Under pressure from both researchers and consumers of research, the practice of peer review is changing and new models are proliferating. Recently, the International Association of Scientific Technical and Medical Publishers (STM), a major academic publishing association (representing academic societies, commercial publishers, and scholarly publishing organizations), has made an effort to categorize these disparate models, which resulted in a draft from their Working Group on Peer Review Taxonomy. This comment emerged as a response to their call for feedback to that proposal.
Policymakers and the public at large have pressing needs for new scientific evidence to support timely decisions. The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically increased pressure on scientists and scholarly publishers to produce and communicate emerging research even as budgets rapidly constrict. In response to this pressure, many scientific results are being disseminated through accelerated channels as preprints and working papers, or through accelerated review or invited symposia conducted by established scholarly journals. The review processes employed across and within these venues varies substantially, for example in terms of who conducts the review, the time elapsed, what text and materials are reviewed, and the criteria employed.
To make timely evidence-based decisions, scientists and non-scientists alike need to be able to understand how an emerging result has been vetted — whether that result is disseminated in the form of a preprint, working-paper, news article, or journal article. Information about the vetting process for a specific publication or general publishing venue remains difficult to find, daunting to compare at scale, and impossible for anyone (with the possible exception of a journal’s editorial board) to fully assess. Both policymakers and the scientific community need better views into practices for vetting scientific communication, and into how these are evolving. Obtaining a better view will require systematic, comparable, and scalable methods of describing peer review. This need has notably inspired the development of the Transpose database of journal policies on open peer review, co-reviewing, and preprinting; and the Doc Maps framework for representing the review and editorial process underlying research objects.