The Open Reviews Debate

The point-counter-point articles by Karim Khan and Trish Groves published on November 2010 caught my attention when the latter tweeted a link to her side of the story a couple of days ago:!/trished/status/53044806108188672

At the outset of this post, let me make one thing clear: I know that open peer review is a good thing, and I support it. In fact, in the few medical student journals I review for, I always sign my name and provide an email address and express my wish to make the reviews open (if they aren’t already).

And yet, I think that Dr. Khan here has a valid point: reviewing frankly from behind the veil of anonymity. Whilst it may sound like a bad thing on the first look, it isn’t totally a lost cause. It specifically looks into the fact how junior scientists would look upon refutable papers by senior scientists. The principle of “do unto others as you would that they do unto you” could be, for once, a barrier in getting honest reviews.

But then again, I am a strong believer in Prof. Richard Smith’s version of the peer review story. Whilst it is, admittedly, a very sorry state of affairs, peer review may still be revived if it is thrown open. People would be forced to be more honest and forthcoming, be more accountable in their criticism, and also, it would eliminate the system of ragging on another scientist’s paper from behind the veil of anonymity.

We must remember we live in a world where Andrew Wakefield’s papers get through. The failure of the peer review system to identify fraud is shown in every post of the Retraction Watch blog. Maybe by throwing it open, more people were liable to be held accountable for the opinions, and hence be more careful in dishing it out.

Interestingly, the new BMJ group journal, the BMJ Open has opted for a completely open peer review process right from the very inception of the journal. I believe a detailed study into how peer reviewers act over a long period of time would be the best way to end this debate. Or at least lend one side with more evidence in favor of their arguments.

Anyways. It is an interesting debate, and both sides have got valid arguments to support their cases. Which side are you batting for? There can be no sitting on the fence on this one!


1. BMJ 2010; 341:c6425

2. BMJ 2010; 341:c6424

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