Updated: Oct 24
Open practices are at the forefront of scholarly publishing right now. With more open access models becoming prominent in scholarly publishing and with people better understanding the benefits brought by open research practices, a fully open future looks increasingly more achievable.
With a constantly evolving scholarly publishing landscape comes a need for fundamental change in other practices, including peer review.
The scholarly publishing community is demanding more transparency in the publishing process. Many argue that open peer review may be the answer to dealing with public health misinformation. It is clear that there is a need for more open practices in peer review.
Is the scholarly publishing ecosystem equipped for open peer review? How are publishers embracing open peer review? Discover the basics of open peer review, its evolution and our key insights in this blog for Peer Review Week 2023.
What is open peer review?
'Open peer review […] represents one of the last aspects of the open science movement to be widely embraced, although its adoption has been growing since the turn of the century’
Diermar Wolfram, Peiling Wang, Adam Hembree and Hyoungjoo Park
According to the Public Library of Science (PLOS), open peer review is defined as ‘any peer review model in which aspects of the peer review process are made publicly available, either before or after publication.’
Plos goes on to explain:
‘Open peer review models may include any of the following transparent practices, either alone or in combination:
publishing peer review content
open commenting from the wider community
open discussion between authors, editors and reviewers
open review before publication through preprints
sharing author or reviewer identities
decoupling the peer review process from the publication process'
Essentially, open peer review is a transparent method of peer review that can vary depending on the publisher. It may entail more transparency of reviewer or author identities, open reviews from the public or peer reviews being published online, with or without identities being shared.
The history of open peer review
The open peer review process was introduced to meet demands for increased transparency and accountability in scholarly publishing.
Scholarly publishers started to experiment with open peer review in the early 21st century. Some of the early adopters of open peer review processes include:
Since then, more developments have been made, with more publishers opting for open peer review models and digital platforms coming into play to further facilitate the practice.
What do people think of open peer review?
Open peer review can be divisive. Some critics argue that open peer review has a high risk of introducing bias and reducing reviewer anonymity. There are also concerns that open peer review can be seen as an all-encompassing solution for solving issues of bias in peer review, whereas in reality, bias is a wider systemic challenge.
‘Revealing or concealing reviewers’ identities alone won’t fix the bias problem (conscious or unconscious) inherent in peer review'
Others view the topic with more positivity.
Enhanced accountability and transparency
The enhanced transparency that comes with open peer review models can also help to strengthen accountability through the peer review process. In his article How to improve scientific peer review: four schools of thought, Ludo Waltman explores several schools of thought on peer review. In particular, he shares more about the Democracy and Transparency school of thought:
‘Making peer review more transparent is seen as a way to increase the accountability of editors and peer reviewers, and also to enable information produced in a peer review process to be reused by others, who may find this helpful to develop their own perspective on the strengths and weaknesses of a scientific work'
In the same article, Waltman shares the viewpoints of several major publishers. BioMed Central argued that ‘open review is ethically superior to anonymous review.’
When reviewer contributions are published, they can be used as an opportunity for those developing their research to understand more about the field and general thoughts from the academic community.
What better way to enhance the diversity in peer review than by opening peer review to a wider pool of participants?
As part of its aim to evolve and uphold fairness in peer review, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) employ several strategies – using mixed gender panels, equality, diversity and inclusion strategies on large grants and of course, transparency on reviewer and panel guidance.
Open peer review models allow reviewers to get proper credit for their work, and there is also less opportunity for review fraud.
“In my opinion the positives of Transparent Peer Review include: openness and transparency to the publication process; reviewers have additional incentive to be constructive when they know the comments are public; it is a resource and learning pool for inexperienced reviewers who can see how others write reviews.”
Professor Atle Rotevatn
Enabling the fight against predatory publishing
Predatory publishing is a challenge in scholarly publishing and a lot of publishers are working hard to combat the difficulties of it.
In his book, The Predator Effect, Simon Linacre explores the full picture of predatory publishing.
‘There is the view that people and animals are being seriously hurt due to false or unvalidated research being presented as legitimate, or that millions of dollars of funding are being wasted on APCs for useless publications.’
The Scholarly Kitchen
There are initiatives designed to reduce predatory publishing, including Think. Check. Submit, a cross-sector initiative that aims to ‘educate researchers, promote integrity and build trust in credible research and publications.’ Yet, there is still a lot to be done to fight this growing challenge.
In the article for the LSE Impact Blog, Maximilian Heimstadt and Leonhard Dobusch argue that open peer review may be the key to mitigating some of the challenges associated with predatory publisher.
