In May 2019, the major non-profit open-access publisher PLOS began a program that aimed to increase the transparency of the peer review process at the journals they publish. In December 2019, they published the results of the first 6 months of this program.
While peer review is a cornerstone of the modern scientific method, it mostly happens out of view of the readers of published manuscripts. Therefore, the types of comments made about submitted manuscripts and their effect on the final version of the published manuscript remain known only to the submitting authors, the peer reviewers themselves, and the staff of the journal’s editorial office. PLOS hopes that this move to increase the transparency of peer review will provide a better understanding of research evaluation and help to educate the next generation of researchers.
During the first 6 months of this program, the authors of a total of 1,536 manuscripts agreed to have their complete peer review history published along with their manuscript. The percentage of eligible authors who agreed to participate reached 40% across all PLOS journals, with PLOS Biology reaching 72%. As an additional step towards full transparency, PLOS also encourages reviewers to submit signed reviews that reveal their names to authors and eventually readers. Among the manuscripts that had their peer review history published, 55% also include at least one signed review.
As this program is still new and the collected data are preliminary, PLOS reports that open peer review has not had any significant effect on reviewers’ acceptance of invitations to review or the length of time it takes to submit their comments. Therefore, it appears that even with increased transparency, it may still be possible for publishers to provide timely peer review.
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