11 ideas to improve peer review – Part II

st_jerome_caravaggioIn the previous post, I proposed the first 6 out of 11 ideas to improve peer review. As promised, here are the remaining 5.

7. Editors shouldn’t do reviewer’s job: rejection without review

In top journals, it is common practice the editor to pre-select which papers will be sent to reviewers and those papers that will not even be considered for publication. Editors claim that this step is needed, as the number of submissions is too large to allow revision of all received papers.

Maybe it is true, but since the pre-selection is arbitrary, it may be source for every kind of distortions, including editor’s race, gender, nationality prejudices, or even biases against specific fields.

For the sake of credibility of their own journals, editors should have objective, clear and public policies of how pre-selection is done.

8. Reviewers shouldn’t do editor’s job: does the paper fit in the journal?

Editors often ask whether the reviewer thinks that the paper fits that journal or should be sent to another one.

Sincerely? As reviewer, I don’t care.

When I review a paper, I judge the quality of the science shown there and whether it deserves to come to public or not. I really don’t care whether it will appear in Nature or in the Jamaican Accounts of Chemical Sciences. I don’t even feel competent to give an opinion on that.

To decide whether a paper fits in a particular journal or not is an editorial decision and, as such, it should be an editor’s job.

9. Reviewer disclosing

Reviewers tend to become cocky. Hidden behind their anonymity, they can be rude, write crazy reports, ask for the most unreasonable things without any consequences.

Let’s combine the following: as a new editorial rule, x % of review reports will be randomly selected and the reviewers’ names will be disclosed to the authors. I’m sure that this would be enough to make a reviewer thinking twice before sending an incompetent or impolite report.

I don’t know how much x % is. But, it should be small enough to let the reviewer still comfortable to give an independent opinion, but large enough to inhibit bad behaviors.

10. Double-blind review

Sometime ago, Nature Geosciences and Nature Climate Changes announced a double-blind peer-review option. In this case, papers are formated in such a way that reviewers don’t know who the authors are.

Double-blind review has many potential advantages: reviewers may offer less biased reports if they not know authors’ races, genders or nationalities; authors may provide more balanced papers, as they will have to be more modest with self-citations and give more generous credits to others.

I don’t know how double-blind review is going, but I hope for the best.

11. Tell the result

I have probably reviewed about 100 papers in my career. Only twice I was informed of the final decision about the paper that I reviewed.

I’m not exaggerating: only in two occasions the editors minded to send me a message to let me know whether the paper that I reviewed was approved or not.

I don’t want to sound whining, but editors should have more consideration for people who are helping them for free.

. . .

I know, all these ideas make the process more expensive and slow. But if we really want to fix the many problems peer review has, we should diagnose these problems and try to fix them.

Everyday, someone thinks that the one thing the world is missing is another scientific journal. These new publishers could start to be more bold and try new ways for improving relations in the author-reviewer-editor triangle.

I don’t mind, they can take my 11 ideas to test.


  • What do you think? Would these ideas help to improve peer review? Did I miss anything? Leave your comments or like below.
  • If you enjoyed this post, follow the blog by signing up in the sidebar. You can also follow me on Twitter.
  • Do you know who are the paper’s authors? Check this post.
  • In the previous post, I got quite a lot of feedback from readers. People mentioned problems that I didn’t address, pointed out weak points in my proposals, and even mentioned an interesting outsourcing experience in peer reviewing. It’s totally worth checking those comments.
  • The illustration is based on Caravaggio’s Saint Jerome Writing.

Categories: Science Policy, Scientific Culture

Tags: , , ,

2 replies

  1. Hi, I think the point is also that some of these things could be carried out without really any additional effort. A quick email from the journal telling you that the article was accepted and maybe sending you a free version, what would be the problem with that? Or a public list of reviewers would not be difficult either. These could for example be at the level of the individual publishers.

    If one of the journals or publishing societies starting doing that I would definitly favor them. Usually, all I need is a journal with the words “Phys” and “Chem” in them, I don’t care which one. Now I choose them according to whether I like the template, whether the respective society sends me annoying letters every month, whether figures will be in color, according to license policies etc. But innovative review ideas would definitly be a point that could tip the balance in favor of a different one.

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