When Open Peer Review covers scientific misconduct or… “The Purloined letter” of citation manipulation

On the 14th of June, 1974, Nature published a piece entitled “In defence of the anonymous referee”. It came as a a time when this anonymity was being questioned in limited but harsh debates. Referring to then recent works which underlined “reviewer bias,” critics stressed the extent to which anonymity contributed towards such bias, the discovery of which had a more wide-ranging consequence: it undermined confidence in the entire evaluation process1. Facing such criticisms, Nature reaffirmed the actual good will of reviewers and that anonymity allowed room for strong but well-founded criticism before concluding:

The tradition of depersonalisation in the assesment of manuscripts has, we believe, served scientific communinication well. There are obviously flaw in the system, but radical steps to remove these flaws might remove instead a lot which is good.

In the last 45 years, and especially in the last decade, Open peer review (OPR) has gained some supporters, would it be to prevent conflict of interest, to implement a vision of the scientific debate in communities or to get along the trend to transparency within the production of scholarly knowledge. But this increased interest in OPR has led to the implementation of multiple schemes in journals, to the point where it is difficult to know what a journal is actullaly implementing when it states using OPR. In a remarkable article, Tony Ross-Hellauer clarified the notion, distinguishing and naming separable practices2. We have selected the four most frequent ones here:

  1. Open identities: Authors and reviewers are aware of each other’s identity
  2. Open reports: Review reports are published alongside the relevant article.
  3. Open participation: The wider community are able to contribute to the review process.
  4. Open interaction: Direct reciprocal discussion between author(s) and reviewers, and/or between reviewers, is allowed and encouraged.

  1. Pontille, David, and Didier Torny. “The blind shall see! the question of anonymity in journal peer review.” Ada (2014). []
  2. Tony Ross-Hellauer. “What is open peer review? A systematic review.” F1000Research 6 (2017). []

The coming of age of Open Access (II) or… How embargoes survived for decades.

This is supposed to be simple: just take your document, put it on your website and everyone has access to it.

“Self-Archiving: First, scholars need the tools and assistance to deposit their refereed journal articles in open electronic archives, a practice commonly called, self-archiving. When these archives conform to standards created by the Open Archives Initiative, then search engines and other tools can treat the separate archives as one. Users then need not know which archives exist or where they are located in order to find and make use of their contents. ”

The bizarre world of Copyright transfer or… A contract is a contract is a contract

To the non academic reader: you are going to discover one of the oddities of academic publishing. To the academic reader: you should know all this stuff, but then, why isn’t it fixed?

The academic world is just like any other social world: it has its secrets, its dark corners, the things we sweep under the carpet. But it also has, in full light an incredible practice summed up below in 4 consecutive points.
1/ Despite being employees of a university, a research institution or public servants, almost all academcis own their written signed works (articles, chapters, books, communications…).
2/ Academics usually give that property away, with no financial retribution for their work, to publishers
3/ To do so, they sign “contracts” such as “exclusive licence” or “copyright transfer form”
4/ Then, the access to this publisher-owned content is sold back to authors’ intitutions, at a rapidly rising price.