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Peer Review Week: An analysis of peer review style and quality

30 Sep, 15 | by Fay Pearson

This week celebrates the first ever Peer Review Week; a collaborative concept from ORCID, Wiley, Sense About Science and ScienceOpen, to highlight and celebrate the invaluable role peer review plays in scientific and medical publishing.

Here at BMJ Open we are, of course, advocates of open peer review and as such are pleased to be publishing a timely research article by our friends at Biomed Central.

The paper, from Maria Kowalczuk et al., is a retrospective analysis of the quality of referee reports from author-suggested and non-author-suggested reviewers in open or single blind peer review journals.

Their objective was to elucidate whether reviews from peers suggested by authors would show bias in quality and decision recommendation compared to reviewers selected by other means. They also aimed to assess whether open review vs. single blind review had an impact on quality and recommendation. To achieve this, the study looked at 200 reviewer reports submitted in 2010-2011 to BMC Microbiology, 200 submitted to BMC Infectious Diseases, and 400 that were submitted to the Journal of Inflammation, these journals use single blind peer review, open peer review and a combination of the two, due to policy change, respectively. Comparisons were made by assessing the quality of report (using the Review Quality Instrument), by analysing the editorial recommendation made, and with author surveys. After statistical analysis of the data, they could conclude that the reports from reviewers suggested by the authors were of comparable quality but were more likely to suggest publication.

They also conclude that the open peer review reports were of a slightly higher quality than those using single blind review. These findings are in line with those from the randomised trial conducted by The BMJ, after they became one of the first journals to use open peer review in 1999, and similar to another study by the British Journal of Psychiatry.

As BMJ Open is open access with fully open peer review, we are always happy to see further research demonstrating the success of this model.  As we use a combination of both author suggested and non-author suggested reviewers (with an in-house filtering process), we couldn’t help but agree when we spoke to the paper’s authors and they said the following,  ‘It is reassuring that reviewers suggested by the authors provided reports of as good quality as reviewers found by editors using other means. Author-suggested reviewers tended to recommend acceptance of the manuscript more often than other reviewers, which highlights the important role of the editor in making the final decision on the manuscript’ .

The full text of the paper, Retrospective analysis of the quality of reports by author-suggested and non-author-suggested reviewers in journals operating on open or single-blind peer review models– Kowalczuk et al., can be found here:

Forum 2015: Global Forum on Research and Innovation for Health

8 Sep, 15 | by Emma Gray

With the aim of identifying solutions to the world’s unmet health needs through research and innovation, Forum 2015 provided delegates with a unique global platform on which to present ideas for innovation in health and create partnerships for action.

The Council on Health Research for Development (COHRED) partnered with the Philippines for this event, which took place in August 2015, to allow stakeholders in development from around the world (including public, private and non-profit stakeholders) to set an agenda with the ultimate outcome of improving health, equity and socio-economic development in a sustainable way.

Understanding the importance of ongoing research and innovation in health is of growing importance, particularly with the impending 2015 Sustainable Development Goals. With over 4,000 registered delegates representing over 72 countries, this understanding was key to the programme, which featured not only the conference activities onsite in the Philippines but also an online discussion platform to encourage participation from those who were not able to attend in person.

A message from Benigno Simeon S. Aquino III, President of the Philippines, was delivered by Mario G. Montejo, Secretary of the Department of Science and Technology, commenting that this type of constant and pro-active vigilance from the global research community is what is needed to improve and secure the wellbeing of people all over the world, especially those in low- and middle-income countries.

BMJ Open is pleased to support this meeting by publishing Forum 2015 abstracts – all of which can be found online at: With topics ranging from e-health to music therapy and disaster response, there is likely to be something of interest to all professionals working in global health.

Readers may also be interested in the newly launched journal BMJ Global Health – an online, open access journal from the BMJ dedicated to publishing high-quality peer-reviewed content relevant to those involved in global health. Further information on this journal can be found here:

Open Access Week: the next generation

20 Oct, 14 | by sjohar

Open Access Week, a global event now entering its eighth year and running from the 20th – 26th October, is an opportunity for the academic and research community to continue to learn about the potential benefits of Open Access, to share what they’ve learned with colleagues, and to help inspire wider participation in helping to make Open Access a new norm in scholarship and research. BMJ Open takes a closer look at this year’s theme as announced by The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) – “Generation Open”. As explained by SPARC, this theme represents the role of the next generation of Open Access advocates, and also what impact any changes within scholarly publishing have upon the careers of scholars and researchers.

So why do we still need an annual Open Access Week? For a long time, establishing the rules and even the definition of Open Access remained an absolute necessity. The radical departure from traditional publishing models meant that early Open Access advocates had to face legitimate questions over the funding and sustainability of this business model, and address the possibility of its misuse (for example, in so-called ‘vanity publishing’). Such questions do, to a point, remain. Educating the publishing community about Open Access, however, has led to so much support that ideas including Open Access Week (and the Open Access Button) were able to flourish and garner a significant following of their own, enabling future generations to better inform others and build upon these foundations. In fact, the team behind the simple genius of the Open Access Button, where being unable to access a research article because of a paywall can be reported on, are/were largely students – how’s about that for ‘Generation Open’?!

At BMJ Open we welcome submissions from students as well as more established authors. We fully support Open Access Week and as such we’ve created a special landing page with some of our most read Open Access content and are offering a 15% discount on article publishing charges on all our fully open and hybrid titles between the 20th October and the 20th November.

Similarly, the shift by many publishers to Open Access continues unabated with hundreds of Open Access journals launched each year by several global publishers offering gold, green and hybrid Open Access options. Importantly, can and will government and institutional policy reflect this to also benefit future researchers who wish to make their work fully accessible? Well, policies introduced within the last few years are on their side. Relatively recent Open Access mandates from organisations such as Research Councils UK (with grant funding for gold Open Access) and the US government (with mandated deposition in public repositories, i.e. green Open Access) will no doubt be continually revised or perhaps even superseded to accommodate the needs of funders, researchers and publishers.

