Transparent Review at the European Journal of Neuroscience: Experiences One Year On

September 14, 2017 Paul Bolam

GettyImages-50763107-woman at laptop2.jpgAt the Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego on November 15th, 2016, the editorial board decided to institute a transparent peer review system for the European Journal of Neuroscience (EJN). For papers submitted from that day, all peer review documents including all our correspondence are available as a supplementary document attached to the published paper.  This decision was a long time in gestation and the subject of much discussion and argument, but we were both committed to open review and transparency in science and had already introduced a system to reveal the section editors dealing with our papers.  Despite our fears, apprehension and nervousness, we excitedly ‘bit the bullet’ and ‘pressed the button’ in November last year.  We are now 10 months into the new transparent system, so what are our experiences, have our fears been born out, have our hopes been realized?


  • We can’t get reviewers!  This was our greatest worry; people would be afraid to review, to be revealed and to see their comments in print. This has proved not to be the case. At the time of writing, we have invited 3293 scientists to review papers for EJN and only 18 have declined because of the transparent review system.
  • We can’t get new members to join our board of Section Editors or Reviewing Editors. This has proved not to be the case. No one has declined to become a Section Editor on the basis of the review system and only one of over 40 invitees to the board of Reviewing Editors declined on this basis.
  • The careers of young scientists will be destroyed by evil senior scientists on whose paper they have commented negatively.  As far as we know this has proved not to be the case. This was a fallacious fear anyway, as most scientists at every level, are supportive of accountable review and transparency.
  • Battles and vendettas arise between authors and reviewers.  Again, as far as we know this has proved not to be the case. And again, a fallacious fear, as rigorous, fair and unemotional discussion is part of the scientific method.  Battles and vendettas have no place in science!
  • The quality of reviews will fall. This has proved not to be the case. The reviews that we receive are just as rigorous and fair as they were before the change. If anything, the quality of the reviews has improved as the reviewers know that they will be publicly accountable for their comments.
  • The reputation of the journal will fall as a consequence of all of the above!  The opposite has proved to be the case, we are recognized for our pioneering efforts and offered encouragement from all sides.


  • We are transparent!  We are proud to be at the forefront of the movement in science to increase transparency and to improve and refine one of the bedrocks of the scientific method, ‘the peer review system’.
  • The transition between the two systems was seamless, although it does require more work in the editorial office.  However the model we have chosen is probably the least onerous both to the reviewers and the office, and was the easiest to adopt.
  • Reviewers are more prompt in returning their comments and our impression is that their reviews are more carefully constructed, more thoughtful and of a higher quality.
  • To actively take part in peer review is our duty as members of the scientific community and defenders of the scientific method.  However, it takes a considerable amount of time and intellectual effort. Transparent reviewing, together with the Publons system that we’ve adopted, documents and gives recognition to those contributing to the peer-review process.

All-in-all, we consider that we have successfully and smoothly moved into a transparent review process, we have received only encouragement and support and we urge other journals to join the ever-increasing number of journals truly committed to transparency in science.

Paul Bolam and John Foxe, Co-Editors-in-Chief of European Journal of Neuroscience, will be participating in a Reddit AMA on Thursday, September 14th from 12:00pm–3:00pm EST / 5:00pm–8:00pm UK time. To join in live or read responses after the AMA has completed, visit their AMA page and look for the post titled “I Am the Editor in Chief of the European Journal of Neuroscience, Ask Me Anything.

J. Paul Bolam is Emeritus Professor and Senior Scientist, Medical Research Council Brain Network Dynamics Unit, Department of Pharmacology, University of Oxford, UK.

John Foxe is Kilian J. and Caroline F. Schmitt Chair in Neuroscience, Director of The Ernest J. Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience, Professor & Chair Department of Neuroscience, University of Rochester Medical Center, USA

Image Credit: Zaripov Andrei / Getty Images

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