A biology journal’s plan to share peer review reports on papers it does not ultimately publish with rival periodicals has provoked debate about efforts to reduce waste in scientific communication.
BMC Biology, published by BioMed Central, part of Springer Nature, has said that its “portable peer review” policy would allow reviews of papers that had been rejected to be passed to other journals, free of charge, except in cases where the research had been deemed scientifically unsound.
The hope is that this will reduce duplication of effort across different titles and allow papers to be published more swiftly.
Mirna Kvajo, chief editor of BMC Biology, said that the current system of fresh peer review with each submission meant that there were “a lot of reviews, time and effort which are going to waste”.
“We hope that other journals and publishers will also want to reduce the wasted time and effort within the publishing process,” said Dr Kvajo. “Portable peer review is a way to provide better service to authors, whose papers will reach the community faster, and via a process that aims to be less stressful.”
BMC Biology would also be “interested in being on the receiving end of portable peer review”, Dr Kvajo said. More broadly, she said that she hoped the move would help to kill off some of the existing taboo around rejection within academic publishing.
“Just because a manuscript has been rejected doesn’t automatically mean it is unsound science,” Dr Kvajo said.
However, academics have expressed concern that editors might be less likely to publish a paper if its previous rejection by another journal was spelled out so explicitly.
Philip Moriarty, professor of physics at the University of Nottingham, said that while portable peer review was “great in principle” and “provides much more transparency and less wasted effort”, it might not catch on.
“Authors aren’t obligated to state that a manuscript has been rejected from another journal,” he noted. “I suspect that many will feel that they may want to keep previous rejection(s) quiet [as it] could well skew the review process.”
Russell Foster, professor of circadian neuroscience at the University of Oxford, said that the oft-cited reason for rejection that a paper “requires a more specialist journal” was “usually just code for it being no good”.
“I would be reluctant to take on someone else’s report as I like to look at a paper with an open mind,” Professor Foster said.
BMC Biology is not the first organisation to experiment with portable peer review but the movement suffered a blow in 2017 when two companies that offered such a service, Rubriq and Axios Review, closed down.
The journal was the first to post peer review reports and the name of the reviewer alongside published articles.