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Open peer review: what is it and what is UCL Press doing?

Kirsty28 October 2022

Guest post from Ian Caswell, UCL Press Journals Manager.

When discussing peer review, generally, I find it helpful to remind myself of some of the values as to perhaps why researchers publish in scholarly journals. In essence, it usually comes down to these 4 headings.

  1. Knowledge and discovery
  2. Evaluation and validation
  3. Credit
  4. Access to research

Within this environment, peer review is arguably the fundamental gold standard aspect of scholarly and academic publishing and is, at least in its most fundamental use of it, the facilitator for publishers to sell journals and its content.

So then, what is the role for peer review precisely, and what does it serve to accomplish?

An easy question to answer, right? In the book Editorial peer review: It’s strengths and weaknesses, the author writes the role of what peer review serves is, as ‘the goal of the process is to ensure that the valid article is accepted, the messy article cleaned up, and the invalid article rejected,’ thereby ensuring that the article made available to the reader is quality controlled.

In another book titled Peer review: A critical inquiry, the author here writes that the process of peer review also benefits the author, as they are later certified by the process if published proceeding peer review: “Careers are often made or destroyed by the process.”

In scholarly publishing, peer review acts to validate and assess work and is the current system used to assess the quality of a manuscript before it is published. Other experts in the relevant field assesses the research or article for things like fact, validity, and significance, that aid the assessors (i.e. Editors) to determine whether the manuscript should be published in the journal or not. I think it is pertinent to remember here that journals do play a vital role in the scientific and scholarly process, by refining research through peer review and disseminating it to appropriate communities by publication, and it is this role of review by peers that has been a part of scholarly communication since the appearance of the first journal in the 17th Century (see the brilliant book by Professor Aileen Fyfe et al, A History of Scientific Journals: Publishing at the Royal Society, 1665-2015.)

Challenges in peer-review

There has been a lot of discussion around the challenges peer review present, stemming from bias and prejudices towards authors, fraudulent behaviour, non-expertise reviews, and so on. In the article Peer review in a changing world: An international study measuring the attitudes of researchers by Mulligan et al in 2012, notes that:

“Although alternative forms of peer review have evolved to tackle issues of bias, it is less clear what effect, if any, they will have upon fraud. High‐profile cases of fraud and plagiarism have brought the debate about the efficacy of peer review to a wider audience, attracting greater public attention. Such incidences include [certain individuals], tipped to be a Nobel Prize winner, who published a series of fraudulent papers that were withdrawn from NatureSciencePhysical Review, and Applied Physics Letters.”

Journals typically tackle these types of concerns by anonymising authors and reviewers from each other to ‘enable a fairer and just review system’. In this article Mulligan et al surveyed around 40,000 published researchers that were randomly selected from the Web of Science (then known as the Thomson Reuters ISI list) and concluded that the majority of respondents were happy with the current system, but noted the system is imperfect and more can be done to ensure a higher level of efficacy and efficiency.

Now, being led by open science principles, it is largely seen that being more open and transparent with research publication and assessment can we increase scholarly rigor, accountability and trust.

What is open peer-review?

There is a growing evidence base of the challenges and flaws in the current anonymised peer review system (albeit, mainly within the biomedical and clinical sciences), and major publishers and journals are already testing open peer review processes (or have already implemented a practice of it already).

In April 2017, a systematic review of what open peer review is was published online in F1000Research (itself an innovative model of open peer review). It concluded: “Open peer review has neither a standardized definition, nor an agreed schema of its features and implementations. The literature reflects this, with a myriad of overlapping and often contradictory definitions.”

