Exposing pricks in the system: an argument for open peer review

Did you know that women, on average, co-author one less paper than men, just as on average, male doctoral students can probably run a mile race a bit faster than female doctoral students? … (and this is the kind of thing said in a research journal peer review report!)

The above factoid was given to Fiona Ingleby and her female co-author by an anonymous reviewer who rejected their paper. The reviewer suggested, among other vague and unhelpful comments, that they should get a man’s name on the manuscript to improve it. Ingleby outed the reviewer’s comments on Twitter, not to name and shame the journal but to highlight the problems with many world-wide journals peer review system.

For anyone with an ounce of common sense could argue the reason men co-author more than women is because women are oppressed since their genitals are not male. This is sexism.

Pushing sexism aside for a moment. Apologies were made, the reviewer removed from the list of reviewers and the editor asked to step down. And, in all this, researchers are again held to question the systems of peer review. Within the apology, the umbrella journal PLOS, said they would review their own system to ‘ensure that the process is fair and civil…working on new features to make the review process more open and transparent’ — and, referenced a paper from 2000, Walsh et al, ‘Open Peer Review: A Randomised Controlled Trial’. In the paper’s results they state the tone of ‘signed’ (open) reviewers ‘…were significantly more courteous and less abusive than unsigned reviews’.

What is open and closed peer review?

In very simple terms; in open review the comments of the reviewer are seen with the paper and in closed they are not.

[correction 10May15 …in open review you know who reviewed their paper, in closed it’s anonymous ; this originally insinuated ‘open’ to mean disclosure of reviewers’ names as well as having their comments known, which isn’t necessarily the case. Many thanks to Thomas Arildsen for his comment highlighting the issue and the link his great blog piece.]

Why do we have peer review?

It’s a fundamental form of crap detection.” — is the best quote I’ve heard, and it’s essentially to help researchers get the best out of their research with help of other researchers. (That referenced quote link is to a great pamphlet about peer review by the Science Media Centre)

Open review will not eliminate sexism but could improve reviewing 

Sadly, obviously sexism still exists in academia and changing to an open system will not eradicate those who feel having a penis in research is more important than having a clitoris. But what open reviewing can do is expose crap reviewers who are lazy and who can’t argue a decent logical point of view to help improve a research paper.

How Oxford Dictionaries defines PEER http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/peer

More on peer review systems and debates

If you’re interested in the facets of open review you can see them in a summary (Storify) I made after the Solo14 conference. As well as Nature Publishing Group have a Peer Review Debate of 22 articles of analyses and perspectives from leading scientists. Thomas Arildsen’s blog piece on Openness and Anonymity in Peer Review

More news blogs and articles on the sexism Peer Review Scandal:

AAAScienceMag Blog by Rachel BernStein

The Conversation article by Amber Griffiths


About Dr Jojo Scoble

Freelance Science Communicator. Microbiology PhD Oxon. Fiction Writer. Social Media dilettante. Ideas Factory.
This entry was posted in academia, peer review, sexism, Twitter and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Exposing pricks in the system: an argument for open peer review

    • Ha. thanks. It must be the UK election making me feisty.
      The peer system is a bit cloudy and, perhaps in extreme cases when peer review is bad like this the review – a stipulation should be made telling reviewers their name will be revealed in extreme cases of abuse, maybe that way they’ll think twice before making ignorant statements.


  1. This is a good post. It is important that we call attention to problems like these and propose solutions such as using open review. However, I think we should make a distinction between open and identified/onymous review. In my opinion, open is whether the review comments are open for anyone to read, while identified/onymous is whether the identity of the reviewer is disclosed: http://wp.me/p3Mxbj-T


    • Thank you for your comment. You make an excellent point and distinction between open and anonymous. It is worth noting that ‘open’ reviewing could be also online reviewers comments too. There are variations of the open system, and anonymity of reviewers can also be retained in an open online review system. The debate about peer review is complex. I’d like to see a system that perhaps requires reviewers to adhere to guidelines and even a three-strikes behaviour or misconduct policy, but then again we could be creating even murkier waters.
      We must keep experimenting.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have corrected the definition and quoted your lovely post too, thank you for pointing it out.


  3. Pingback: ביקורת עמיתים – עבר, הווה ועתיד | חשיבה חדה

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s