The future of anonymous peer-review

The standard approach to publish a scientific research output is through peer-review, a process through which independent experts scrutinize papers submitted for publication and evaluate their quality and integrity. For years, peer review has been the accepted tool to guarantee the quality of scientific papers.

Based on their expertise and independent assessment of the paper, reviewers advice editors what to do: publish it or reject. They indicate issues that need to be addressed through critical comments, which, traditionally, are only accessible to authors and editors. The rejection rate of papers is high, particularly in high impact factor journals. Usually authors are blamed for this. There is high competition among authors to publish on high impact factor journals. This makes the work of some authors to miss the high bar; the major reason given for rejection. This is not to say that reviewers are free from blame. But authors point their fingers at reviewers. The main criticism directed against reviewers are bias, inconsistency, abuse of peer-review and time it takes.  This has led to increasing call for open peer-review: making reviewers’ comments and identity accessible to the public.

According to a survey conducted by OpenAIRE2020 on 3000 individuals, 60% of the respondents supported the idea of publishing reviewers’ comments. According to Philip Campbell, editor-in-chief of Nature, 62% of authors have demonstrated keen interest to see reviewers’ comments online. Elsevier’s research demonstrates that out 259 people invited for a pilot project 70% participated in an open peer-review. Moreover, 45% of the participants do not see any problem with unmasking their identity. Nonetheless, only 2% of journal publishers give full access to them.

Peer review is usually anonymous: the authors and the public don’t know who reviewed a certain paper. But there is an ongoing discussion about the need to reveal the reviewers’ identity in order to increase the transparency of the review process. On the other hand, others argue that the risk outweighs potential benefits: reviewers might decline to participate. Nevertheless, so far this idea has not garnered enough support; the RAND Europe survey showed that only 3.5% of journals have a policy of unmasking the identity of reviewers.
Sources
Is open peer review the way forward?
Peer review: a flawed process at the heart of science and journals
Researchers debate whether journals should publish signed peer reviews

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