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Updates from Europe PMC, a global database of life sciences literature

Europe PMC team

 | 10 June 2015


A step towards open peer review

Peer review is
the cornerstone of how we decide what research to publish. As currently
implemented, it generally consists of two or three referees giving anonymous
comments on a research article prior to publication … or … rejection. Much
has been written about the failings of this process (a very small sample of
illustrative references are given below). A few brave new journals are
exploring new models of peer review, driving more openness, notable examples
being the BMJ and F1000 Research, while software and standards that enable
comments on web pages make post-publication peer review technically possible.
Why then, given decades of both grumbling and discussion, do we still cling to
a process that was invented for a different technological era? Open and post
publication peer review represents a sea change in behaviour across a
community: we are a conservative lot and this will not happen fast, which is
probably for the good as not everything about peer review is wrong.
of the issues at the heart of the matter is that peer review is something that
every researcher spends time doing, for which they receive no credit, in spite of
the generally agreed opinion that it is a Good Thing. The lack of credit is
exacerbated by the culture of anonymity that surrounds peer review – how can
you be credited publicly for something that can only be seen by a handful of
Image Shutterstock 284306789
Publons: a start-up that aims to help
researchers get credit for peer review (ref.
Wikipedia). They have quite
nimbly navigated the complexities of anonymity and credit by putting you, the
user, in control of how much to reveal of yourself as a reviewer. By sending
Publons the acknowledgement email received on completion of a review, Publons
adds a note that you have reviewed for that journal in a given year – which
suits classic-style anonymous reviews. If you wish, you can upload the review
you wrote, make it public (unless the journal forbids it), and link it to your
profile. Publons assigns points for each review, so the more reviews you
register, and the more open you get, the higher your score. As yet, the review
stubs are not pushed to ORCID, although you can use ORCID to log in and display
your ORCID iD on your Publons profile page. See Alex Bateman’s profile as a
nice example:

the Europe PMC External Links Service*, there are now almost 40,000 links from
articles in Europe PMC to reviews on Publons. While open pre-publication
reviews are still only available in a minority of cases (see for example:,
the framework is nevertheless there to build on this more open behaviour. We
except the number of available reviews to grow as Publons partners with
publishers, reviewers get bolder, and post-publication options are used.
one grumble (there had to be one somewhere): browsing the reviewers on the
Publons website, the gender balance, or lack of it, is striking. I counted only
~6 women in the top 100 reviewers. Whether this is an artefact of the early
adopters of Publons or indicative of deeper bias in the peer review system,
more openness can only inform.
*The Europe PMC
External Links Service was launched
in 2013 and is a mechanism for people to publish links from articles in Europe
PMC to related information or tools. The service has enabled articles on Europe
PMC to be enriched with links to content as varied as data, press releases, and
article full text (where it’s not already held by Europe PMC).
All of our
External Links providers can be discovered by using our
advanced search page – the field
at the bottom of the form. You can find out more about the Europe PMC External
Links Service and how to get involved
Contributed by Jo McEntyre (@jomcentyre) and Anna Kinsey.

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