Exposing pricks in the system: an argument for open peer review
Did you know that women, on average, co-author one less paper than men, just as on average, male doctoral students can probably run a mile race a bit faster than female doctoral students? … and this is the kind of thing said in a research journal peer review report!
The above factoid was given to Fiona Ingleby and her female co-author by an anonymous reviewer who rejected the paper. The reviewer suggested, among other vague and unhelpful comments, that they should get a man’s name on the manuscript to improve it. Ingleby outed the reviewer’s comments on Twitter, not to name and shame the journal but to highlight the problems with many world-wide journals peer review system.
For anyone with an ounce of common sense could argue the reason men co-author more than women is because women are oppressed since their genitals are not male. This is sexism.
Pushing sexism aside for a moment. Apologies were made, the reviewer removed from the list of reviewers and the editor asked to step down. And, in all this, researchers are again held to question the systems of peer review. Within the apology, the umbrella journal PLOS, said they would review their own system to ‘ensure that the process is fair and civil…working on new features to make the review process more open and transparent’ — and, referenced a paper from 2000, Walsh et al, ‘Open Peer Review: A Randomised Controlled Trial’. In the paper’s results they state the tone of ‘signed’ (open) reviewers ‘…were significantly more courteous and less abusive than unsigned reviews’.
What is open and closed peer review?
In very simple terms, in open the authors of the paper know who reviewed their paper, in closed it’s anonymous.
Why do we have peer review?
“It’s a fundamental form of crap detection.” — is the best quote I’ve heard, and it’s essentially to help researchers get the best out of their research with help of other researchers. (That referenced quote link is to a great pamphlet about peer review by the Science Media Centre)
Open review will not eliminate sexism but could improve reviewing
Sadly, obviously sexism still exists in academia and changing to an open system will not eradicate those who feel having a penis in research is more important than having a clitoris. But what open reviewing can do is expose crap reviewers who are lazy and who can’t argue a decent logical point of view to help improve a research paper.
More on open review
If you’re interested the facets of open review you can see them in a summary (Storify) I made after the Solo14 conference. As well as Nature Publishing Group have a Peer Review Debate of 22 articles of analyses and perspectives from leading scientists.