If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear

Academic publishing in general and the peer-review process in particular, if not broken, are seriously under strain. We all remember Arsenic life or the more recent STAP cells fiasco. Pre-publication peer-review is unfortunately not always getting the job done as a filter.

Many publishers have already embarked on experiments/alternatives/developments with respect to improving transparency and efficiency. Unfortunately, each journal has its own version of peer review. This blog post deals with these currently available alternatives, hoping (dreaming) that one day those ‘new’ policies may becoming the norm for all the publishers societies.

Referee cross-commenting

As a reviewer I would love to be able to see the final decision and other Reviewer’s comments. But it not always the case. I have probably reviewed about 20-25 papers since the beginning of my career. Only a couple of time I was informed of the final decision and in only one recent reviewing, the editor send me a message to let me know of other reviewer’s comments.

So for me, to have access to the comments provided by the other reviewers should be compulsory. EMBO press employs this review format and I think it’s great and very useful. It is partly designed to minimize contradictory statements.

The full Monty- Uncropped scans of Western blots included in supplemental figures.

If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. We all do want to show pretty and clean data but you don’t have to make results look better than reality. With regards to ‘representative data’, a lot of journals such as Nature Cell Biology now require to send all the unedited, uncropped scans of Western blots with your manuscript. Peer review should be a gatekeeper for possible doctored images and doing the ‘full Monty’ appears to me to be going in the right direction. Systematic image screening similar to those made at EMBO press should also become a standard for all publishers.

Transparent review

Transparency is one of the fundamental guiding principles in science. Would the publication of referee reports and editorial decision benefits the debate? EMBO press certainly thinks so (an example here), so do I. One direct benefit is to know to what extent a paper has been improved during the peer review process.

Pre-Print servers

An invite approach that has worked well for the physics community is the use of the pre-print server arXiv. Seeing the emergence of several preprint servers to biology (fighare, BioRxiv, peerj and F1000Research) is certainly a good sign. It is an effective way to share and get a collegial feedback not restricted to 2-3 reviewers. Other advantages include rapid dissemination and immediate visibility. We are constantly answering questions about our work at meetings, seminars, conferences and with our publications. But you usually answer to a couple of people. By sharing your work openly you can answer 100, 1000! The more feedback you receive, the better your work will be. Unfortunately not all academic journals submission policies allow pre-prints and its very regrettable.

That’s it for today. Please feel free to comment and give your thoughts/feedback.

Further reading













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