To get an idea of what it is like going through the peer review process as a paper’s author, I spoke to physicist Joe Goodwin, who recently had his first paper reviewed before publication in Nature Communications.
Q: How long did the reviewing process take, from submission to a published paper?
A: My paper in Nature Communications was first submitted in May, and was published in October. Half of that delay was at our end, but Nature Communications publishes so many hundreds of papers per year that everything takes a while.
Q: In your opinion are there any problems with the peer review process?
A: It has two serious flaws. Firstly, you don’t know who the reviewers are – which is good – but they do know who you are. People shouldn’t base their judgement on your past reputation, only on the quality of the work.
Secondly reviewers often work in the same field, and if they are competitors they can potentially drag out the review process enough to make sure they get their competing paper out at the same time or before.
Q: Did your paper get delayed by a rival?
A: No we didn’t, but it’s happened plenty of times to other people, sometimes in really high profile work too.
Q: Do you think it should be double blind then, so they don’t know who the author is?
A: Yes definitely double blind. I don’t see any argument against it that isn’t completely elitist.
Q: What about a transparency argument? So author and reviewer both know who the other one is. Could that reduce the incentive to obstruct papers?
A: I don’t agree with the transparency argument, the science should speak for itself. If anything the person submitting the paper should know who the reviewer is and not vice versa, but definitely not the other way round as it is now.
Q: Transparency is quite on trend at the moment, especially amongst supporters of open access publishing.
A: You should have transparency after the review process, but I really think people shouldn’t know whose work they are reviewing. Otherwise people just see a known name and are more likely to assume that the work is valid. Or on the other hand, rubbish a really good idea from an unknown person.