Point of view: Making the most of peer review

November 11, 2015 | Nikolai Slavov

The scientific community spends a significant amount of time on the peer review of manuscripts submitted to journals. Many of the referee reports written during this process contain insights, comments, suggestions and questions that help authors to improve their manuscripts. However, with the exception of a small number of journals, these reports are only ever seen by the authors of the manuscript and the editors of the journal. I read referee reports when they are available, and I find them to be very helpful. Hiding them is an enormous waste.

Before journals moved onto the Web in the 1990s, anyone who wanted to comment on a published paper had to publish another paper in response, a process taking many months or even years. Some journals had special sections for short articles that challenged papers published in the journal, but many of these journals seemed reluctant to publish such challenges (and they took a long time to publish those challenges that were accepted for publication). Over the past decade, however, researchers have turned to other platforms to comment on and criticize papers that have been published in journals. These platforms include blogs and third-party websites such as PubMed Commons and PubPeer. A number of journals also allow readers to post comments at the end of articles.

As with referee reports, I often read blogs and comments and find many—but not all—of them helpful. However, just as the scientific community is failing to take full advantage of the time and expertise that goes into referee reports, I feel that we are also failing to take advantage of the possibilities offered by post-publication comments on papers; indeed, many legitimate comments remain ignored by authors, journals and universities (PubPeer, 2014). By neglecting these comments we are missing an opportunity to reduce the time and resources that are spent trying to repeat and build on experiments that are not reproducible (Freedman et al., 2015).

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