Transparency of peer review to co-authors
Case text (Anonymised)
An associate editor of one of our journals has asked whether we can configure our online peer review system to restrict access to reviewer correspondence to corresponding authors. His concern is that some of the review materials (eg, a harsh critique) might be embarrassing for the principal investigator if accessed by a co-author who was a junior investigator or laboratory technician. Similarly, he thinks that a cover letter that requests exclusion of reviewers could be embarrassing to the principal investigator if read by certain co-authors.
Our editor in chief is not convinced by this editor’s arguments and prefers transparency to all co-authors. He suggests that the principal investigator should explain to junior co-authors that scientific publishing is similar to making sausages—the process is a little messy but the final product is usually good.
Is there any consensus as to whether all co-authors or only the corresponding author should be permitted to access review materials?
The Forum was unanimous that there should be no restriction of reviewer comments to authors. The process should be transparent. All authors bear responsibility for their paper. It is up to senior authors to explain the process to junior authors, and this can be a good learning tool. Also, the Forum noted that ideally the journal should communicate with all of the authors and not just the corresponding author. This may prevent some cases of guest authorship arising. However, the Forum agreed that publishers may edit reviewers’ comments before sending them to authors if they contain rude or libellous remarks. The publisher should keep the original reviewer comments on file for internal use but it is acceptable to send a ‘cleaned up’ version to the authors.
The editor-in-chief agreed with the recommendations and communicated them to the editor who had raised the question. No change was made to the peer review system.