So, as we enter Open Access Week, what will the future hold for Open Access? Will the benefits still need espousing? Will we even need ‘advocates’ or will the foundations of the movement be so ingrained upon future researchers that the days of defending Open Access be reduced to just memories of a different era? Given initial, and, arguably, continuing scepticism, the fact that we are looking to the next generation of scholars to steer the Open Access movement forward is an achievement in itself. The future milestones they will reach and the innovations they will deliver have not yet been determined. Maybe the foundations will be laid at this year’s Open Access Week, but we wait with anticipation for where the next generation of Open Access leaders will take us.

And we will be ready to support them.

Special offer for Second Global Symposium on Health Services Research authors

15 Jun, 12 | by Richard Sands, Managing Editor


The Second Global Symposium on Health Services Research will take place in Beijing in October/November 2012.

We are delighted to announce that if you are a researcher whose work has been accepted for presentation at the symposium then you can receive a 25% discount on article-processing charges if you submit your manuscript to BMJ Open before 6 July 2012.

Just mention in your covering letter that your work has been accepted for presentation at the symposium and include the acceptance letter as a supplementary file.

Acceptance by BMJ Open will still be subject to satisfactory peer review. Full fee waivers remain available to authors where needed.

Exploring open access in higher education

27 Oct, 11 | by Richard Sands, Managing Editor


BMJ Open will be taking part in the The Guardian’s Higher Education Network’s live blog/debate tomorrow on Exploring open access in higher education.

Discussion kicks off at noon, BST and will run until 2 pm. There is a large panel, drawn from publishing, academia, industry and policy.

The event will ‘consider the various ways in which higher education can become – and is becoming – more open. We will consider what the challenges ahead might be and what policy shifts, as well as cultural shifts are needed’.

If you can’t follow the discussion then, you can leave a comment or question in advance. Comments made during the chat will be shared on Twitter. The hashtag is #HElivechat

Open Access Week is here

25 Oct, 11 | by Richard Sands, Managing Editor


BMJ Open is proudly sponsoring Open Access Week 2011.

A global event, now in its fifth year, Open Access Week promotes open access as a new norm in scholarship and research. The website currently lists 119 upcoming events so have a look to see what is happening near you or browse their back catalogue of presentations and videos.

BMJ Open is the BMJ Group’s latest involvement with open access publishing, following the BMJ’s long-standing commitment to making its research open access and our specialty journals’ well-established Unlocked programme.

All BMJ Open articles are open access under a Creative Commons licence. As well as Open Access Week, BMJ Open and the BMJ Group also supports the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA) and deposits all its open access content with PubMed Central.

Open roads and closed sessions

10 May, 11 | by Richard Sands, Managing Editor


A recent report on the next steps for increasing open access to UK research concluded that Green OA infrastructure (i.e. repositories) should be encouraged while an economically sustainable transition to Gold OA is worked through. 

‘Heading for the open road: costs and benefits of transitions in scholarly communications’ by CEPA and Mark Ware Consulting, was commissioned by the Research Information Network, the Wellcome Trust and others, and was released a few weeks ago.

The report assesses various ways to increase access to scholarly communications (i.e. journal articles) emanating from researchers based at UK institutions.

The authors produce a benefit—cost ratio for each scenario and discuss the relative risks, including risks to the publishing industry’s business models, acknowledging the value that the industry brings over and above the administration of peer review.

The report concludes that the most cost-effective scenario is the ‘delayed’ scenario, where articles are made freely available after an embargo period. As publishers retain control of this embargo period, subscription cancellations are thought to be less likely, and the set-up costs for such a transition are seen to be low. The embargo periods would quite probably be longer than preferred by funders, though, meaning that the idea is unlikely to gain traction. Another premise is that the preferred scenario should be one open to influence by public and funders’ policies, and the current run of mandates for repository deposition casts further doubt on this model’s success.

So the report concludes as follows.

‘[O]ur view is that the prudent stance for policy-makers seeking to promote access in the current environment is likely to be as follows:

to encourage the use of existing Green infrastructure [i.e. repositories] (whose costs are largely sunk);

but to be cautious about pushing for reductions in embargo periods to the point where the sustainability of the underlying publishing model is put at risk;
in parallel, to work to facilitate a transition to Gold OA (in specific disciplines first) provided that (i) the average level of APCs [article-processing charges] remain at or below £1,995; (ii) the proportion of articles funded through APCs moves broadly in line with global rates; and (iii) mechanisms are in place to ensure that total payments from UK universities and their funders do not rise as a consequence of this transition.’

In a reply posted in various parts of the blogosphere Green OA advocate Stevan Harnad has branded the second part of the report’s conclusions short-sighted, premature and mistaken. You can download the report, read his views and the response from RIN’s Michael Jubb, here.

In his response to Harnad, Jubb argues that ‘it is perverse not to recognise that the stakes are high for individual publishers and perhaps for the industry as a whole’. What is at stake was under discussion at the PA–ALPSP journal publishers’ forum on ‘Open access: the next 10 years’. The event was held under the Chatham House rule so comments can’t be attributed. There was a cautious approach, reflected in the session’s premises (‘Has the time come to turn the threat into an opportunity?’). There was a focus on: getting to grips with the current trajectory of public sector and funding bodies’ open access policies, rather than crystal-ball gazing to predict the state of play in a decade’s time; the rise of Green OA mandates; and the perceived need for a ‘compelling, coherent and above all positive story’ to tell about the value the scholarly publishing industry brings.

A more formal output is promised.