A(peeling) Peer Review, a proposal.

in peer review, open science, transparency, publishing

eLife’s peer review process is really good. One of the key attributes of this is that reviewers are not blind to one another, and they have to consult with one another. This largely removes the third reviewer problem. We also publish the decision letters and the author responses to the decision letter.

Reviewers have the option of revealing themselves to authors. As with most review systms our reviewers know who the authors are. We are not at the point where our review process is fully open, this is the kind of thing that is community driven. My own hope is that we can move towards fully open review in time.

Even in fully open review, where there is no blinding between authors and reviewrs, I think there is a case to be made for making the reviewers blind to whom the authors are. They will find out eventually, when the paper is published.

You can argue that this is pointless because in a small field everyone knows who everyone else is anyway, indeed the evidence on small scale studies is mixed with some evidence in favor, and some evidience against the thesis that this masking will help improve the quality of review.

With the growth of reserach in the BRICS nations there are increasing numbers of papers coming in from labs that might not be that well known, and that might suffer from this potential bias. Researchers from these nations certainly fear this kind of bias and when you construct teh study in a ceratin way there is some evidence to support this feeling.

There have been a few case studies which I am unable to dig up at the moment of writing this post, but gist of what they did was that they took a selection of already published papers, and resubmitted them with author names and institute names replaced by those that would apprear to be from less prestidgious labs and countries. Most of the papers thus re-submitted, were rejected.

There seems to be no evidicne that I’m aware of that suggetss that this blinding decreases the quality of review, or increases biases in review.

So if we do introduce blinding the authors from the reviews at the review stage, it’s not likely to hurt, it is likeley to increase the feeling of confidence in the system from BRICS researchers.

What would be great though. is if after this bliding, and after the publicaion, if at that point we could reveal all of the idntities of those involved, with everyone knowing that this was going to happen up front. We could, so to say, peer away the anonymity of the review process, layer by layer. We might have an appealing model of peer review, and one in which the incidence of appeals was reduced and the eventualy transparency could lead to better decisions.

So that’s my proposal for a review system, one in which we peel back our layers of shielding at the end.

It may well be that this is already happening, I don’t know journals that are doing it exactly like this off of the top of my head, do let me know!