When Kevin Sinclair reported that 13 cloned sheep his lab had studied lived long and healthy lives1, he wanted to be as transparent as possible about what has been a controversial research area. Sinclair had invited journalists to see the sheep while the experiment was in progress at the University of Nottingham’s School of Biosciences in Loughborough, UK. And when his paper was published, in July 2016, he agreed that its peer-review reports should also be made public.
The developmental biologist was taking part in a trial by Nature Communications, in which the journal offered authors the option to have their reviews published. The goal was to find out whether scientists would see the practice as a way to make research more reliable and egalitarian — or as a needless nod to transparency that could harm peer review.
A few journals, such as PeerJ, the BMJ and F1000Research, already embrace open peer review in various different forms. Some forbid it. Other publishers and journals, including Nature Communications, are treating the practice as a frigid swimming pool: they are dipping their toes in the water, but are reluctant to plunge in.
So far, scientists seem willing to give open peer review a try. On 10 November, Nature Communications announced that around 60% of its authors in 2016 had agreed to have their reviews published, and that it would therefore continue to offer scientists the option — although would not make it mandatory. (Reviewers can choose to withhold their names, but cannot otherwise influence the process, besides decline to take part altogether in an ‘open review’ paper).
Meanwhile, an online survey funded by the European Commission (EC), which is not yet published, has found that more than half of its 3,062 respondents thought that open peer review should become routine, although they expressed …