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Open peer review: A step towards open science?

Open peer review: A step towards open science?

Open science is zealously propagated by academicians in a bid to make scientific data and research widely accessible to the public. Apart from the need for researchers to share their data and make their research open access, wouldn’t it be in line with the open science movement to make peer review open?  

Scientific peer review, one of the mainstays of scientific publication, has been adopted by journals as a means of validating the accuracy of research before it reaches publication. Although peer review is considered effective in weeding out bad science, it is not a flawless system. Most journals opt for single-blind peer review, and this skewed balance of information can be a cause of publication bias and other issues such as the reviewers' demand for additional experiments that are often unnecessary. To lend transparency to the peer review process and increase its impact and outreach, Michael Markie, an associate publisher for F1000 Research, has proposed an ‘oath’ for peer reviewers in a paper titled An Open Science Peer Review Oath.

The oath proposed by the authors of the paper comprises a set of statements that “codify the role of reviewers, encouraging and promoting best practices to ensure that the science they review is as open and reproducible as possible.” The oath is a declaration that reviewers ought to make before they begin with their review, and reads thus:

  • Principle 1: I will sign my name to my review
  • Principle 2: I will review with integrity
  • Principle 3: I will treat the review as a discourse with you; in particular, I will provide constructive criticism
  • Principle 4: I will be an ambassador for the practice of open science

 

The oath framed by the authors is an outcome of guidelines they have drawn for open science reviewers that ensure authors a fair and constructive review, such as:

  • I will work with you to help improve your research, as I believe that peer review should be an open, supportive, and collaborative process. I will, therefore, sign my review and state my identity.
  • I will check that any data and software code are consistent with the text, that any digital object identifiers and accession numbers are correct and correctly cited, and that any models presented are archived, referenced, and accessible.
  • I will decline to review if I am not an appropriate reviewer (whether because of my expertise or because of my relationship with the author(s)). In doing so, I will provide journal editors with an honest appraisal of these issues, and will openly explain how I reached my decision so that alternative reviewers may be found.

 

Since there is an absence of formal peer review training in most institutions and learned societies, it is usually a reviewer’s experience and subject matter expertise that helps him or her perform a review. Thus, Markie and the other authors of this paper wish to provide generalized guideposts for reviewers that can be tailored by journals to suit their processes. Open peer review has already found support in Pensoft Publishers and the Journal of Open Research Software who have adopted the practice.

An often cited criticism against open peer review is that reviewers might hesitate to be too critical of a paper to preserve a long-term relationship with the author(s). Apart from this, the recent times have witnessed authors filing defamation suits against peers who have questioned the validity of their research. To avoid any legal clashes, reviewers may be gentle in their review since it would be publicly accessible. Marcia McNutt, editor-in-chief of Science, shares this view and remarks, “inadequate criticism might do more of a disservice to science than the bruised sensibilities from closed reviews.

While some journals are working towards making peer review open and transparent, others have taken an opposite stance; recently, Nature introduced the option for authors to select double-blind peer review. Peer review has been subjected to various experiments over the years by academicians who are looking for a perfect formula to validate research findings effectively. Although traditional peer review still holds strong, open peer review seems to hold promise to make science more open and accessible to all. 

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