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Experimenting with new forms of peer review - publishing reviewer reports

Three Elsevier Publishers talk about a pilot project which sees reviewer reports published alongisde articles on ScienceDirect

Reviewers play a vital role in the peer-review process yet their contributions often remain hidden.Three Elsevier journals are experimenting with a more transparent peer review process, highlighting the role reviewers play by publishing supplementary review files, alongside the final online versions of articles, on ScienceDirect. With these more transparent approaches to peer review it is hoped to both acknowledge the important task of referees and enrich published articles, resulting in a more rewarding experience for readers.

In June 2010, the Editors of the European Journal of Cell Biology, Stefan Linder, Manfred Schliwa and Sabine Werner, announced they would be following a more transparent peer review process after seeing the success of a similar initiative by the EMBO Journal. With the community welcoming the initiative and calls being made for other journals to follow suit, the Editors of the European Journal of Cell Biology took the decision to publish the non-confidential comments of reviewers and the non-confidential authors' responses as online supplementary material, alongside the final online version of articles in their journal. This new more transparent peer review process would still preserve reviewers' anonymity and authors would be given the opportunity to include confidential comments in their response letters to the Editor. From their own editorial experience, the Editors of the European Journal of Cell Biology knew that comments provided by referees often helped in improving and strengthening a paper considerably and that public tribute to this important contribution was only very rarely given. They also felt that the important information contained in the author's response letter accompanying a revised version could add value to the final version of a manuscript. The first articles under this new policy were published in the European Journal of Cell Biology at the end of 2010.

Annals of Anatomy published their first article with a more transparent review process, in October 2011. Their new policy followed the same lines as the policy in place for the European Journal of Cell Biology with the Editor-in-Chief, Friedrich Paulsen, welcoming the opportunity to demonstrate the fairness and the quality of the Annals of Anatomy peer review process to the journal audience.

In January 2012, the journal Agricultural and Forest Meteorology followed with their own pilot study wanting to test the reception in their community to a more transparent peer review process. The Editor-in-Chief, Xuhui Lee, announced the new policy whereby at submission authors would be informed that review reports would be published, as supplementary data to their article, once accepted for publication. Reviewers would also be informed, once they accepted to review an article, that their review report would be published as supplementary data to the article. Whether the reviewer would remain anonymous or have their name published next to the report would be left to the reviewer to decide. As a quality control review reports would have to meet the criteria for publication set by the Editor-in-Chief whereby to be published the report would need to be well-written and constructive. 

When launching the pilot Xuhui Lee spoke of his belief in having a more transparent review process, "The published review will provide context to the article by giving multiple perspectives on the quality of the study. It will also enable us to attract the best reviewers for the journal."

The launch of this new peer-review policy for Agriculture and Forest Meteorology attracted positive international media attention and in April 2012, the first article under this new policy was published. Review reports are now online for 32 articles. The pilot project for Agriculture and Forest Meteorology will be in place until the end of 2012. Upon review if the pilot has been deemed successful the initiative will be applied to more Elsevier journals. 

An announcement regarding the peer-review pilot for Agriculture and Forest Meteorology first appeared in an article titled 'Exploring Improvements to the Peer-Review System' published in Issue 36, June 2012 of Elsevier's Editors' Update.


Author biographies

 Dr. Dagmar Gebauer Ph.D.
Dr. Dagmar Gebauer is a Senior Publishing Editor within Elsevier Germany. She is responsible for a set of 9 academic journals from a broad range of fields in medicine and science. She holds a PhD in Biology from the University of Hamburg.

Dr. Silke Guddat
As a Publishing Editor within Elsevier Germany, Dr. Silke Guddat is responsible for a set of 12 academic journals from a broad range of fields in medicine and science. She holds a PhD in Agriculture from the University of Halle-Wittenberg.

 Gilles Jonker
As an Executive Publisher based in Amsterdam, Gilles Jonker is responsible for a set of 28 academic journals in agriculture, plant and soil sciences.


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