Nature Publishing Group, one of the top academic publishers, announced in an editorial that it will soon offer authors an option to conventional peer review as part of a trial. From March 2015, authors submitting to Nature and the monthly Nature research journals will be able to opt for double-blind peer review at the time of submission. Presently, the journal offers single-blind peer review, and will continue to offer researchers this option.
In the past, Nature experimented with open peer review, which is advocated by many as one of the most transparent methods of peer review. However, the uptake by both authors and reviewers for this form of peer review was low despite the interest shown in the survey that preceded the decision making. As Nature puts it, “Views about open peer review are probably still evolving as several journals continue to experiment with variations on this practice. Opinions about double-blind review, however, are remarkably consistent.” The decision to adopt double-blind peer review is based on one of the largest international and cross-disciplinary studies on peer review conducted in 2009, in which 76% of the respondents indicated that double blind was an effective peer-review system. Those in favor of double-blind peer review opine that it eliminates personal biases based on gender, seniority, reputation, and affiliation.
Apart from this, the journal’s decision to offer double-blind peer review is also backed by its trial with this form of peer review since June 2013, for Nature Geoscience and Nature Climate Change. Although the number of researchers who opted for it was not significant, the overall reaction was positive. Moreover, the interviews Nature conducted with young scientists also suggested that early career researchers wanted the option of concealing their identity from reviewers. This formed the basis of the decision to extend the option to other research journals under the Nature umbrella. Nature’s open access journal, Nature Communications, will join the trial later this year.
While some industry experts are hailing this decision as a positive step towards eliminating peer reviewers' biases, others feel that double-blind peer review may not be as effective in niche fields where reviewers are likely to identify the authors. Additionally, some critics of this decision feel that making the double-blind review method optional might not provide an accurate picture of how effective this form of peer review is.
Veronique Kiermer, director of author and reviewer services at Nature Publishing Group, remarked “There are no perfect solutions to a process that is often characterised as involving multiple conflicting interests, but peer review is at the heart of the scientific process and we are committed to finding the best possible ways of facilitating it. Our editors have always tried to ensure that they mitigate the biases that may appear in the process and we will continue to do that as we progress with this experiment.”
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