Scientific peer review provides .5 billion dollar public subsidy to commercial publishers

Submitted by Dean Giustini on June 14, 2010 - 12:47

In 2009, early findings of an international 'peer review' survey of authors and reviewers was published (see powerpoints). As many of you know, peer review is central to biomedical publishing and scientific enquiry -- knowledge creation that is essential in evidence-based practice. According to the report, more than 1.3 million scientific articles are published annually and with the explosion of information the current peer review system faces serious challenges: will there be sufficient numbers of experts to do the peer review? how will the system defend itself against any number of conflicts of interest and monetary pressures?

So why do scientists engage in peer review?

  1. According to the study, 90% of respondents say it's because they want to be active in the scientific community; 16% say that their involvement increases their own chances of having future papers accepted
  2. Peer review needs to be improved but a whole new system is not needed:
  • 84% say that scientific communication relies on peer review; a third (32%) think it is the best system possible; 20% say peer review is unsustainable due to insufficient numbers of reviewers.
  • 91% say their last paper was improved through peer review; discussion was the biggest area of improvement
  • 73% say technology makes it easier to peer review; 86% enjoy reviewing, 56% say there is a lack of guidance on how to review; 68% say formal training would help; on average, reviewers reject two papers a year
  • 15% say that 'formal' peer review could be replaced by metrics, hits and user statistics
  • 61% say that they turn down invitations to review articles citing lack of expertise as the main reason - journals obviously have a hard time identifying suitable reviewers

Developing higher standards

  • 79% say that peer review should identify good papers, determine originality and improve them; 43% feel peer review is too slow, 65% say that they had received a decision on their most recent paper within 3 months
  • Reviewers expect anonymity: 58% are unlikely to review if their names are published. 76% favour double blinding of editors and peer reviewers
  • peer review is well understood by the scientific community but just 30% believe the public understands the process
  • 81% say peer review should ensure previous research is retrieved and cited; there are major concerns in the research community about cumulating the evidence
  • over half feel that payment would make them more apt to review a manuscript; 41% want payment but this drops to 2.5% if the author had to cover costs

Robert Campbell, Wiley-Blackwell & Chairman, Publishing Research Consortium: "Most researchers give up time to review papers for no charge. The whole scholarly communication system is dependent on this. Why do they do it? This study helps us to answer the question. And I take heart in the finding that 85% of the around 4000 respondents quite simply do it because they enjoy being able to improve papers. "

Sir Brian Heap, Vice Chairman, European Academies Science Advisory Council: "These latest insights from researchers show why the peer review process continues to be so important - and enjoyable!"

Adrian Mulligan, Associate Director of Research and Academic Relations, Elsevier: "I'm impressed by the vast amount of responses to the study - it tells us just how engaged the scientific community is with peer review. Not only do they greatly value it, but they have a strong desire to enhance it. Elsevier in partnership with editors, plays an active role in developing peer review, and we are moving forward with initiatives such as Crosscheck, a pan-publisher plagiarism detection tool. We are keen to look at other ways to respond to the views raised in this survey."

The Times Online A review of peer review

Times Higher Education Peer Reviewers satisfied with the system

BBC World Service Europe Today(about 20 minutes into clip)

Nature blogs Peer review reviewed

Chemistry World Peer review under the microscope

Information World Review Researchers show loyalty to peer review but want a lot more from it

Physics World blog And the survey say...

  1. The Peer Review Survey was an electronic survey conducted between 28th July 2009 and 11th August 2009; 40,000 researchers were randomly selected from the ISI author database, which contains published researchers from over 10,000 journals. Altogether 4,037 researchers completed the survey.
  2. The full findings and report are due to be published in November 2009.
  3. Bjork et al (2008) 'Global annual volume of peer reviewed scholarly articles and the share available via different Open Access options' Proceedings ELPUB2008 Conference on Electronic Publishing - Toronto, Canada - June 2008
  4. Publishing Research Consortium (2007) 'Peer Review in Scholarly Journals: perspective of the scholarly community. An international study'
  5. Chalmers & Glasziou (2009) 'Avoidable waste in the production and reporting of research evidence' The Lancet; 374: 86-89.

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