Open peer review produces better scrutiny of research than traditional methods, according to a new study.
Reviews were found to be of slightly higher quality – around 5 per cent better – when authors could see who had reviewed their papers and these assessments were made available with the published article.
Researchers compared 400 papers in two similar journals: BMC Infectious Diseases, which uses open peer review, and BMC Microbiology, which uses the common “single-blind” process where reviewers know the identity of the author but the author does not know who they are being reviewed by.
Judged using a scorecard of eight criteria, the open reviews were of moderately better quality than the single-blind reviews, according to the paper published in the journal BMJ Open.
One of the arguments for anonymity during the review process is that reviewers are able to be more frank in their assessments without fear of retribution from colleagues; or, in the “double-blind” process where both are anonymous, reviewers simply look at the content of the paper, rather than being influenced by biases or preconceptions about the author.
But according to one of the new paper’s authors, Maria Kowalczuk, biology editor of the research integrity group at publisher Biomed Central, when reviews were in the open, “reviewers know their reviews are going to be published” and so this might mean quality becomes “slightly better”. The reviews were also more constructive when they were open, the paper found.
Publishing reviews of articles also means the public can “have an insight into the reviewing process”, she added. “We believe that moving towards open peer review is a positive thing”.
Currently, there are “not very many” journals using open peer review, but the number “seems to be increasing”, she said.
However, another aspect of the study looked at the Journal of Inflammation, which switched from open peer review to single-blind in 2010, but found no change in quality.
Another finding was that when authors recommended reviewers to journals, the reviewer was more likely to recommend that it be published than when journals sought out reviewers themselves. This held true whether the process was open or anonymous.
“They might be more sympathetic to the research the author is doing,” explained Dr Kowalczuk.