“Let the community decide”? The vision and reality of soundness-only peer review in open-access mega-journals

Authors : Valerie Spezi, Simon Wakeling, Stephen Pinfield, Jenny Fry, Claire Creaser, Peter Willett


The purpose of this paper is to better understand the theory and practice of peer review in open-access mega-journals (OAMJs). OAMJs typically operate a “soundness-only” review policy aiming to evaluate only the rigour of an article, not the novelty or significance of the research or its relevance to a particular community, with these elements being left for “the community to decide” post-publication.


The paper reports the results of interviews with 31 senior publishers and editors representing 16 different organisations, including 10 that publish an OAMJ. Thematic analysis was carried out on the data and an analytical model developed to explicate their significance.


Findings suggest that in reality criteria beyond technical or scientific soundness can and do influence editorial decisions. Deviations from the original OAMJ model are both publisher supported (in the form of requirements for an article to be “worthy” of publication) and practice driven (in the form of some reviewers and editors applying traditional peer review criteria to OAMJ submissions). Also publishers believe post-publication evaluation of novelty, significance and relevance remains problematic.


The study is based on unprecedented access to senior publishers and editors, allowing insight into their strategic and operational priorities.

The paper is the first to report in-depth qualitative data relating specifically to soundness-only peer review for OAMJs, shedding new light on the OAMJ phenomenon and helping inform discussion on its future role in scholarly communication. The paper proposes a new model for understanding the OAMJ approach to quality assurance, and how it is different from traditional peer review.

URL : “Let the community decide”? The vision and reality of soundness-only peer review in open-access mega-journals

DOI : https://doi.org/10.1108/JD-06-2017-0092

Survey on open peer review: Attitudes and experience amongst editors, authors and reviewers

Authors : Tony Ross-Hellauer, Arvid Deppe, Birgit Schmidt

Open peer review (OPR) is a cornerstone of the emergent Open Science agenda. Yet to date no large-scale survey of attitudes towards OPR amongst academic editors, authors, reviewers and publishers has been undertaken.

This paper presents the findings of an online survey, conducted for the OpenAIRE2020 project during September and October 2016, that sought to bridge this information gap in order to aid the development of appropriate OPR approaches by providing evidence about attitudes towards and levels of experience with OPR.

The results of this cross-disciplinary survey, which received 3,062 full responses, show the majority (60.3%) of respondents to be believe that OPR as a general concept should be mainstream scholarly practice (although attitudes to individual traits varied, and open identities peer review was not generally favoured). Respondents were also in favour of other areas of Open Science, like Open Access (88.2%) and Open Data (80.3%).

Among respondents we observed high levels of experience with OPR, with three out of four (76.2%) reporting having taken part in an OPR process as author, reviewer or editor.

There were also high levels of support for most of the traits of OPR, particularly open interaction, open reports and final-version commenting. Respondents were against opening reviewer identities to authors, however, with more than half believing it would make peer review worse.

Overall satisfaction with the peer review system used by scholarly journals seems to strongly vary across disciplines. Taken together, these findings are very encouraging for OPR’s prospects for moving mainstream but indicate that due care must be taken to avoid a “one-size fits all” solution and to tailor such systems to differing (especially disciplinary) contexts.

OPR is an evolving phenomenon and hence future studies are to be encouraged, especially to further explore differences between disciplines and monitor the evolution of attitudes.

URL : Survey on open peer review: Attitudes and experience amongst editors, authors and reviewers

DOI : https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0189311

Artificial intelligence in peer review: How can evolutionary computation support journal editors?

Authors : Maciej J. Mrowinski, Piotr Fronczak, Agata Fronczak, Marcel Ausloos, Olgica Nedic

With the volume of manuscripts submitted for publication growing every year, the deficiencies of peer review (e.g. long review times) are becoming more apparent. Editorial strategies, sets of guidelines designed to speed up the process and reduce editors workloads, are treated as trade secrets by publishing houses and are not shared publicly.

