Increasing Transparency in the Scholarly Workflow

August 2, 2019 Nick Dormer

“Post-truth” is an adjective you’ve undoubtedly heard. Even a casual Twitter user can attest to reading some absurd belief grounded in reactive-speculation. The implications of this degradation to fact applies to everything from Democracy to the very core of our understanding of the world: science. Yet the challenge that authors, editors, and publishers face in defending science, by making it transparent and reproducible, is not new. It still compels the publishing ecosystem.

“Exposing the Scholarly Record in Post-truth World,” was a key session on this topic at the 2019 SSP Annual Meeting, in which Wiley’s own Stephanie Diment (Director, Open Research) was a panelist, qualified our progress by addressing how we mitigate the risk of misrepresentation of peer reviewed articles. This lively session also included representatives from Publons, ASAPBio, IOP Publishing, and Atypon.

Moderator Laura Simonite of Publons, an organization that aims to build a community committed to recognizing researchers often hidden contribution to peer review, began the session stating the challenge: “How can scholarly communications help to rebuild trust in evidence-based research?” She explained that this could be achieved through transparency, accessibility, inclusivity, availability, and reproducibility.

If there is any time in our history to celebrate the process of published science… it is absolutely while science itself is being challenged

Jessica Polka of ASAPBio, the first panelist, offered her thoughts on the positive impact of publishing peer review comments. It encourages constructive reviewer behavior contributes to scholarship, earns the trust of readers, makes journal decisions transparent, opens a door for reviewer recognition, helps authors and editors in training, and enables further research into peer review. In fact, according to Polka, researchers like the idea of publishing peer review, and reviewers and authors continue to show an interest. However, there are still some concerns about opening-up peer review especially if the published reviews may be used unfairly with critical remarks taken out of context. One way of mitigating such behavior would be to include disclaimers, lay summaries, and interacting directly with journalists. Such active engagement with peer review and published research not only helps authors and reviewers—it helps the public. Polka also talked about Transpose, a database of peer review policies launched recently by ASAPBio to help the peer review transparency initiative along.

Jennifer Sanders of IOP Publishing shared their organization’s contributions to transparency. Sanders reported that IOP Publishing has dedicated a lot of effort to illuminating the publication process: They engage and assist researchers in navigating the publishing landscape through initiatives designed to promote engagement, diversity and inclusion, and transparency. By encouraging diversity and inclusivity through support, article tracking and educations, Sanders explained that IOP Publishing aims to be transparent about gender balance, location of scholarship, unconscious bias, and gender neutral salutation. They encourage transparency by promoting COPE membership, Publons, OD Accessibility, and Figshare.

A researcher by training, Alberto Pepe of Atypon and Authorea shared feedback from experiments in transparent peer review. He began by reporting that authors’ top concerns include publication delay and poor quality and processes, and lamented that many legacy systems “flatten” data, code, and visualizations by imposing size and format restrictions. These steps extend the process and create opportunities for error. He suggested classifying reviews as pre-prints, or undertaking light reviews on new manuscripts. He also recommended improving annotation and commentary in reviews to promote openness of the scholarship.

Stephanie Diment of Wiley shared a use case for open reports with optional open reviewer identities undertaken in collaboration with ScholarOne and Publons. In this pilot, authors were given the option to choose “open reports,” and reviewers were given the option to sign the report. If the article is published, and authors have chosen transparent peer review, Publons can host a “Peer Review History” page linked form the article with the peer reviewers’ reports, authors’ responses, and editors’ decisions (see example here). The goals of the pilot were to change the conversation about benefits of transparency in peer review to give journals the opportunity to highlight the value they add during peer review, and to reduce friction in the process for all parties. This ongoing initiative is designed to be meaningful to the research community, to be scaled, and to enable the workflow to be adopted across the industry. The pilot was successful: 83% of authors (278 authors out of 336 submissions) chose the new process.

In summary, in our efforts to increase transparency in the scholarly workflow and “change the conversation around peer review” we are asking authors, reviewers, and journal editors to consider how transparent peer review could fit into their research and publishing plans. While a complete shift in approach may not be practical, it is worth considering how to move these conversations along. Perhaps a small step—a sense check with a colleague, adding an author/reviewer survey question, or discussing options with your publisher—are good places to start. Given that there are well-established systems that support published peer review, and proof that authors and reviewers are receptive to transparency of the reviewer’s comments, what more can you do to contribute to a cultural change? After all, if there is any time in our history to celebrate the process of published science… it is absolutely while science itself is being challenged..

About the Author

Producer, Wiley

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