Nature Chemistry on improving peer review

Perceived lapses in the peer-review process often receive a lot of attention, but the majority of researchers declare themselves satisfied with the system even though they would like to improve it. If it is imperfect or broken, how do we fix it? This question is addressed in the November Editorial of Nature Chemistry ( 1, 585; 2009), in light of some blog commentaries which identified prior publications that had not been referenced in a journal paper.

Open peer-review experiments have generally not been very successful because reviewers are less likely to make forthright comments in an open forum. Double-blind peer review is another option, but one must consider the role of the editor who oversees the process, as well as the difficulties of effectively hiding the identity of authors in smaller fields from other experts — especially when many authors regularly cite and discuss their previous work. The Editorial concludes:

“The Royal Society of Chemistry’s Dalton and Faraday discussion meetings provide a unique mix of traditional peer review coupled with both comment (by peers) and responses from the authors, but require members of a particular research community to assemble at a conference. It is in some ways similar to the grant proposal review process at, for example, the US ”">National Institutes of Health. However, such a process is clearly not a viable option for every one of the vast number of papers submitted for publication. The journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics uses a system in which, after initial assessment by an associate editor, manuscripts are posted online for comment. After referee reports are received, these are also posted online with the manuscript along with author rebuttals. If eventually accepted, a paper is formally published in the journal, whereas those that are not remain available (and citable) as online ‘discussions’. This differs from the preprint servers Nature Precedings and arXiv because there is an initial assessment of the suitability of the work (based on more than just scope).

Perhaps a hybrid system could be the solution. Traditional peer review, and a decision to publish, could be followed by a fixed period in which any interested party could post questions or comments and the authors are given the opportunity to respond — all moderated by an editor — before a final version of the article (including comments and responses) is preserved for the record. This would again require a large change in the habits of the community — authors, reviewers and publishers — and previous experiments with commenting on published papers have been far from conclusive."

Sense about Science peer-review survey 2009.

Nature journals’ peer review policy and Editorials on the subject.


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