A transparent process to publish referees’ reports could benefit science, but not all researchers want their assessments made available.
When Nature asks experts to review manuscripts for possible publication, we promise that the reports they send back will be kept confidential. But should we? This week we publish a Comment article that comes with a provocative challenge: more journal editors should commit to publishing peer-review reports. Doing so, the authors argue, benefits science. It puts published work in useful context and helps junior scientists to understand how review works.
Nature and the Nature research journals have long welcomed suggestions to make peer review work better for the communities we serve. In 2016, Nature Communications started to publish referee reports — with names removed — as long as the authors of the papers agreed.
The reaction has been instructive. For one, it demonstrated that authors in specific fields of the life sciences are more likely to welcome such openness. Take-up from those in other disciplines, including many in the physical sciences, has been much slower. In fact, Nature Communications lost several reliable reviewers in chemistry when the referees were told their unsigned reviews would be made public if the author opted for it. They resented not having a say in the process, and felt that their reports would have little value outside the small intended audience.