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Opening up Peer Review

The question of “what is open peer review” is a fairly new topic. It is now a little over four years since MDPI first started to offer an option for open peer review, as announced on this blog and in the journal Life. We have recently taken a look at the popularity of this feature, the results of we found very encouraging. In short, a large percentage of papers are published with their review reports. In fact, it has proven so popular that we have decided to make open peer review an option for all MDPI journals.

What is open peer review?

Up until now, 14 MDPI journals employ the open peer review option. This means that authors get the choice as to whether the review reports should be published (open reports) and reviewers have the choice to have their name on their published report (open identity). If the authors decide to publish the reports, the review reports and author responses are available on the article abstract page. The following is a list of journals that have used open peer review to date (% of papers with open reports in brackets):

Publications (60%)
Dentistry (52%)
Medical Sciences (51%)
Quantum Beam Science (48%)
Life (46%)
Brain Sciences (44%)
J (43%)
Behavioral Sciences (41%)
Economies (40%)
Cosmetics (39%)
Administrative Sciences (38%)
Condensed Matter (37%)
Animals (34%)
Atoms (33%)

For participating journals, after a total of over 2000 eligible papers:

  • 41% of authors chose the open peer review option.
  • None of the journals had less than 32% of authors choosing open reports.
  • In three journals, over half of authors chose open reports.
  • 23% of papers published in open peer review journals had at least one review with an open identity.

What is open peer review in the context of our journals?

We have not seen much change to the figures over time, which suggests that there is not a growing shift towards open peer review but that a large number of authors are already in favor of more openness.

We emphasize that the MDPI model for open review does not mean that all review reports will be made public, instead authors can choose to keep them confidential. It also does not mean that reviewers are forced to waive their anonymity: reports will be published anonymously if they prefer. We acknowledge that there are a variety of reasons for either of these cases and want to maintain flexibility. While a paper is under review it will still follow a single or double blind process: the authors will not know the identity of the reviewer until after publication (if at all); review reports will only be made public if and when the paper is published. For rejected papers, no information about the review process will be made public and the authors will not know the identity of the reviewers.

The aim of our approach is to give a balance between transparency, and respecting the privacy of authors and reviewers.

Why open peer review?

By adding more openness to the peer review process, we expect to see the following benefits:

Greater transparency and trust

By providing readers with a window into the editorial decision-making process.

Encourage high quality comments

Since reviewers and editors are aware that the comments may be published.

Credit for reviewers

In addition to other incentives, open identities offer a way to directly show their contribution.

We have received great support from Editors-in-Chief while we look to implement this feature. A concern during the early implementation phase was whether having the possibility for their comments to be published would put off reviewers. We have not seen this, and it appears that reviewers are more focused on the content of the paper and helping the authors.

MDPI’s mission is to communicate research effectively. By adding additional transparency, we are seeking to be more accountable to the research communities that we serve.

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