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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.

Welcome to Open Access Week – Review of the year 2021-22

Kirsty24 October 2022

Another year has passed and another Open Access Week is upon us! Since the foundation of the UCL Office for Open Science & Scholarship, it has become traditional for us to start Open Access week with a review of the last year.

It has been a busy year in the Office and in all of the teams that support Open in various guises across the university. Instead of a dull report from me about facts and figures, the LCCOS communications team have created a fun, snappy video with all the highlights!

In the past year UCL Press has released numerous new books, and their e-textbooks project is coming on in leaps and bounds. The team at the office have released new resources, and the Open Access team has a huge range of new Transformative deals as well as video content in the pipeline to help simplify the complicated world of Open Access for you – one is even coming out later this week!

We hope you enjoy Open Access week – and here’s to another great year!

UKRI open access policy – slides and recording

Catherine Sharp4 March 2022

UCL’s Open Access Team has been glad of the opportunity to give presentations on the new UKRI open access policy to nearly 2,000 staff at more than 60 department and faculty meetings this session. We were recently joined by Lara Speicher (UCL Press Publishing Manager) for two more UCL-wide briefings on the new policy that were attended by nearly 150 UKRI-funded researchers. The recording and slides from these sessions are below. We’d encourage all UKRI-funded PIs, and anyone involved in submitting UKRI-funded articles, to take a look at them so that they’re prepared for the start of the policy on 1 April.

We’re grateful for UCL authors’ engagement with the policy, and for the questions that we’ve been asked about particular non-compliant publishers, including Nature (for Nature portfolio journals), IEEE, American Physical Society, American Chemical Society and Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Central UK negotiations are happening with all non-compliant publishers, and we are sharing your feedback with the negotiation teams. We hope to have more information about these and other publishers over the coming weeks and months, but in the meantime we will provide support for authors who wish to submit to these journals/publishers after 1 April. Please check our UKRI/Wellcome open access webpages and our What do I need to do? quick guide for more information.

New UKRI policy: key information

As well as our briefing sessions, we’ve recently contacted all UKRI and Wellcome PIs with the following key information.

UKRI-funded research articles, review articles and conference papers that are submitted from 1 April 2022 must be made open access on publication, under the CC BY licence (or, if UKRI grants an exception, CC BY-ND). A key change is that Gold open access in subscription (hybrid) journals will only be funded if the journal is in one of UCL’s transformative agreements.

What the policy means

The following types of journal comply with the policy:

  1. fully open access journals and proceedings (funds are available through UCL’s Open Access Team): check the Directory of Open Access Journals
  2. subscription (hybrid) journals that are in UCL’s transformative agreements: check UCL’s list of transformative agreements
  3. subscription journals and proceedings that allow you to make your final accepted manuscript open access on publication under the CC BY licence (e.g. Science, Association for Computing Machinery)

If your journal is not in these categories, you may want to consider submitting elsewhere. Alternatively, you will need to retain the right to make your final accepted manuscript open access on publication under the CC BY licence, by including UKRI’s submission wording when you submit, and negotiating a compliant publishing agreement.

See our What do I need to do? quick guide.

Other information

UKRI does not support publication charges (for instance page and colour charges). Authors should ask their journal about publication charges, and request a waiver of any mandatory charges, before submission.

The UKRI open access policy for long-form outputs applies to monographs, book chapters and edited collections published from 1 January 2024. More information will be available in due course.

Office for Open Science & Scholarship Newsletter – Issue 5

Kirsty3 March 2022

Welcome to the fifth issue of the Open Science and Scholarship Newsletter!

This termly newsletter has updates across the 8 Pillars of Open Science, and contributions from colleagues across the university. If you would like to get involved, give feedback or write something for a future issue, please get in touch using the details at the end of the newsletter.

In this issue:

  • Editorial
  • Update from the Head of the Office for Open Science & Scholarship
  • Community voice – Creating a digital organism through Open Science
  • Special Feature – UCL Press announce the launch of a new translation initiative
  • Deep Dive – Highlights from the Blog
  • News and Events

Go to the newsletter on Sway, or view it below. If you use the version below, we recommend clicking the ‘full screen’ button to get the full experience!

When viewing a Sway, you can turn on Accessibility view. This view displays a high-contrast style for easier reading, disables any animations, and supports keyboard navigation for use with screen readers.

To turn on Accessibility view:

  • If you’re using a mouse or touchscreen, on the More options menu (shown as three dots on the Sway toolbar), choose Accessibility view.
  • If you’re using a screen reader, on the More options menu, when Accessibility view is selected, you hear “Displays this Sway in a high contrast design with full keyboard functionality and screen reader access to all content.”

Open Access Week: UCL Press as eTextbook publisher

Kirsty17 November 2021

Thank you to everyone that attended the Open Access week session from UCL Press outlining their new project to develop Open Access eTextbooks!

The recording and the slides are available below as well as links from the speakers and the promised answers to the remaining questions from the audience!

Questions and Answers

Do the download stats account for partial views?

Dhara: For information on how we collect and record our data, https://www.uclpress.co.uk/pages/where-to-find-our-books-and-journals. Research has shown that, via the platforms that we work with the provide chapter downloads, most users download the single chapter that they require.

Did the project(s) around The Economy (etc) use an explicitly “Agile” method?

Luca: There were two parts to the project: a) the authoring and content development (CORE), and b) creating the platform over which the ebook is delivered (our partner EBW). For the a) part you could say we adopted some of the ‘agile’ principles, as we delivered some draft units early for piloting (to ‘users’ aka teachers) and then continuously deliver more units and rewritten older ones based on feedback. Also, it was all about the user and not the process, plans changed based on feedback etc. For the b) part this was more in line with the ‘agile’ method principles, as it was software development, but the biggest difference was that EBW couldn’t break down development into small increments because the final product was very tightly defined so there was a lot of initial planning as opposed to sprints.

Please could someone riff on things other than writing the words: editing for reading level, spot illustrations, internationalisation of terms. Would a UCL press book open doors to such services?

Dhara: We currently provide a full production service, including copyediting and typesetting for our books. Additionally, to ensure each new textbook is fit for purpose, we’ll engage with various relevant developmental services, depending on requirements of discipline and level of the intended audience. These many include developmental review, which ensures the writing style is appropriate for the reading/HE level of the audience, help source and check illustrations, review glossary and use of terminology and concepts (making sure they comply with relevant academic standards).

Are there any plans/resources available to produce UCL textbooks in other languages than English?

Dhara: This is an interesting suggestion, and we will continue to discuss as the programme develops, but, unfortunately, we do not have plans to do this at this time.

Resources

View recording on MediaCentral
Access the slides from the session
Information about the eTextbooks project
Access and view Economics textbooks and resources on CORE