- Open identities: Authors and reviewers are aware of each other's identity.
- Open reports: Review reports are published alongside the relevant article (rather than being kept confidential).
- Open participation: The wider community (and not just invited reviewers) are able to contribute to the review process.
These modifications are supposed to address various perceived shortcomings of the traditional scholarly peer review process, in particular its lack of transparency, lack of incentives, and wastefulness.
Open peer review may be defined as "any scholarly review mechanism providing disclosure of author and referee identities to one another at any point during the peer review or publication process". Then reviewer's identities may or may not be disclosed to the public. This is in contrast to the traditional peer review process where reviewers remain anonymous to anyone but the journal's editors, while authors' names are disclosed from the beginning.
Open peer review may be defined as making the reviewers' reports public, instead of disclosing them to the article's authors only. This may include publishing the rest of the peer review history, i.e. the authors' replies and editors' recommendations. Most often, this concerns only articles that are accepted for publication, and not those that are rejected.
Open peer review may be defined as allowing self-selected reviewers to comment on an article, rather than (or in addition to) having reviewers who are selected by the editors. This assumes that the text of the article is openly accessible. The self-selected reviewers may or may not be screened for their basic credentials, and they may contribute either short comments or full reviews.
Adoption by publishers
These publishers and journals operate various types of open peer review:
Peer review at The BMJ, BioMed Central, EMBO, eLife, ReScience C, and the Semantic Web journal involves posting the entire pre-publication history of the article online, including not only signed reviews of the article, but also its previous versions and in some cases names of handling editors and author responses to the reviewers. Furthermore, eLife plans to publish the reviews not only for published articles, but also for rejected articles.
Sci, an open access journal which covers all research fields, adapted a post publication public peer-review (P4R) in which it promised authors immediate visibility of their manuscripts on the journal's online platform after a brief and limited check of scientific soundness and proper reporting and against plagiarism and offensive material; the manuscript is rendered open for public review by the entire community.
Open peer review of preprints
Some platforms, including some preprint servers, facilitate open peer review of preprints.
- In 2019, the preprint server BioRxiv started allowing posting reviews alongside preprints, in addition to allowing comments on preprints. The reviews can come from journals or from platforms such as Review Commons.
- In 2020, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the platform Outbreak Science Rapid PREreview was launched in order to perform rapid open peer review of preprints related to emerging outbreaks. The platform initially worked with preprints from medRxiv, bioRxiv and arXiv.
Advantages and disadvantages
Open identities have been argued to incite reviewers to be "more tactful and constructive" than they would be if they could remain anonymous, while however allowing authors to accumulate enemies who try to keep their papers from being published or their grant applications from being successful.
Open peer review in all its forms has been argued to favour more honest reviewing, and to prevent reviewers from following their individual agendas.
An article by Lonni Besançon et al. has also argued that open peer review helps evaluate the legitimacy of manuscripts that contain editorial conflict of interests; the authors argue that the COVID-19 pandemic has spurred many publishers to open up their review process, increasing transparency in the process.
In an experiment with 56 research articles accepted by the Medical Journal of Australia in 1996–1997, the articles were published online together with the peer reviewers' comments; readers could email their comments and the authors could amend their articles further before print publication. The investigators concluded that the process had modest benefits for authors, editors and readers.
Some studies have found that open identities lead to an increase in the quality of reviews, while other studies find no significant effect.
Open peer review at BMJ journals has lent itself to randomized trials to study open identity and open report reviews. These studies did not find that open identities and open reports significantly affected the quality of review or the rate of acceptance of articles for publication, and there was only one reported instance of a conflict between authors and reviewers ("adverse event"). The only significant negative effect of open peer review was "increasing the likelihood of reviewers declining to review".
In some cases, open identities have helped detect reviewers' conflicts of interests.
Open participation has been criticised as being a form of popularity contest in which well known authors are more likely to get their manuscripts reviewed than others. However, even with this implementation of Open Peer Reviews, both authors and reviewers acknowledged that Open Reviews could lead to a higher quality of reviews, foster collaborations and reduce the "cite-me" effect.
According to a 2020 Nature editorial, experience from Nature Communications negates the concerns that open reports would be less critical, or would require an excessive amount of work from reviewers.
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