Although I welcome the ‘guided open access’ option being adopted by the Nature family of journals (see Nature 588, 19–20; 2020), I have serious ethical concerns about it in the short and medium term.
These go beyond the commonly voiced financial and organizational problems, such as how to get funders on board or how reviews can be transferred to other publishers. For example, given that most manuscripts are rejected without review, wealthy authors or disciplines might use the guided option to buy their way into the process. In a world where slots in highly influential journals are limited, positive reviews of manuscripts that might otherwise be rejected could disadvantage those unable to afford the guided option, and make selection of non-guided manuscripts harder.
Moreover, what would happen if the success of guided open access were to cause a sudden flood of reviewing requests from Nature journals? Potential reviewers might not react well to participating for free, knowing that authors are paying for the chance to have their manuscript reviewed. Incentives for reviewers beyond serving the scientific community might be necessary. Such incentives, together with the opportunity to review high-flying manuscripts, could affect the dynamics of the finite pool of reviewers by diverting reviewers from other journals. The net result could be control of the peer-review process by a few important publishers.
Nature 590, 36 (2021)