What this review very accurately depicts, is that there are a number of definitions of open peer review that can be collated together into themes and it purports there are 7 open traits to what open peer review concerns itself with, and that open peer review can take either a single aspect, or a multitude or mix of any of these traits, to operate as an open peer review model. Briefly, these are:

  1. Open identities, where authors and reviewers are aware of each other’s identity.
  2. Open reports, where the review reports are published alongside the relevant article
  3. Open participation, where the wider community are able to contribute to the review process
  4. Open interaction, where direct reciprocal discussion between author(s) and reviewers, and between the reviewers themselves, is allowed and encouraged
  5. Open pre-review manuscripts, essentially, a pre-print server, where manuscripts are made immediately available (e.g., BiorXiv) in advance of any formal peer review procedures
  6. Open final-version commenting, where the review or commenting on the final “version of record” is published
  7. Open platforms (or “decoupled review”), where review is facilitated by a different organizational entity than the venue of publication

What is UCL Press doing?

At UCL Press, we launched our very own open peer review and open science journal called UCL Open Environment: a fully non-commercial, Open Science journal, publishing high impact, multi-disciplinary research, on real world environmental issues, with the overall aim of benefitting humanity. The journal is for any researcher or professional at knowledge-based universities, institutions, and organisations (including Non-Government Organisations, Think Tanks, Inter-Government Organisations, and the United Nations) and submissions are invited from those at all career stages, including early career researchers, mid-career professionals, and senior scholars. There are also no barriers to the Open Peer Review Process (whereby the identity of the reviewer and the report are made publicly visibly at all times); engagement from all will advance the greatest leaps and discoveries.

Reviewers are firstly asked to sign in to the system using their ORCID account and when they submit their review report, the report is posted up online in the preprint server alongside the article, under the CC-BY licence and assigned a unique DOI. You can find out more information about this at https://ucl-about.scienceopen.com/for-reviewers/peer-review-process.

Reviewers can therefore attain credit of their report and readers are able to follow the process openly online. We hope this will also aid the development for others (especially earlier career researchers and students) with examples on how a review is written and how an article is revised accordingly, aiming to improve the way we should engage critically and beneficially with research.

Readers of this blog can see for themselves how the journal works (you can see here the list of the latest submissions and open peer reviews, as well as here for publications accepted after peer review). It is my hope that readers will be encouraged to provide more open peer reviews or open comments, adding to the corpus of open debate around research, and consider contributing to UCL Open Environment, as we believe that by removing barriers and innovatively working openly and together will we accelerate finding solutions to the world’s most significant challenges.

Indigenous knowledge and Citizen Science: enabling paths for Climate Justice

Kirsty27 October 2022

Post by Harry Ortiz, Office for Open Science & Scholarship Support Officer

This year’s Open Access theme, Climate Justice, allows us to explore how research openness can promote diverse paths to achieve it. In this particular occasion, we will focus on how citizen science can work as a bridge to connect the so-called modern societies with rich indigenous environmental knowledge to confront the climate emergency and learn from their day-to-day practices.

According to the United Nations (UN), climate justice refers to a paradigm shift that focuses on the impacts of global warming on the most vulnerable people rather than just discussions on gas emissions. Expanding the discourses based on natural resources and biodiversity depletion to more ethical and political spheres under the human rights framework and civil movements from those communities who are, and will be, the most affected by those changes (Unite Nations, 2019).

CC-BY-NC Picture by Joe Brusky https://flic.kr/p/pkVrKZ

Paradoxically, indigenous communities, who have been the protectors of the land through sacred ties with nature, are one of the most affected groups confronting climate change hazards. Receiving special attention due to their leader’s climate justice activism based on their traditional knowledge, demanding urgent policy transformations and more comprehensive mitigation plans (United Nations, 2021). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recognise the crucial role of indigenous peoples’ knowledge in those plans, especially regarding ecosystem and biodiversity conservation as key to ensuring sustainable development and climate resilience (IPCC, 2022).

As climate justice movements note, the effects of the planetary phenomena affect vulnerable communities worst and faster. Not only about social and economic extents but their ‘abilities to produce, disseminate, and use knowledge around the climate crisis’ (International Science Council, 2022). This a critical reality for indigenous and local knowledge reproduction, which might contain the answers to new forms of human existence in symbiosis with all forms of life on earth.