‘Transparent peer review practices can be a means for reputable journals to differentiate themselves from predatory journals. When reputable journals decide to make visible the laborious work of authors, reviewers, and editors, predatory journals will not be able to match these efforts. Thus, identifying and de-legitimising journals that lack proper peer review becomes easier.’
Maximilian Heimstadt and Leonhard Dobusch
Potential for enhanced research outreach
A study published in March 2023 from Scientometrics explored the impact of open peer review on scientific articles. The study covered PLOS journals from 2020–2021 and found that open peer reviewed articles received higher article page views, saving, sharing and a greater HTML to PDF conversion rate.
Open peer review: today and tomorrow
So what’s the current state of open peer review?
Publishers worldwide are experimenting with open peer review. During the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, initiatives like Publish Your Reviews resulted in an increased number of preprint reviews being published to address the need for fast access to new research in a time of crisis.
Some of the current initiatives around open peer review include:
PubPub – MIT Press
The MIT Media Lab created the MIT Press open review platform PubPub to ‘help communities take control of their research and how it’s communicated.’ The platform is uniquely situated to provide an open platform for peer review, allowing for both open peer review and traditional methods.
‘We have chosen to put this draft online because of a foundational principle of this project: that all knowledge is incomplete, and that the best knowledge is gained by bringing together multiple partial perspectives.’
Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren Klein
As a book that fundamentally explores diverse perspectives and champions diversity in data researchers, there was a need to expand the peer review pool. They chose to employ open peer review through PubPub. Reviews were open to the public until January 7, 2019; the draft version is still available online.
Other platforms like PeerRef, launched in 2021, to ‘organize open peer review of preprints and publish review reports’ can also help with this.
Organizations like Clarivate are pushing forward more initiatives to encourage open peer review practices. This includes the launch of its Transparent Peer Review, which was opened to more than 8,500+ journals using ScholarOne. Likewise, Clarivate is progressing towards incorporating open peer review content from other systems into the Web of Science.
Royal Society of Chemistry
The Royal Society of Chemistry has made a commitment to become fully open access by 2028. As part of this commitment, they are dedicated to following open science practices – including transparent peer review.
Some of the society’s journals offer authors the ability to have transparent peer review options, and this process is currently optional for authors. Reviewers have the option to choose whether or not they remain anonymous.
PLOS is a major advocate of open peer review. From May 2019, all PLOS Journals now offer authors the opportunity to publish peer review histories.
‘Publishing peer review history is a means of enriching the scientific record by giving context to evaluation and publication decisions. We hope this is also an important step toward elevating peer reviews to scholarly outputs in their own right that reviewers can take credit for.’
According to JMIR, ‘peer reviewers who participate in the peer review process are not anonymous.’ This is their default option, and this also means that peer reviewers have been acknowledged by name at the end of the manuscript.
Likewise, JMIR also have something called ‘Open Community Peer review.’ This allows anyone who wishes to review a manuscript the opportunity to do so through preprints.
Now more than ever, the scholarly community is embracing open peer review. A 2022 survey from ScienceOpen shared that:
62% of people believed that open peer review results in improvements in the quality of scholarly publications
1 in 2 people believe that it is necessary to enhance trust in scientific research
53% of reviewers had received an invitation to participate in reviewing an article with an open peer review policy
45.5% of people had published preprint manuscripts in open online preprint repositories as part of the peer review process or beforehand
Of course, some peer reviewers still hesitate to share their identities. 58% of respondents to the ScienceOpen 2022 survey were willing to publish their peer reviews but wanted to remain anonymous
The future is bright for open peer review
The scholarly publishing community is increasingly preparing for and embracing open peer review practices. With more support from major players in the industry, and innovative models and processes springing up across the community, we can’t wait to see what the next few years have in store.
Discover our other open research and Peer Review Week articles:
The changing landscape of research data - FAIR data, tips for data management and open data - https://www.internationalbunch.com/post/the-changing-landscape-of-research-data-fair-data-tips-for-data-management-and-open-data
Monitoring the open access policy of Horizon 2020 -https://www.internationalbunch.com/post/monitoring-the-open-access-policy-of-horizon-2020
The challenges and opportunities for open access (OA) book publishers - https://www.internationalbunch.com/post/the-challenges-and-opportunities-for-open-access-book-publishers
Open access monographs are more important than ever - here's why - https://www.internationalbunch.com/post/open-access-monographs-are-more-important-than-ever-here-s-why
Why is inclusivity important when thinking about identity as part of Peer Review Week 2021? - https://www.internationalbunch.com/post/why-is-inclusivity-important-when-thinking-about-identity-as-part-of-peer-review-week-2021