Support your researchers: Peer Review and Preprint Servers

By: Diana Petrowicz, Tue May 4 2021
Diana Petrowicz

Author: Diana Petrowicz

In our Support your Researchers series we keep you up to date on latest resources for your researchers. During the current climate and the rapid sharing of research, the need for rigorous evaluation and peer review is more apparent than ever. We spoke to Katie Ridd, Senior Editor and Team Manager at Nature Communications about the importance of peer review versus preprint servers for researchers.

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Peer Review vs Preprint Servers: pros and cons for researchers?

Preprint servers have been around since the early 1990s but have become more popular in recent times with more disciplines embracing this form of disseminating research. Preprints are the authors version of their findings and the preprint severs provide a fast way of sharing the most recent research findings with large audiences.

This has been particularly valuable during the COVID-19 pandemic, where more than 30,000 preprints describing research on the virus were published in 2020. Preprints also provide an avenue for authors to claim priority over their discoveries and evidence of progress to funders. The commenting function on preprint severs allows the research community to provide feedback on the findings presented. However, the majority of preprints have not been closely scrutinised and, often interested investigators tend to use private channels to give feedback to authors.

Peer review frequently improves manuscripts prior to publication and ensures that conclusions are supported by the data presented. The peer review process invites experts to closely assess the research presented; technical experts comment on the robustness of the methods used and that all necessary controls were included to strengthen the conclusions emerging from the findings and ruling out alternative hypothesis. The peer-review process also ensures that the research has been conducted and is reported in an ethical, thorough and reproducible manner. These quality checks during the peer review process do however take time; it can take several months from the original submission to publication of the final version of a paper. Thus, the published version can be quite different to the original preprint; however some journals will permit an update to the preprint to note the final accepted version.

According to this latest white paper, peer review is more valuable than ever and researchers prefer VoR. What value can publishers provide through peer review and why is it important for researchers?

The peer review process frequently improves the quality and rigour of papers. Peer review can ensure that the findings of a study are put into the context with work already done in a field, ensuring that researchers work is appropriately acknowledged. Peer reviewers ensure that the conclusions of a study are supported by the presented data; preventing unsubstantiated claims being disseminated into the research community. Importantly, the peer review process certifies that published studies were carried out to the highest ethical and reproducible standards.

Reproducibility of studies has been questioned in recent years by research communities. Publishers and editors have implemented reproducibility policies that both authors and reviewers can follow to facilitate transparent and rigorous reporting of methods and analysis. Moreover, publishers policies on the sharing of materials, data and code support open and transparent research practices and allow others to build upon findings even more so when those are presented in the paper according to FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reproducible) principles. All these measures are essential for the progress of research. The Version of Record maintained by publishers can also be updated with corrections and linked to methods or correspondence related to the paper; although it represents an expert- stamped version of the findings at a given time, it should be seen as a living document of reference.  

Finally, publishers are continually working on innovation within the peer review process. Some Springer Nature initiatives, which have been adopted in many journals of the portfolio, including nature journals are include: the publication of reviewer reports alongside the accepted article that provides transparent insight into the peer review process; acknowledging reviewer’s names to recognise the efforts of reviewers; offering authors the option to obscure their identity from reviewers in an attempt tomay avoid potential reviewer bias; the implementation of registered reports as a format for publication which focuses on the importance of the research question and the strength of the methodology by peer-reviewing the protocols and issuing an accept-in-principle decision ahead of the research being performed and finally, the formal peer review of code associated with papers can facilitate further use of the resources by the research community.

You spoke at the webinar Peer Review and Preprint Servers: an introduction, what key points were discussed at the webinar that are important for librarians?

During the webinar I described the general peer review process and discussed the role of peer review in scholarly research. I described the different models of peer review; and included the benefits and limitations of each. We considered how editors select peer reviewers and what is expected of a peer reviewer, I also described how journal editors assess peer review reports. Finally, I spoke about different peer review initiatives that we have been examining within the Nature Portfolio. Afterwards I described preprint servers, why these are useful to the research community and the perceptions of publishers with regards to preprint servers.

If you are interested in further information about peer review and preprint take a look at this webinar recording Peer Review and Preprint Servers: an introduction.

Diana Petrowicz

Author: Diana Petrowicz

Diana Petrowicz is a Marketing Manager in the Sales Enablement team, based in the London office. Supporting the Sales and Account Development teams, she is enthusiastic about finding innovate ways to communicate with the library community and specialises in producing and writing case studies across the portfolio.