Saturday, November 6, 2010

Transparency in the peer-review process of scientific papers

In the Nov. 4, 2010 issue of Nature, there is an interesting Comment, titled "Transparency showcases strength of peer review", by Bernd Pulverer, head of scientific publications at the European Molecular Biology Organization and chief editor of The EMBO Journal. In this article, Pulverer "reflects on his experience at The EMBO Journal of publishing referees’ reports, authors’ responses and editors’ comments alongside papers."

The peer-review process of scientific articles has traditionally been a "black box": (anonymous) reviewers' reports, editors' comments, and authors' responses – extremely valuable information in shaping the final form of published papers – are all hidden from public view. In the Internet era, technology (e.g., online space) is no longer an issue. Now The EMBO Journal has led the way, and "the experience has been overwhelmingly positive." Hopefully, other leading journals (e.g., Nature and Science) would follow the example. Afterall, making the peer-review process transparent is an excellent mean to increase the accountability of science and scientific publications.

Overall, this article is well-written, succinct and logical, and it touches an important topic in scientific publication. Over the past few days, I have read several "Review Process Files" accompanying papers I am interested in, e.g., "Recognition of the amber UAG stop codon by release factor RF1", and found them highly revealing.