As the practices of the academic community evolve, so should a healthy scrutiny of the working of the system of peer review, which remains the principal means to establish confidence in the scholarly literature. As the filtering mechanism that sustains trust and quality assurance, the critical element that sets scholarly literature apart from mere discourse, so its effectiveness, fairness, sustainability, and cost-efficiency merit challenge and debate. We at the Publishing Research Consortium (PRC) see our role as providing evidence to support the debate, and our latest survey into opinions and attitudes to peer review was designed with this in mind. We also wanted to be able to analyze trends in relation to earlier surveys.
Perhaps surprisingly, this survey concludes that satisfaction with, and broad support for, peer review has remained stable from previous surveys. There is a continuing preference for conventional, pre-publication, single or double blind peer review, and this preference applies to both authors and reviewers, with open peer review ranking significantly behind. But the desire to see improvements in specific areas is increasing, with some variability between subject communities in support for alternative types of peer review.
Although the burden on peer reviewers remains significant, participation in peer review is seen as an important contribution to the community and reciprocating the work of others. The effectiveness of peer review is ranked highest for improving the quality of published papers, but the belief is growing that peer review should also be able to detect fraud and plagiarism.
Overall, the degree of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with peer review does not vary predictably with demographic factors like geographic region, subject discipline or age/seniority of researcher. There is no simple pattern that differentiates support, and the survey does not identify criticism of peer review as being significantly greater among younger researchers or those from non-Western countries.
So, although the overall picture has evolved somewhat from earlier surveys, support for conventional peer review has remained remarkably stable. However there are tensions to resolve and clearly further evolution in the system is required. On the one hand there is considerable pressure for peer review to happen faster, but research authors also value quality, constructive review. There is movement to reduce the potential for bias or fraud in the system, but consensus on how best to achieve that has yet to emerge.
The Publishing Research Consortium (PRC) is a group of associations and publishers that support occasional research into issues that impact scholarly communication. Analysis and report on the data from this survey was commissioned by PRC from Mark Ware. The survey instrument was constructed to enable longitudinal comparison with two previous surveys: by Mark Ware for PRC in 2007 and by Sense About Science in 2009. Ware also compares his conclusions with a third survey by Taylor & Francis in 2015. To add context and depth to the quantitative analysis, the survey report includes many verbatim (free text) responses, chosen to be consistent with the overall views of the whole sample but offering some suggestion of where the system might evolve. The Publishing Research Consortium Peer Review Survey 2015 is available from publishingresearchconsortium.com, with a CC-BY-NC-ND license.