Back to the future: transparent, scalable peer review

Royal Society partners with the Web of Science Group to develop their open peer review workflows

Monday 2nd September 2019: Here is a trivia question for you: when was open or transparent peer review first introduced? Most researchers would probably guess the early noughties, when open access first became mainstream in biology and medicine.

The truth is that as early as 1832 the Royal Society used open, collaborative peer review (where reviewers were expected to reach a consensus) on Philosophical Transactions. The reports were apparently ‘often more valuable than the original communications upon which they are founded.’ Way ahead of their time, the transparency was soon abandoned.

Almost two hundred years later, open and transparent peer review is increasingly used by a variety of open access and traditional publishers. It has been used for 20 years by BMC and BMJ, by highly selective and broad-scope journals, and is gaining popularity across disciplines. But it is difficult to implement. Changing any aspect of the peer-review workflow can be daunting for editors and publishers. It usually has to be done manually, is time consuming, and can have potential knock-on effects for many different parts of the publishing process.

This is why we have introduced the Web of Science Group Transparent Peer Review service. The first cross-publisher, scalable and transparent peer review workflow, it combines the expertise of Publons and ScholarOne to deliver seamless transparent peer review.

The Royal Society ‘went back’ to open peer review five years ago, in 2014 when they launched Royal Society Open Science. The open peer review service was successful, and has since been extended to three further Royal Society journals.

Up until now, the publication of peer review information has been managed in-house, with the help of the Society’s production partner. But when the Society decided to explore other approaches, they turned to the Web of Science Group.

Phil Hurst, Publisher at the Royal Society said: “We believe that peer review gains more trust with transparency and makes the editors and reviewers accountable for the peer review and the decision-making process. Readers can see the comments by reviewers and make up their mind if they agree or disagree. By signing their reports, reviewers can get the recognition they deserve for this vital activity in scholarly communication.”

The new workflows will ensure that, alongside the published article, readers can access a comprehensive peer review history, including reviewer reports, editor decision letters and authors’ responses. Each of these elements is assigned its own digital object identifier (DOI), which helps readers and reviewers easily reference and cite the peer review content. Transparency may increase the quality of the peer review process, and can also aid teaching of best practice in peer review.

The transparent peer review workflow complies with best-practice data privacy regulation, ensuring the individual preferences of authors, peer reviewers and journals are met.

We’re looking forward to working with the Royal Society to bring these benefits by exploring this new transparent peer review service on Open Biology. Watch this space for more news and developments in transparent peer review…