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Scientists are reluctant to join in with open peer review

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Nature’s authors and readers are reluctant to participate in an open peer-review process, according to a recent experiment carried out by the journal.

Between June and October last year, Nature invited authors of all newly-submitted papers that made it through the journal’s initial editorial assessment to have them available for public comment in parallel to the traditional peer-review process.

The authors of only 5 per cent of the papers – 71 in total – agreed to participate in the trial. The journal found a similar reluctance for readers to volunteer comments. While the trial received an average of 5,600 page-views per week and about the same for RSS feeds, only 92 technical comments were made in total, with 33 of the papers receiving no comments at all. And the comments themselves were not generally very useful to the editors. Only four comments were regarded as offering ‘major points in line with solicited reviewers’ comments’ and none ‘directly influenced publication over and above reviewers’ comments.’ Many simply made comments such as: ‘Nice work!’

Anecdotal comments and participant feedback suggest a number of reasons for the low response. There was a general sense of indifference to the trial from editors’ key contacts in their fields, while some authors were reluctant to take part due to fear of scooping and patent applications. Authors in very competitive areas were particularly reluctant to reveal their results before publication.