Peer Review Week 2017: Transparency in Review, and other innovations

The Source
By: Guest contributor, Thu Sep 14 2017

Author: Guest contributor

By Steven Inchcoombe, Chief Publishing Officer, Springer Nature

At Springer Nature every week is Peer Review Week.

Each week our dedicated in-house editorial staff spend thousands of hours co-ordinating the process of peer review, to ensure and improve the quality of the scientific literature we publish and in doing so, advance discovery. We support our Editors in Chief, Editorial Board Members, Section Editors, peer reviewers and authors by providing guidance and systems to enable them to improve manuscripts. Furthermore, we’re trialling innovative new practices through small-scale pilots, while also exploring grander ideas such as the potential role of Artificial Intelligence.

But as it’s so integral to what we do and the service we provide for our authors, its not something we  shout about every week. Therefore, Peer Review Week 2017, an annual celebration of the essential role that peer review plays in maintaining scientific quality, provides the perfect opportunity for us to update the academic community on what we’re doing, and to celebrate the work of the peer reviewers who generously give their time to examine manuscripts, offering help and advice.

Transparency in Review

The theme of this years’ Peer Review Week is Transparency in Review.  BMC, part of Springer Nature, was one of the pioneers of open peer review and earlier this year, issued a report based on the discussions at the SpotOn conference in London that examined how peer review might be improved for future generations. The report is well worth reading – it offers key recommendations to the academic community that include finding and inventing new ways of identifying, verifying and inviting peer reviewers; investing in reviewer training programs, and recognizing reviewers.

This year, BMC has also been experimenting with more new initiatives to improve transparency in peer review. If successful, these pilot projects could become standard offerings across Springer Nature.

Registered Reports is a good example. This is a new publication format in which the research question and the quality of methodology are peer reviewed before the data is collected and analysed and has been endorsed by Chris Chambers, Chair of the Centre for Open Science Registered Reports Committee, said: “This is a tremendous step forward for transparency and reproducibility in medical research. BMC Medicine will be the first major medical journal to offer Registered Reports, and the first to adopt a model specially tailored for clinical trials. The impact of this advance is potentially game-changing, eliminating hidden outcome switching and publication bias against negative results.”

I’m also pleased to announce that Genome Biology is following in the footsteps of other journals including Nature Communications to offer an option for transparent peer review.

Other developments

Time and time again, researchers tell us that they don’t receive enough training in how to conduct thorough and constructive peer review. Which is why this week, we’ve announced that we are launching a new free online course called Focus on Peer Review.

‘Focus on Peer Review’, on the Nature Masterclasses platform, features video interviews with Nature Research journal editors, experienced peer reviewers, and published authors. The course contains key and relevant insight into the complexities of peer review, going beyond the usual ‘how-to’ training available elsewhere. The course is made up of 4 modules, which you can either work through in a single sitting or use it as a ‘dip in and out’ reference resource. Total course duration, including reflection time, is around 3 hours.

On completion of the course, participants will have the opportunity to download a Nature Masterclasses course completion certificate. If you’re interested, simply register on the Nature Masterclasses website.

Update from last year

Finally, I’d like to give a happy update from one initiative that we launched last year. In 2016 we announced that a Springer journal, Environmental Earth Sciences, would enable people in developing countries to gain access to safe drinking water. For every review completed for a paper in the journal in 2017, Springer Nature donated one household water filter – on behalf of the peer reviewers of this journal – to the non-profit humanitarian organization Filter of Hope.

I’m delighted to say that since the inception of our partnership with Filter of Hope, over 600 filters have been distributed to the countries of Liberia, Nicaragua, Haiti, Honduras, Russia, Cuba and India. The water filters remove the bacteria, protozoa and micro-organisms from contaminated water sources making it completely safe to drink. This is a wonderful example of peer review making a real-world difference.

At Springer Nature we are constantly striving to advance discovery though the acceleration of scientific research and development, investing in technology to ensure ongoing quality and a better user experience, and by positively contributing to the scientific ecosystem that includes researchers, editors, librarians, funders, authors, publishers and networks.  And an enhanced, improved peer review system which is transparent and gives reviewers the recognition they deserve is a fundamental part of this.  I’m delighted that in 2017 we have explored and introduced new ways to make the process more transparent, to ensure our reviewers get the recognition they deserve, as well as developed new free tools and services, in the hope of serving our customer better. I’m looking forward to updating you on the improvements we’ll have seen by Peer Review Week 2018!


Author: Guest contributor

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