Openness can help to share that traditional knowledge and inform novel paths to generate resilient modern societies. However, it is first necessary to understand and capture the indigenous and local expertise, where citizen science practice, one of the eight pillars of open science, takes enormous relevance for climate justice.

But how can scientific methodologies and indigenous/local knowledge coexist when they belong to completely different epistemologies? How do we avoid new ways of colonisation against indigenous peoples in the name of science and climate justice?

Citizen science offers a solution, a link between the two distant worlds. With ethical considerations carefully implemented, it can deliver new knowledge collaborations and approaches to solve local and global sustainability issues. Citizen science aloud reciprocally valuable knowledge systems to coexist, open discussions about power dynamics in the academic world, promote diversity, participation in decision making and address historical inequalities (Tengö, M. et al. 2021).

The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IGWIA), answering the IPCC 2022 report on mitigation, indicate the need for ‘a new paradigm of climate partnership with Indigenous Peoples that harnesses the benefits of different knowledge systems and ways of knowing is needed. Although the inclusion of Indigenous Peoples and their knowledge holders in research is increasing, more significant efforts are needed to support community-based and Indigenous-led research.’ (IGWIA, 2022). Addressing the need to respect indigenous peoples’ rights in the knowledge co-production development and their participation in all levels of climate mitigation decisions in ethical and equitable processes.

The UCL press book’ Geographic Citizen Science Design – No one left behind’ shows good examples of citizen science with indigenous communities who take into account cultural factors, participant-centre design and the local contexts from holistic perspectives. We encourage you to visit their third chapter, where the authors build from an anthropological and human-computer design perspective providing several case studies regarding geographic citizen science with indigenous communities and their knowledge. You can download the Open Access PDF for free!

Despite diverse opinions and perspectives, citizen science practices can hybridise two knowledge traditions that seemed to run in parallel paths. Sharing those findings in open and accessible ways beyond academia can promote more fair, equitable and sustainable societies.

Can you imagine new ways to co-existence with all the living world informed by indigenous knowledge and practices? Following Tyson Yunkaporta’s ideas in his book Sand Talk, what if indigenous knowledge can save the world? For some, the idea might sound romantic or taken out of science fiction movies. But what if finding an encounter point between the modern and the indigenous world is the most effective path towards climate justice?


International Science Council, 2022. 2022 International Open Access Week will focus on ‘Open for Climate Justice’. [online] Available from: https://council.science/current/news/2022-international-open-access-week-will-focus-on-open-for-climate-justice/ [Accessed 06 October 2022]

IGWIA, 2022. A new paradigm of climate partnership with Indigenous Peoples. An analysis of the recognition of Indigenous Peoples in the IPCC report on mitigation. IGWIA Briefing Paper. Available from: https://iwgia.org/en/resources/publications/4845-iwgia-briefing-analysing-a-new-paradigm-of-climate-partnership-with-indigenous-peoples-ipcc-report.html

IPCC, 2022. Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change. Working Group III Contribution to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Summary for Policymakers. WMO – UNEP. Available from: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg3/downloads/report/IPCC_AR6_WGIII_SPM.pdf

Tengö, M., Austin, B.J., Danielsen, F., Fernández-Llamazares, A. 2021. Creating Synergies between Citizen Science and Indigenous and Local Knowledge. BioScience, 2021; biab023, https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biab023

United Nations, 31 May 2019. Climate Justice. Goal 13: Climate Action. [online] Available from: https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2019/05/climate-justice/ [Accessed 04 October 2022]

United Nations, 09 August 2021. How indigenous knowledge can help prevent environmental crises. Environmental Rights and Governance. [online] Available from: https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/how-indigenous-knowledge-can-help-prevent-environmental-crises [Accessed 04 October 2022]

