Of Schemes and Memes Blog

Further experiments in peer review

Guest post by Nandita Quaderi, PhD, Publishing Director, Nature Publishing Group/Palgrave Macmillan

There is a post on the Scholarly Kitchen blog this week that asks: “how can we improve the article review and submission process?”.  For all of us involved in scientific and scholarly publishing, it has long been accepted that peer review is necessary and beneficial in ensuring the quality of scientific communication. But it is also seen by many as an imperfect system: less efficient than it should be and sometimes frustratingly slow.

In a 2014 survey of over 30,000 NPG researchers, authors told us that they want us to innovate when it comes to peer review:

  • 70% authors are frustrated with the time peer-review takes
  • 77% think traditional peer review could be made more efficient
  • 67% think publishers should experiment with alternative peer-review methods

NPG is first and foremost here to serve scientists. As scientists our method is to run experiments, measure the results, learn and adapt. Testing and evolving the peer review process is something we’ve embraced over many years at NPG. Recently, our innovations have included offering double blind peer review (now available across Nature and the Nature sister journals following a successful trial), and an open peer review trial for monographs last year. We’re committed to exploring, learning, and better understanding the needs and choices of our authors.

In that spirit, this week we launched a small-scale opt-in trial of a faster peer review service for Scientific Reports. Authors submitting a manuscript to Scientific Reports can choose a fast-track peer-review service at an additional cost. Authors who opt-in to fast-track will receive an editorial decision (accept, reject or revise) with peer-review comments within three weeks of their manuscript being submitted and passing initial quality checks.

The fast-track service is being provided in partnership with a third party, Research Square, using their Rubriq peer-review system, which incentivises its reviewers with a fee per review. The trial is currently restricted to biology manuscripts, which is an area that Rubriq has a long-established reputation of supporting with its peer review service. Editorial decisions, based on these peer review reports, reside with Scientific Reports in-house editors. We’ve chosen Research Square as our partner on this trial because we have worked with them for a number of years in other parts of our business and because we recently conducted a successful private parallel run of peer-review outputs comparing Rubriq with Scientific Reports.  Importantly we share a common goal of putting researchers at the heart of what we do, and are both continually experimenting with different innovations in the publishing process.

Needless to say, an author choosing the fast-track option is only benefiting from a quicker decision. The introduction of this service has no bearing on our editorial decision process – whether we accept, reject or request revisions – and we have worked closely with Research Square to be confident that their reviewer reports are as rigorous as we would expect from our own Scientific Reports reviewers. This is an opt-in small scale pilot for a limited period of time, and will not affect the overall service we provide to authors who don’t choose the service. Our aim is to experiment with different options to deliver author choice.

We know with any innovation that there will be as many challenges as opportunities. Experimentation is key if we are to improve scholarly communications and support the researcher community, be they authors, reviewers, editorial board members or readers.  We hope this trial will provide useful feedback, in whatever form it takes, and will share what we’ve learnt in the coming weeks.



  1. Report this comment

    Donald Forsdyke said:

    I contributed to the Scholarly Kitchen debate with the simple request that ‘yes’ should mean ‘yes.’ If a paper is formally accepted then editors should stand by that decision. Even this elementary desideratum is still avoided by some journals especially at times of editorial changeover.

    It would also help if editors would recognize that there is a bell curve of scientific abilities. From this it follows that, for those out on one limb of the curve, there is little prospect of an editor finding insightful peers. For those in the middle and descending limbs there are peers in abundance. But not so for the rare individuals whose work, more than the others, should be appearing on the pages of Nature. This is why, every week, I struggle through the multiplicity of papers in PLOS One. The gems that emerge from time to time easily justify the effort.

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