Friday, 1 May 2015

Wellcome Trust / Research Information Network Report on Scholarship and Review

Responding to academic concerns regarding the effectiveness of peer review for papers published in journals, the Wellcome Trust commissioned the Research Information Network (RIN) ( to investigate possible strategies to improve the peer review system in the light of:

i) the availability of new technologies in e-journals and
ii) the large number of new entrants to academic journal publishing, particularly in the area of open access publishing.  

The resulting Wellcome Trust / RIN report was published in March 2015 -

The report envisages the following developments:
  • Innovations such as post-publication peer review and open peer-reviewing will be slow to take off as the academic cultures supporting the current pre-publication peer review system are very powerful
  • Whilst it would be good for all stages of the peer review process to become more open, a distinction needs to be made between revealing reviewers’ identities and revealing the actual content of their reviews
  • More interaction is needed between editors, reviewers and authors, both before and after publication
  • Article-level metrics (altmetrics), which measure the numbers of comments, ratings, bookmarks and news coverage which papers receive on the web and in social media, are becoming increasingly important as alternative methods of assessing public engagement
  • Some form of scholarly credit needs to be introduced to recognise the contribution of peer reviewers, as shown by the development of such systems as Peerage of Science ( and Publons ( .  This recognition should be in the form of attribution, there being currently little academic enthusiasm for a system of monetary rewards 
  • Distinction needs to be made between peer review to determine the academic soundness of a paper and that to determine whether or not a paper fits the scope and ambition of the journal to which it has been submitted. Publishers are now starting to set up “cascade systems” so as to avoid reviewing the same paper more than once.

The review states that whether or not third party peer review systems will increase their role within academic publishing is not yet clear.   It is certain, however, that academic publishers would welcome more guidance from researchers, reviewers and editors on the kinds of peer review that they want and the purposes which it should fulfil. Unless the purposes of peer review can be defined with greater clarity, recent innovations in open, third party and post-publication peer review may prove to be of little point.
In summary, as the pressure on researchers to publish in high-status journals continues to grow, especially with research funders looking for more quantitative measures of value from their research spend, publishers and editors need to make sure that peer review remains an effective filter to maintain academic standards and to prevent academic fraud. Obtaining the services of knowledgeable peer reviewers and providing them with the requisite training is therefore crucial.

Steve Smith
April 2015

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