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[OT biomed blog]: A case for open peer review for clinical trials

Not that important or full of new ideas... but I agree with it so I'm posting it.


A few weeks ago I played the part of an expert witness in the Medical Journalist Association’s mock trial, Trials on Trial. The charge was: “Is the current system of publishing clinical trials fit for purpose?” The jury’s verdict was a resounding ‘no’. You can read more about the event in Jane Feinmann’s write up on the BMJ Group Blogs.

Then some arguments about open and anonymous peer review. To me, open peer review just seems massively preferable.

Some evidence:

Does it work?There’s little empirical evidence on open peer review, but from what little there is available, we do know that telling reviewers that their names will be revealed to authors (van Rooyen et al. 1999) and that their reports may be posted online (van Rooyen et al. 2010) does not decrease the quality of their reports.

In our recent research, we compared the quality of peer reviewers’ reports on an open peer review journal (BMC Infectious Diseases) and a closed peer review journal (BMC Microbiology), and found an increase in the quality of reviewers reports on open peer review. This improved quality was specifically seen in the areas of comments on the methods and study design, supplying evidence to support comments, and constructiveness.

We also know that open peer review is feasible. As argued by Fiona Godlee, experience from her time at both BioMed Central and the BMJ shows us that the model works.

Summing upOpen peer review increases transparency by bringing the peer review process into the public domain to help doctors make informed decisions. It not only provides information on how a decision was made on a specific article, but it also provides data for much needed research into peer review allowing us to better understand the process by which we evaluate clinical trials on which we base clinical decisions.

Despite the jury’s verdict that the current system of publishing clinical trials is not fit for purpose, I would argue that open peer review does go some way to solving some of the issues.