A new scholar’s perspective on open peer review

Responding to Peer Review in 2015: a global view

Maha BaliMaha Bali is an Associate Professor of Practice at the Center for Learning and Teaching at the American University in Cairo.

Responding to the Taylor & Francis survey on peer review inspired me to write my own article, arguing for open peer review. Coincidentally, I published my article in a Taylor & Francis journal, Teaching in Higher Education, and it came out just a few days before the results of the Taylor & Francis survey results were released.

I read both the white paper and the full results of the survey with interest, and noticed some patterns. For example, the overwhelming majority of respondents across disciplines and research roles (authors, reviewers and editors) were more comfortable with double-blind peer review. However, what I found quite interesting is that very few respondents had personally experienced open peer review as reviewer or author, and yet many had opinions on it. The mean score was around 5 out of 10, but the report indicates that opinions of individuals were not neutral; rather, many of the views were strong on either side of the debate. One reviewer from Lebanon supports open & published peer review and calls it “…the most transparent way of dealing with academic publication. It may put some pressure on the reviewer, but it also gives him/her credit, considering the amount of time spent serving the community.” This is a point I make in my own article.

One researcher from Hong Kong had a concern that open peer review “…may discourage junior researchers from posting daring questions of senior researchers’ work.” However, my experience with open peer review is that it tends to be more supportive and constructive, because, as a reviewer from Scotland suggests the “…the reputation of the reviewer is also at stake”.

I do, however, take the point of a UK researcher that they would be wary “…to offend a future employer or someone sitting on an interview panel by rejecting their paper.” – a risk you take with open peer review rather than double-blind.

In my own article, though, I argue that open peer review takes a different stance to traditional double- or single-blind peer review. Rather than seeking to gate keep scholarship, open peer review is focused on supporting authors to improve their work. According to the Taylor & Francis study, the majority of authors, reviewers and editors think the main function of peer review is to improve the quality of papers.

In open peer review, early career scholars writing papers, or reviewing the work of more senior colleagues, should not have the fears mentioned above: if the purpose of review is to improve someone’s paper, early career scholars will benefit from the direct interaction with the review in a similar manner that we benefited from a PhD supervisor’s help or an external examiner’s (less supportive, but still pedagogically oriented?) interrogation.

Similarly, a more senior scholar would be (hopefully) grateful for helpful comments by newer scholars, rather than offended by them. Having open/published review puts added responsibility on the reviewer’s shoulders as their name is included in the publication of the paper – it is a recognition of their scholarship and the work they put into improving the paper. While it is more difficult (though not impossible) to reject a paper under open peer review, this can be constructive: it means that early career researchers go through a supportive process of helping them improve their papers to a publishable quality – rather than going through rejections that do not necessarily provide supportive feedback to help them improve.

One more interesting finding of the Taylor & Francis study is that most researchers think peer review feedback should be returned to authors within two months, but that many authors in reality seem to get it within 3-6 months – and this does not even account for what happens over several rounds of peer reviews that can last a year or longer. My experience with open peer review is that it helps reduce this timeframe because lines of communication between author and reviewer are open. If one reviewer responds more quickly than the other, the author gets that feedback immediately rather than waiting for more. Moreover, authors can directly ask reviewers for clarifications without needing to go through the editor. All of this, in my experience, results in a potentially faster review process.

Read Maha Bali’s article in Teaching in Higher Education
Explore the survey results and focus group findings on peer review in Peer review in 2015: a global view

Maha Bali is an Associate Professor of Practice at the Center for Learning and Teaching at the American University in Cairo, and holds a PhD in Education from the University of Sheffield in the UK. She is a columnist and editor at the journal Hybrid Pedagogy (which is open access and uses open peer review), an editorial board member of the Journal of Pedagogic Development (which is open access and uses double-blind peer review), and an editorial board member of Learning, Media & Technology (which is subscription-based and uses double-blind peer review). She is co-founder of virtuallyconnecting.org and edcontexts.org.