Publishing peer review

Peer review is the central pillar of the process of scientific research yet it remains a black box, invisible to those outside of the research community. As I have said previously{.vt-p}, lifting this veil and making peer review of journal articles more transparent could make a big contribution to increasing trust in scientific research. A recent report{.vt-p} [subscription required] in Nature{.vt-p} decribes a programme to just that at the journal{.vt-p} of the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO){.vt-p}. There is also an excellent discussion{.vt-p} of the article by Joerg Heber{.vt-p} on his blog{.vt-p}.

The experience at EMBO demonstrates that:

  • Researchers seem to be happy with publishing peer review. In the case of the EMBO Journal, only 5% of authors declined to have peer review process documents¬†published.
  • Readers of papers see a value in accessing this material. Although for this pilot study peer review process documents were made comparatively difficult to access there was a reasonable rate, about one tenth of the access of the papers themselves.
  • The process influences (and probably improves) the quality of peer review. Peer reviewers claim to be taking more care over the wording of their reports because they know that they will be published, albeit anonymously. Even if this is just about writing in a clearer way it represents a real benefit, but it may also be encouraging more considered and constructive comments.

Overall this seems to have been a really successful experiment, which is now to become a standard part of the operating procedures at this journal. Given this success it is hard to find reasons for not applying the practice to all peer reviewed research.