By Heike Langenberg, Chief Editor, Nature Geoscience
The week from 19 to 25 September 2016 marks the second round of Peer Review Week with the theme of “Recognition for Review”. The topic is obviously close to our hearts at Nature Research: after all, peer review is much of what we do.
We greatly appreciate the role our reviewers play in the publication process, and we try to help them to convert the time and effort they spend on scrutinising and often improving our authors’ papers into professional recognition.
For their personal use—for example in job applications or career negotiations—reviewers have been able to download a certified record of all their reviewing activities across the Nature-branded titles for several years now. We hope that this information is helpful in our reviewers’ career development.
We also offer a free online subscription to a Nature-branded journal for one year to those who have either reviewed three or more manuscripts across all Nature-branded titles in a year, or to referees who have been nominated by our editors for the outstanding quality of their reviews.
But we are always looking into making peer review better, and offering more choice. In response to popular demand in reader surveys, we have introduced the option of double-blind peer review. Initiated at Nature Geoscience and Nature Climate Change in June 2013, authors are now able to opt to be anonymous to referees—just as referees are usually anonymous to authors—at all the Nature-branded journals since February 2015. Providing this option is now part of our routine workflow.
Uptake has been essentially stable since this option was extended to all Nature-branded journals. It seems that ignorance of the double-blind option is not the reason that the proportion of authors who choose it for their own manuscript is substantially lower than those who support the idea in reader surveys. In the social sciences, double-blind peer review is more widespread, and we note that in journals with a significant social science component, such as Nature Climate Change, Nature Energy and Nature Human Behaviour, acceptance is higher than in most journals.
The next step in this particular direction could be triple-blind peer review: in this version, editors, too, do not know the authors’ identities when they record their initial impression of a paper. This offering is but a glimpse in our eye at this stage, largely for administrative reasons, but we are thinking about it. Unconscious biases may lurk in everyone’s brain, even in the most conscientious editors, and they shouldn’t make a difference. We would like to make sure that papers submitted to the Nature-branded journals are judged by their scientific content only. Nothing else.