Pressured peers

April 30, 2015

In thinking about the merits or otherwise of peer review (“Slay peer review ‘sacred cow’, says former BMJ chief”, 21 April), I can say that in my own specialist field, I’ve had some very good suggestions from reviewers, especially those from top-end specialist journals. Glamour journals have not done as well.

Nevertheless, in general, I have to agree with Richard Smith. It’s become obvious that any paper, however bad, can now be published in a journal that claims to be peer reviewed. As a badge of respectability, “peer reviewed” means nothing. There will never be enough competent reviewers for the number of papers that are being published.

Georgina Mace, professor of biodiversity and ecosystems at University College London, fears that “abandoning peer review would make scientific literature no more reliable than the blogosphere”. But that is already the case. You have to read a paper to find out if it’s any good.

All papers should first appear on archive sites, where feedback can be gathered before eventual publication. And when published, all papers should have open comments at the end. This is already happening with journals such as eLife and Royal Society Open Science.

That would mean that people judging you for jobs and promotion would have to read the papers rather than rely on near-useless surrogates such as impact factors and citations.

Of course, the amount of rubbish would be large, but no larger than it is already.

And above all, it would make publishing much cheaper. There would be no more huge charges for open access.

David Colquhoun

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Reader's comments (2)

Note that PeerJ has been tackling some of the problematic issues of peer review for the last two years by giving authors the option to publish the entire review history alongside the publication; along with the usual suite of post-publication commenting. To date ~80% of authors have opted-in to have their review history published (and all reviews are CC BY Open Access). And for those who preprint at PeerJ (i.e. an 'archive' site you mention), editors can take preprint feedback into account for the peer-reviewed submission as well. There are still benefits to having peer-review, but of course it must be taken with a grain of salt, and we believe added transparency (via an audit trail of the review history) tied into a pre-publication preprint can fill in a lot of the gaps. Jason Hoyt CEO & Co-founder, PeerJ
One quite new and promising such archive platform is the Self Journal of Science: I have read the principles behind the initiative ( and must say they sound very promising indeed. I really hope initiatives like this can help take research and researcher evaluation out of the hands of the JIF and make assessment transparent and democratic.

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