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Peer review reviewed

The British non-profit science lobby Sense About Science has unveiled the findings from its survey of 4,000 peer-reviewers. No need for suspense, I’ll give you the bottom line now: Peer review is hardly perfect, but nobody’s got a better idea. Interestingly though, researchers seem to think that more secrecy in the peer-review process could help to improve it.

Peer review.jpg

Now the details. Overall, 69% of those surveyed said that they were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with peer review. Another 22% could care less, and only 9% were “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” (see graph right).

But that hardly means that these researchers thought peer review as it stood was the best possible system. Only a third of researchers thought that the current peer review system was the best that could be achieved by scientists.

The surveyors were also asked to weigh in about what they thought could make peer review better. The idea of “open peer review,” where reviewers names are made public, scored just 20% on the survey, while a whopping 76% of researchers thought that “double blind” peer review, where the names of authors and reviewers are hidden from each other, was a good idea. That contrasts with the last time the survey was done in 2007. Back then, 27% of survey participants supported open peer review, while just 71% wanted the reviews to be done double-blind. Incidentally, most Nature-brand journals don’t use double-blind peer review.

Final thought, 41% of those surveyed thought monetary compensation would make them more likely to peer-review papers. Of those wanting benjamins for their time, almost all thought societies or publishers should pony up. There’s lots more in the survey, so take a look and see what you think.


  1. Report this comment

    Maxine said:

    To clarify the peer-review practice of Nature and the Nature jouranls (i.e. those with “Nature” in the title, eg “Nature Neuroscience” or “Nature Physics”), all these journals without exception operate a “single blind” peer-review system, not a double-blind system. An explanation of our processes, and the rationale for them, is described here:

    Best wishes


    (for authors and peer-reviewers of Nature journals).

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    Jeffrey Dean said:

    At the risk of stating the obvious, the reason we resort to peer review is primarily economic (not necessarily in the financial sense). It’s a reasonable argument that progress in most fields could be achieved more quickly if results were published without review, but then independent replication of the work — something we usually teach our students is essential in theory, but not in practice — becomes absolutely critical. Unfortunately, we choose to scrimp on replication, and fall back on peer-review even at the risk of stifling innovation.

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    Wallace McLendon said:

    We must think about smart documentation systems that run simulations up to the point of the present stage of the experiment. This is the way the new generation attacks problem solving, trying options until something works. Can we program methodology into researchers’ spontaneous explorations? Can models provide near-immediate replication? Are we stifled by tradition?

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