What is Open Access?: new video for UCL researchers

Kirsty26 October 2022

This Open Access Week, we’re delighted to be launching a new video designed to help new UCL staff and students understand some of the key ideas in open access. With so many different open access routes, including fully OA, transformative agreements and Green, and myriad open access policies – including UKRI, Wellcome, NIHR, CRUK, Horizon Europe/ERC and REF – unfortunately open access is often more complex than we would like. We cover all the detail on our webpages, but we’re hoping that this short video, the first of a pair, will be a helpful introduction for new UCL staff and early career researchers, and a handy reference for other researchers. In just two-and-a-half minutes, it covers:

  1. What open access is and why it is important
  2. Green/Gold open access
  3. Fully open access/hybrid journals
  4. Transformative agreements

The eagle-eyed will spot a small spoiler about a second video, which will explain what UCL authors need to do about open access. We’re working on that now, and it should be available in the next few months.

Departments may like to add links to our videos to their induction materials. Here are the videos available at the moment:

  • What is Open Access?
  • What is RPS?, Claiming and adding publication in RPS, Uploading a manuscript to RPS

We hope you enjoy these new resources.

Open Access Week is coming!

Kirsty6 October 2022

International Open Access week - text on a white background, with an orange padlock to the left. We’re getting excited again for the upcoming Open Access Week!

We have our usual range of blog posts lined up for you to enjoy, including an exciting roundup of the last year, our latest newsletter and a post on this year’s OA Week theme – Open for Climate Justice.

If that wasn’t enough, we have an online event for our ERC academics and a brand-new resource being released, so watch this space!

Featured event: Open Access for Horizon & ERC Researchers

Are you a UCL researcher whose publications acknowledge EU grants? Then you need to know about the new Horizon Europe and ERC open access requirements.

Register now for our online Open Access Week Horizon Briefing, on Monday 24 October, 13:00-13:50.

This session will set out the relevant open access policies, and explain where you can publish and what funding is available. We’ll also be joined by colleagues from F1000, to show you the Open Research Europe platform, which offers rapid publishing, open peer-review and compliance with the Horizon open access and open data policies.

Office for Open Science and Scholarship – Launch events roundup!

Kirsty28 September 2020

The UCL Office for Open Science & Scholarship is designed to create a virtual body which can work with academic colleagues, departments, and research groups to develop and publicise all our Open Science activities across the institution. The Office’s website has a section on Community and Support and this is the place where we hope to reach out to Open Science & Scholarship communities across the whole of UCL, to engage with them and to help create a UCL-wide community of Open Science Practice.

The Office for Open Science and Scholarship will be launched in two phases. The soft launch at the start of the academic year 2020-2021, and a full launch with a week of events timetabled for Open Access week, 19-23 October. The full schedule can be found with sign up links below! If you are planning something for Open Access week please let us know at openscience@ucl.ac.uk.

Launch week events

During the week of 19th October, we are going to be launching the Office for Open Science and Scholarship with a week of events celebrating all of the aspects of Open Science and coinciding with International Open Access week – some events are open to UCL members only, please see below for details.

There are no costs for attendance but we are asking people to sign up so that we can share the links and keep track of numbers for the Drop-in events.

Monday 19th October

  • UCL Office for Open Science and Scholarship Launch – Lunchtime Webinar: 1-2pm

Join the Head of the Office for Open Science and Scholarship, Dr Paul Ayris, and a number of teams from across the university to celebrate the next steps in Open Science support at UCL. This webinar will tell you all you need to know about the new office, and what it can do to support you to embrace Open Science and Scholarship in your work.

Sign up via Eventbrite to receive a link to join the session – Now Open to non-UCL bookings

  • ReproHack @ UCL – Introductory session 2-4pm

A ReproHack is a hands-on reproducibility hackathon where participants attempt to reproduce the results of a research paper from published code and data and share their experiences with the group and the papers authors. During this week you will learn how to implement better reproducibility practices into your research and appreciate the high value of sharing code for Open Science. This event is open to all domains, all we need is a published paper that has included some code with it. During this week we will try to reproduce papers you propose in small teams, supported by members of the Research Software Development Group and RITS. On Friday afternoon we will have a catch-up session to show how each team did and to share experiences.

Sign up via Eventbrite to receive a link to join the session!

