Force all scientific journals to implement peer review transparency

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Quality of information and acceptance of decisions thrive on transparency. But far the most scientific journals rely on a process called the single-blind confidential peer review. Information related to the process that lead to the publication of a scientific paper cannot be accessed by third parties. And all parties involved in the process cannot make misconduct public.

A scientific study submitted to such a journal is evaluated by one or several (anonymous) peers. Based (or not) on the peers' reports, an editor decides about publishing, revising, or rejecting the study. This decision and the peers' reports are (usually) communicated to the authors, which are forced to treat all communication regarding their submitted study as confidential. In the case of a positive decision (revise), the authors are allowed a response and to issue a revision, which then may be re-evaluated again by the same or new peers. If negative (reject), they have to try their luck with another journal.

All correspondence relating to the publication of a paper between authors, peers, and editors is confidential, and, hence, cannot be assessed by the public. The readers – and the public typically financing the research, the publication of the paper, and the salaries of all people involved in the process – have no right to access any part of it. Peers whose valid critiques are ignored by the editor because of political reasons have no right to protest the decision. Bound by confidentiality (and dependent on good-will of editors and colleagues when submitting their next study), they cannot make dubious decisions public. Any concern raised against the decision to publish by a third party can be waved away by the editors with reference to the confidentiality of the review process.

Given the importance of proper and credible science in a world where fact is increasingly challenged by unfounded believes and made-up pseudo-facts (lies), we should make sure that the decision process to publish a paper is made transparent following the example of a few journals such as PeerJ, The EMBO Journal, Biogeosciences and others. This allows:

  • hard-working, constructive peers to take credit for their work;
  • prevent unfair treatment of authors during the review process (unacceptable or severely biased peer reports, arbitrary or fraudulent editor decisions);
  • better education of inexperienced, young researchers, who can use the peer review documentation of similar papers to avoid errors prior to submission of their study;
  • the reader and the public to assess the quality of the peer review process of a journal (thus, a better distinction between proper and predatory publishers and journals); thus,
  • prevent the formation of scientific cliques corrupting the peer-review process.

As a scientist you may want to put an end to lack of transparency revolving around the process that decides where and how a study gets published.

As a tax-payer you have the right (and obligation) to request a change: many scientists are employed by the state or bodies obtaining public funding, publication costs are often covered by state-funded institutions and organisations, and libraries funded by the public generate most of the income of the big science publishing companies.