with early career researchers (ECRs). The ECR program aims to support ECRs in becoming effective peer reviewers, provide outreach and instruction to ECRs on how to properly review manuscripts, and identify potential ECR candidates in order to expand current reviewer pools.

BMC Biology and BMC Medicine have recently adopted a collaborative editorial model that directly involves Editorial Board Members in the assessment, handling, and decision making of manuscripts, granting the opportunity to scientists to manage the peer review process, while being fully supported by experienced in-house editors. The Editorial Board Member model has an open call on the journals’ websites for those interested in becoming EBMs. In addition, BMC Biology offers the opportunity to scientists to apply to become reviewers at the journal.

We hope that providing training, resources, and opportunity will remove the barrier that researchers may face through lack of experience as a reviewer or not understanding the process and expectations. This will enable us to expand and diversify our reviewer pools by giving more people the guidance needed to be a reviewer.


Increasing inclusivity and diversity

We continue to explore new approaches to increase diversity and inclusivity in the people who review for our journals. BMC Psychology has launched a new collection ‘Psychology of Diversity: The Road from Racism to Inclusion’ that encourages submissions of research on diversity, equity and inclusion. The journal is taking applications from researchers who are interested in being a reviewer for this collection and with the journal’s transparent peer review, they can choose to have their name publicly shared if the paper is published.

BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders and BMC Rheumatology have launched a joint collection that is focussed on Patient and Public Involvement in Rheumatic and Musculoskeletal Research. The collection will allow interested patients, carers and members of the public to be involved in the peer review process. This will give them insight into scientific publishing and a voice in research.

Reviewers’ time is extremely valuable and often the reviewers we contact will not be available to review a manuscript. We encourage these reviewers to provide suggestions of alternative researchers when declining our invitation. We aim for gender, race, ethnic, geographic, career stage and other diversity in our reviewer pool. Our peer review invitations ask that reviewers consider alternative reviewers from underrepresented communities.


Future plans

Our resources will keep being developed to ensure that all reviewers are informed and supported in their role. Greater recognition needs to be given to early career researchers who peer review with their supervisor. We will look at how the names of those who contributed to a reviewer report can be included and credit given to acknowledge their work. As research and community standards advance, publishing needs to also develop. One example is the move to open data and data sharing. Building opportunities for early career researchers to review standardised format articles such as Data Notes so they can use their expertise to ensure community standards are adhered to. In the future we hope to create initiatives to ensure that reviewers from diverse backgrounds and underrepresented communities are afforded opportunity, encouraged, and supported.

BMC is committed to progressive and innovative approaches in publishing. By working with the research community and listening to their feedback, we will continue to make peer review more transparent and inclusive.


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