In its March Editorial, Peering into review, Nature Medicine addresses how the peer review process can be frustrating to researchers eager to get their work published. Changes to the process might be warranted, says the journal —but only if they are based in fact, not conjecture.
The Editorial discusses a recent “open letter” written by a group of stem-cell researchers about what they see as obstructive and unreasonable reviews delaying publication of their research. From the Editorial:
Publication of referees’ comments in full may affect the quality of the reviews, leading to more cautious and restrained comments. It is difficult to ascertain how much the quality of reviews would be compromised by adopting these measures; however, previous attempts with open peer review suggest that referees are less likely to provide a direct and detailed evaluation of the report. Authors may also be reluctant to adopt this strategy, as publication of earlier reviews may expose flaws that were addressed in later submissions (or never addressed satisfactorily) but nonetheless color interpretation of the findings. Finally, most articles undergo numerous rounds of review. As such, it is difficult to evaluate the importance of comments made in the first round of review without reference to that earlier version of the manuscript. Simply publishing the reviewers’ comments as a whole removes them from the context in which the decisions were made and may place undue emphasis on specific points of concern.
We do not want our readership to feel that the editors are indifferent to the concerns voiced by the stem cell researchers. The peer review process might be improved, but it remains unclear whether publishing reviewers’ comments would provide a measurable advantage that outweighs the drawbacks of adopting this approach. When properly managed, confidential peer review allows for a fair and unbiased assessment and ensures that we publish papers of the highest quality.
Comments from readers are invited at Spoonful of Medicine, the journal’s blog.