Editorial | Published:

Peer review on trial

    Naturevolume 441page668 (2006) | Download Citation

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    Introducing two Nature initiatives.

    This publication champions the value of editorially driven or editorially selected content. But we are always keen to try new things, and we are now experimenting around the edges of that principle, to make the most of online interactivity.

    In recent months we have started attaching blogs to every daily news item on our news@nature.com website; see, for example, a debate on the ‘missing link’ Tiktaalik roseae (http://blogs.nature.com/news/blog/2006/04/ the_fish_that_crawled_out_of_t.html).

    Blogs are unlikely to replace journalism, but are probably here to stay as a valuable complement. Less certain is the outcome of a trial that we launch this week: a test of a particular type of open peer review. The trial is accompanied by a general online debate about peer review; see http://www.nature.com/nature/peerreview/index.html.

    During the trial, which will last several months, Nature's traditional approach to peer review will continue: typically, we send selected submissions to two or three experts whose identities are kept confidential. We believe that this approach works well. Meanwhile, over the next few weeks, the web debate will explore other approaches, as well as the potential for online techniques to unpack the various functions of conventional journals, the ethics of peer review, and more.

    “Our online trial opens up a parallel track of peer review for submitted papers for authors willing to go down that route.”

    Our online trial opens up a parallel track of peer review for submitted papers for authors willing to go down that route. The traditional process will still be applied to all submissions selected for peer review. But we will also offer to post the submitted manuscript onto an open website. Anyone can then respond to it by posting online comments, provided they are willing to sign them. Once Nature's editors have received all the comments from their solicited confidential reviewers, the open website will cease to take comments, and all the opinions will be considered by the editors as well as the authors.

    The open procedure will only be applied to the first version of a manuscript. Once a manuscript has been accepted or rejected, the editor will privately assess the value of each open contribution.

    The trial will run for several months. Once all final decisions on the relevant manuscripts have been reached, we will conduct an aggregated assessment of the comments received as well as the work required to do justice to them. We will report the result in these pages, and consider whether our peer-review procedures should be adapted appropriately. We expect any changes to be complementary to our existing processes, not a replacement.

    We use the word ‘trial’ rather than ‘experiment’ advisedly. An experiment would set out to establish the fundamental benefits and disadvantages of this approach to open peer review. We do not claim such grand ambitions. We simply want to suck it and see, and a survey of recent authors has demonstrated enough interest in the idea to make such a trial worthwhile.

    Any paper that we post on our open website for comments will of course be fair game for public access and for journalists. Prior media coverage will not endanger their acceptance. But journalists will be aware that papers not subjected to peer review carry their own risks.

    Here, as in other ways, Nature and its publishers are exploring and expanding our opportunities online. But our core goal remains as always: to bring our readers the most stimulating content that our editorial skills can deliver.

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    https://doi.org/10.1038/441668a

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