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Open Research Handbook: Open peer review

A practical guide to Open Research

Open peer review

The idea behind open peer review is to bring transparency and accountability to the traditionally closed models of peer review. Open peer review models come in many different forms.

Peer review models

Traditionally, peer review for research outputs has operated using a closed model where the author of the output was not aware of the identity of the reviewer. This is known as 'blind' or closed peer review. There are variations on this model - double blind peer review is when the identity of the author is hidden from the reviewer and the identity of the reviewer is hidden from the author. In practice, due to the narrow fields in which some researchers work, it is often possible for both the reviewer and the author to guess each other's identities. 

There are pros and cons to the closed model of peer review: 

Pros

Cons

Reviewers can be open and frank in their reviews Reviewers can be rude and negative in their comments on an output as they will not be identified to the authors
Double blind peer review can reduce reviewer bias Reviewers may be biased
Early career researchers can comment anonymously on the work of more established researchers without fear of recrimination Reviewers may deliberately delay publication if the work under review may scoop their own
  Reviewers may be influenced by the standing of the author in the community
In order to make peer review fairer, transparent and less open to bias, various models of open peer review have evolved. In some cases the identity of the reviewer is only revealed when the decision on the research output has been taken. In others, the identity of the reviewers and the content of their reviews are published alongside the final published article so that the reader can make their own judgment on the quality, rigor and fairness of a review. There are many variations on the open peer review model; a study in 2017 (referenced below) identified 22 different combinations of 7 basic elements of open peer review:

  1. Transparency in the identity of reviewers and/or authors
  2. Publication of the content of the peer reviews (sometimes combined or edited)
  3. Opening up peer review to a wider community of interested readers
  4. Allowing interactions between authors, editors and reviewers to make peer review more collaborative and constructive
  5. Open peer review prior to publication by the use of preprints
  6. Enabling post-publication commenting so that readers can make comments and authors/other readers can respond
  7. Some platforms enable publication prior to peer review

There are pros and cons of open peer review:

Pros

Cons

Conflicts of interest are immediately apparent to authors and readers Reviewers might not be as critical or rigorous as their comments will be visible to everyone
Readers can see how the work was improved via peer review by reading the reviewers' comments and authors' responses Early career researchers may fear retaliation if they give an unfavourable review to a more established/influential researcher
Reviewers are more accountable for their comments Some researchers will decline invitations to review openly as they are not happy for their comments or identities to be made public
Biased or inaccurate reviews are visible to readers and the authors of the research output  
Open reviews can be used as training material for the next generation of peer reviewers - essential if high quality peer review is to continue  
Direct communication between authors and reviewers can reduce confusion or misunderstandings and lead to more constructive and faster revisions  
Reviewers can earn credit and recognition for their contributions to the peer review process. If reviews are available and are issued DOIs they can be added to ORCID profiles and CVs  

Several journals and publishers have already adopted open peer review practices. Below are examples of some of the current models in operation

  1. Elife https://elifesciences.org/about/peer-review
  2. F1000Research https://f1000research.com/for-referees/guidelines
  3. Royal Society publishing - Proceedings of the Royal Society A, Mathematical, physical and engineering sciences https://royalsocietypublishing.org/rspa/open-peer-review
  4. Biomed Central https://www.biomedcentral.com/about/advancing-peer-review#models+of+peer+review
  5. MDPI https://blog.mdpi.com/2018/10/12/opening-up-peer-review/
  6. Elsevier's pilot project with five journals https://www.elsevier.com/reviewers-update/story/innovation-in-publishing/is-open-peer-review-the-way-forward
  7. Wiley's transparent peer review pilot https://www.wiley.com/network/researchers/latest-content/why-more-journals-are-joining-our-transparent-peer-review-pilot

The collaborative peer review process at the eLife journal

What is open peer review?

An explanation of open peer review

Variations on Peer Review

Infographic on types of peer review