Tuesday 20th October

  • Introduction to InCites – 11am-12noon
This session will give an overview of what is contained in InCites, and a demonstration of how to use it.
The InCites tool (https://incites.clarivate.com/) uses Web of Science data on publications to give a wider overview of research activity, with aggregated data and visualisations. We can use it to compare research output across different institutions, analyse publication data for UCL at the department and faculty levels, and understand activity in a research field as a whole.
It also gives us access to normalised citation metrics, which give more complex and informative information than the simple citation counts available through Web of Science or Scopus. These take account of the different citation practices in different fields, allowing more meaningful and responsible analysis to be made.

Sign up via Eventbrite to receive a link to join the session

  • OA Week: Ask UCL’s Open Access Team – 2.30-3.30 pm

This event, for UCL researchers, is an opportunity to ask questions about the new open access funding arrangements, including transformative agreements, that UCL has introduced this year, and to make sure that you’re confident about the open access requirements that affect you. Researchers are encouraged to submit questions in advance.

Sign up via Eventbrite to receive a link to join the session

  • RELIEF Centre Launch: Hamra (Beirut), Neighbourhood Profile and Prosperity Interventions – 11am-1pm

RELIEF Centre and UN-Habitat Lebanon present a new neighbourhood profile for Hamra, Beirut. Through participatory citizen science research, the Hamra Neighbourhood Profile offers original spatialized data and analysis on the living conditions in one of the most culturally diverse neighbourhoods in Lebanon

Join us for the launch of this incredible new data resource. Hear from UN-Habitat and RELIEF Centre researchers on the purpose and process of creating the profile. Drawing on the profile’s data, RELIEF citizen scientists will also present three neighbourhood interventions and lead a discussion on how multisectoral and multicohort data from profiles can inform integrated programming for neighbourhoods in ways that can benefit all residents in the long term.

Sign up via Eventbrite to receive a link to join the session – Open to non-UCL bookings

Wednesday 21st October

  • Introduction to Citizen Science at UCL – Lunchtime Webinar: 1-2pm

One of the eight pillars of Open Science, Citizen Science is a rapidly developing area full of exciting opportunities to try something new with your research. Join us and find out more about Citizen Science, what you can use it for, and how to get started using it in your own research, as well as showcasing examples from across UCL. Featuring an introduction to Citizen Science and lightning talks from across the university, we aim to show you the breadth of possibilities and hope that you will be able to join the discussion, learn about Citizen Science, and get some ideas for your next project!

Sign up via Eventbrite to get a link to join the session – Now Open to non-UCL bookings

  • UCL Press and OA Monograph publishing: A drop-in session for prospective authors: 3-4pm

This session will be an opportunity to meet with commissioning editors and other staff from UCL Press who will describe the benefits of publishing OA and the global reach that can be achieved through its extensive OA dissemination and marketing activities. Commissioning editors will also be on hand to discuss new book proposals and the submissions process.

Sign up via Eventbrite to receive a link to join the session

Thursday 22nd October

  • OA Week: Research Data Management Team Drop-in Q&A session: 3-4pm

Join the Research Data Management team to get an overview of their work and ask all of your questions about how to manage, publish and archive all kinds of data, materials and other outputs of research projects.

Sign up via Eventbrite to receive a link to join the session

Friday 23rd October

  • UCL Press: Author Experiences of publishing OA books: Lunchtime Webinar: 1-2pm

Join UCL Press authors to explore how their experiences of publishing have changed their perspective on open access books.
Confirmed participants include:

  • Professor Eleanor Robson (UCL History), author of Ancient Knowledge Networks: A Social Geography of Cuneiform Scholarship in First-Millennium Assyria and Babylonia (UCL Press)
  • Professor Bob Sheil (Bartlett School of Architecture), editor of the Fabricate series

Sign up via Eventbrite to receive a link to join the session – Now Open to non-UCL bookings

  • ReproHack closing session – 3-4pm

See full details on Monday for how to get involved.