Who sees your review?

There’s been a lot of calls for reform to the peer review process, and lots of blog posts about problems and bad experiences with peer review (Simply Statistics, SVPow, and this COPE report)  .  There is lots of evidence that peer review suffers from deficiencies related to author seniority, gender (although see Marsh et al, 2011), and from variability related to the choice of reviewers (see Peters & Ceci, 1982, but the age of this paper should be noted). Indeed, recent work by Thurner and Hanell (2011) and Squazzoni and Gandelli (2012) show how sensitive publication can be to the structure of the discipline (whether homogeneous or fragmented) and the intentions of the reviewers (whether they are competitive or collegial).

To my mind, one of the best, established models of peer review comes from the Copernicus journals of the European Geosciences Union.  I’m actually surprised that these journals are rarely referenced in debates about reviewing practice.  The journals offer two outlets, I’ve published with co-authors in Climate of the Past Discussions (here, here and here), the papers undergo open review by reviewers who may or may not remain anonymous (their choice), and then the response and revised paper goes to ‘print’ in Climate of the Past (still in review, here and here respectively).

This is the kind of open peer review that people have pushed by posting reviews on their blogs (I saw a post on twitter a couple weeks ago, bt can’t find the blog, if anyone has a reference please let me know).  The question is, why not publish in journals that support the kind of open review you want?  There are a number of models out there now, and I believe there is increasing acceptance of these models so we have choice, lets use it.

What inspired me to write the post though was my own recent experience as a reviewer.  I just finished reviewing a fairly good paper that ultimately got rejected.  When I received the editors notice I went to see what the other reviewer had said, only to find that the journal does not release other reviews.  This was the first time this has happened to me and I was surprised.

I review for a number of reasons.  It helps me give back to my disciplinary community, it keeps me up to date on new papers, it gives me an opportunity to deeply read and communicate science in a way that we don’t ordinarily undertake, and it helps me improve my own skills.  The last point comes not only from my own activity, but from reading the reviews of others.  If you want a stronger peer review process, having peers see one another’s reviews is helpful.

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Assistant scientist in the Department of Geography at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Studying paleoecology and the challenges of large data synthesis.

4 thoughts on “Who sees your review?”

  1. Totally agree with the praise of the Copernicus journals, it’s weird that they are so seldom named in the OA discussion.

    I had the same experience as you with being disappointed that reviews are not being forwarded to other reviewers in some journals … if you ask you usually get them, but it should be automatic … I have discussed with some editors about that, and there were a few arguments for keeping the lid on, but none that really convinced me.

    1. Thanks for commenting Florian. I was surprised, even after asking for the review I was turned down (both for the other review and the editor’s decision), so all I know is the outcome. I really don’t see what the use of that kind of anonymity is.

  2. I think this gets at another important issue, which is training. When I reviewed my fist paper (QR), I was really nervous — I had little idea what reviews were like, because I’d only gotten a couple, and they were really positive and supportive. I wanted to know what scholars from other perspectives were thinking, and if my thoughts were similar to theirs. I kept logging into QR’s website, even after the paper was published, but only ever saw my review. It was really frustrating for me (and also suggested I may have been the only reviewer). Luckily, for subsequent reviews, I’ve been able to see the other reviewer comments, and I’ve learned a lot from them.

    1. That’s a great point. Seeing the reviews is probably more important for early career researchers than for mid-career researchers who have had more experience reviewing, both formally and informally. Although there’s lots of good tips on the web for first time reviewers (I just found this one by David Pannell), seeing how other people review (for better or for worse) is also important.

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