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Advancing peer review at BMC

Peer review is central to the publishing process and has a fundamental role to play in maintaining the integrity of the published literature and advancing discovery. 

At BMC, we have always supported innovation in peer review and were one of the first publishers to truly open up peer review in 1999. We are leading on new initiatives to further develop peer review, and suggest ways to improve the process in this report. In keeping with BMC’s commitment to research in progress, we are partnering with PEERE a trans-disciplinary, cross-sectorial collaboration aiming to improve peer review. 

We also publish a dedicated journal Research Integrity and Peer Review which publishes research into peer review. Where we can make a difference we will, piloting new approaches and partnering with others. Here are some of our initiatives currently underway, if you have ideas or feedback on how we can continue to improve peer review, please contact us

Peer review initiatives

Models of peer review

  • Open peer review
  • Transparent peer review 
  • Double-blind peer review

​​​​​​​Innovative approaches

  • Patient peer review 
  • Registered Reports 
  • Results-free review
  • Automated peer review 
  • Re-review opt out
  • Portable peer review within and between publishers 
  • Expedited peer review 

Recognition for peer review

  • Publons
  • Reviewer acknowledgements

Models of peer review

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Open peer review


Open peer review as practised by BMC, specifically refers to open identities and open content, i.e. authors know who the reviewers are and if the manuscript is accepted for publication the named reviewer reports accompany the published article. Over 70 BMC journals have adopted open peer review including all medical journals in the BMC series of journals (including BMC Medicine) and a number of other journals with academic Editor(s)-in-Chief (Biology Direct, Environmental Health, Trials and many more). Open peer review facilitates accountability and recognition, and may help in training early career researchers about the peer review process. Read more about the benefits here.

Transparent peer review


Transparent peer review is a model of peer review where the reviewer report content (but not the reviewer names) accompany publication of the article. This increases the transparency of the review process allowing the reading public to see the reviewers’ feedback. In some cases, additional editorial information may be shared, e.g. editorial decision letters and the reviewers’ names (if reviewers wish to sign their reports). Genome Biology is conducting a trial into transparent peer review and you can read more about this here

Double-blind peer review


Double-blind peer review is a model of peer review which reduces bias by allowing reviewers to judge the manuscript based on content alone, un-biased by knowledge of who the authors are. BMC offers double-blind peer review  on some biology and medical titles with academic Editor(s)-in-Chief (Journal of Venomous Animals and Toxins including Tropical Diseases, European Review of Aging and Physical Activity, Archives of Physiotherapy, Neurovascular Imaging, Journal of Physiological Anthropology and World Allergy Organization Journal).

Innovative approaches

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Patient peer review


Reflecting the important role that patients and the public play in research, BMC announced the launch of Research Involvement and Engagement, an interdisciplinary, health and social care journal focussing on patient and wider involvement and engagement in research, at all stages. The journal is entirely co-produced by all key stakeholders, including patients, academics, policy makers and service users. All articles within Research Involvement and Engagement are overseen by a patient and academic Editor pair, and are reviewed by at least two academics and two patients. You can read more about the rationale for the journal here.  

Registered Reports


A Registered Report is an article format in which the rationale for a study and the proposed methodology - the “study protocol” - are pre-registered with the journal and submitted for peer review before the research takes place (and data are collected). If the reviewers are satisfied that the research question is well-framed, and the methodology is appropriate, then the “Registered Report” is accepted in principle irrespective of the outcomes of the study. This approach reduces publication bias. A range of journals facilitate the peer review of Registered Reports at BMC including BMC Biology (see editorial), BMC Ecology (see blog) and BMC Medicine (see announcement). 

Results-free review


Results-free review is a model of peer review initiated by BMC Psychology. This involves blinding the editors and reviewers to the results of a completed study, and, (similar to Registered Reports), focuses the editorial decisions on the rationale and methods alone. However, the key difference is that the final outcomes (including data) are already known, they are just withheld initially from the peer reviewers so as not to bias the peer review process. If the manuscript (excluding results and discussion) is accepted for publication, peer review of the entire manuscript subsequently takes place to ensure the results and conclusions do not deviate unjustifiably from the research question and methodology. Read more about this model here

Re-review opt out


BMC Biology offers a solution for authors to avoid multiple rounds of re-review, by allowing authors to decide whether their manuscript should be seen again by reviewers after revision or for the Editors to make the final editorial decision. The rationale for this editorial policy is given here and for further information on how the initiative is progressing see here

Automated peer review


BMC is piloting with StatReviewer, a software programme that uses text mining and machine learning to assess basic statistical reporting and adherence to relevant reporting guidelines, which works alongside real peer reviewers. Three BMC journals are involved in part one of the pilot, Trials, Critical Care, and Arthritis Research and Therapy, the results of which will be available soon, and discussions are currently underway for part two. Read more about this pilot here

Portable peer review within and between publishers


To enhance the efficiency of the peer review process (for authors, peer reviewers and editors), BMC facilitates portable peer review wherever possible both within BMC and between other publishers or third parties. BMC welcomes submissions of manuscripts originally peer reviewed by the Peerage of Science community initiative. A number of journals within the ecology and evolutionary biology fields are involved including for example BMC Biology, BMC Evolutionary Biology and Frontiers in Zoology. BMC will also consider manuscripts which have been rejected by other journals on interest grounds, for example, following peer review by eLIFE (read more on the rationale for portability here). BMC is also a member of the Neuroscience Peer Review Consortium where authors are able to transfer manuscripts between participating journals with accompanying reviewer reports if they wish.

Expedited peer review


The Editors of Epigenetics & Chromatin recognise that scientifically sound, high quality manuscripts are often turned away from broad-scope "high-impact" journals based on the issue of "general interest." As a specialist journal, Epigenetics & Chromatin will consider rapid publication of such manuscripts if they are submitted together with the original peer reviewer reports, letter of rejection, and a brief rebuttal of the reviewers’ comments. 

Recognition for peer review

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Reviewer acknowledgements


Peer reviewers are fundamental to the peer review process and at BMC we recognise their vital role by publishing annual reviewer acknowledgements (e.g. see here). We are actively exploring other ways in which we can recognise reviewers for their contribution. 

Publons


BMC (as part of Springer Nature) has also partnered with Publons a service that seamlessly tracks, verifies and showcases peer review activity across all of the world’s journals, allowing reviewers to showcase their activity.

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