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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Views on the peer review system of biomedical journals: an online survey of academics from high-ranking universities

Roger Chun-Man Ho1, Kwok-Kei Mak2*, Ren Tao13, Yanxia Lu1, Jeffrey R Day4 and Fang Pan5

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Psychological Medicine, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore, Singapore

2 Department of Community Medicine and School of Public Health, Faculty of Medicine, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

3 Department of Medicine, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore, Singapore

4 Faculty of Education, University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, Hong Kong

5 Institute of Medical Psychology, School of Medicine, Shandong University, China

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BMC Medical Research Methodology 2013, 13:74  doi:10.1186/1471-2288-13-74

Published: 7 June 2013

Abstract

Background

Peer review is the major method used by biomedical journals for making the decision of publishing an article. This cross-sectional survey assesses views concerning the review system of biomedical journals among academics globally.

Methods

A total of 28,009 biomedical academics from high-ranking universities listed by the 2009 Times Higher Education Quacquarelli Symonds (THE-QS) World University Rankings were contacted by email between March 2010 and August 2010. 1,340 completed an online survey which focused on their academic background, negative experiences and views on biomedical journal peer review and the results were compared among basic scientists, clinicians and clinician scientists.

Results

Fewer than half of the respondents agreed that the peer review systems of biomedical journals were fair (48.4%), scientific (47.5%), or transparent (25.1%). Nevertheless, 58.2% of the respondents agreed that authors should remain anonymous and 64.4% agreed that reviewers should not be disclosed. Most, (67.7%) agreed to the establishment of an appeal system. The proportion of native English-speaking respondents who agreed that the “peer review system is fair” was significantly higher than for non-native respondents (p = 0.02). Similarly, the proportion of clinicians stating that the “peer review system is fair” was significantly higher than that for basic scientists and clinician-scientists (p = 0.004). For females, (β = −0.1, p = 0.03), the frequency of encountering personal attacks in reviewers’ comments (β = −0.1, p = 0.002) and the frequency of imposition of unnecessary references by reviewers (β = −0.06, p = 0.04) were independently and inversely associated with agreement that “the peer review system is fair”.

Conclusion

Academics are divided on the issue of whether the biomedical journal peer review system is fair, scientific and transparent. A majority of academics agreed with the double-blind peer review and to the establishment of an appeal system. Female academics, experience of personal attacks and imposition of unnecessary references by reviewers were related to disagreement about fairness of the peer review system of biomedical journals.

Keywords:
Academics; Peer review; Biomedical journal; Online survey