To improve the effectiveness of their strategies, editors in small publishing groups are faced with undertaking an iterative trial-and-error approach. We show that Cartesian Genetic Programming, a nature-inspired evolutionary algorithm, can dramatically improve editorial strategies.

The artificially evolved strategy reduced the duration of the peer review process by 30%, without increasing the pool of reviewers (in comparison to a typical human-developed strategy).

Evolutionary computation has typically been used in technological processes or biological ecosystems. Our results demonstrate that genetic programs can improve real-world social systems that are usually much harder to understand and control than physical systems.

URL : https://arxiv.org/abs/1712.01682

Preventing the ends from justifying the means: withholding results to address publication bias in peer-review

Authors : Katherine S. Button, Liz Bal, Anna Clark, Tim Shipley

The evidence that many of the findings in the published literature may be unreliable is compelling. There is an excess of positive results, often from studies with small sample sizes, or other methodological limitations, and the conspicuous absence of null findings from studies of a similar quality.

This distorts the evidence base, leading to false conclusions and undermining scientific progress. Central to this problem is a peer-review system where the decisions of authors, reviewers, and editors are more influenced by impressive results than they are by the validity of the study design.

To address this, BMC Psychology is launching a pilot to trial a new ‘results-free’ peer-review process, whereby editors and reviewers are blinded to the study’s results, initially assessing manuscripts on the scientific merits of the rationale and methods alone.

The aim is to improve the reliability and quality of published research, by focusing editorial decisions on the rigour of the methods, and preventing impressive ends justifying poor means.

URL : Preventing the ends from justifying the means: withholding results to address publication bias in peer-review

DOI : https://doi.org/10.1186/s40359-016-0167-7

Does Peer Review Identify the Best Papers? A Simulation Study of Editors, Reviewers, and the Scientific Publication Process

Author : Justin Esarey

How does the structure of the peer review process, which can vary among journals, influence the quality of papers published in a journal? This article studies multiple systems of peer review using computational simulation. I find that, under any of the systems I study, a majority of accepted papers are evaluated by an average reader as not meeting the standards of the journal.

Moreover, all systems allow random chance to play a strong role in the acceptance decision. Heterogeneous reviewer and reader standards for scientific quality drive both results. A peer review system with an active editor—that is, one who uses desk rejection before review and does not rely strictly on reviewer votes to make decisions—can mitigate some of these effects.

DOI : https://doi.org/10.1017/S1049096517001081

A Proposed Currency System for Academic Peer Review Payments Using the BlockChain Technology

Author : Michael Spearpoint

Peer review of scholarly papers is seen to be a critical step in the publication of high quality outputs in reputable journals. However, it appears that there are few incentives for researchers to agree to conduct suitable reviews in a timely fashion and in some cases unscrupulous practices are occurring as part of the production of academic research output.

Innovations in internet-based technologies mean that there are ways in which some of the challenges can be addressed. In particular, this paper proposes a new currency system using the BlockChain as its basis that provides a number of solutions.

Potential benefits and problems of using the technology are discussed in the paper and these will need further investigation should the idea develop further. Ultimately, the currency could be used as an alternative publication metric for authors, institutions and journals.

URL : A Proposed Currency System for Academic Peer Review Payments Using the BlockChain Technology

DOI : http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/publications5030019

Effectiveness of Anonymization in Double-Blind Review

Authors : Claire Le Goues, Yuriy Brun, Sven Apel, Emery Berger, Sarfraz Khurshid, Yannis Smaragdakis

Double-blind review relies on the authors’ ability and willingness to effectively anonymize their submissions. We explore anonymization effectiveness at ASE 2016, OOPSLA 2016, and PLDI 2016 by asking reviewers if they can guess author identities.

We find that 74%-90% of reviews contain no correct guess and that reviewers who self-identify as experts on a paper’s topic are more likely to attempt to guess, but no more likely to guess correctly.

We present our findings, summarize the PC chairs’ comments about administering double-blind review, discuss the advantages and disadvantages of revealing author identities part of the way through the process, and conclude by advocating for the continued use of double-blind review.

URL : https://arxiv.org/abs/1709.01609