Peer review in scientific publications - Science and Technology Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by John Wiley & Sons (PR 31)


About Wiley

John Wiley & Sons, Inc. was founded in 1807. Wiley's core businesses include scientific, technical, medical and scholarly (STMS) journals, encyclopedias, books and online products and services; professional/trade books, subscription products, training materials, online applications and web sites; and educational materials for undergraduate and graduate students and lifelong learners. Wiley's global headquarters are located in Hoboken, NJ, with operations in the US, Europe, Asia, Canada and Australia. The company's web site can be accessed at The company is listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbols JWa and JWb.

Wiley-Blackwell is the international STMS publishing business of John Wiley & Sons, with strengths in every major academic and professional field and partnerships with many of the world's leading societies. Wiley-Blackwell publishes 1,500 peer-reviewed journals and nearly 1,500 new books annually in print and online, as well as databases, major reference works and laboratory protocols. For more information, please visit or our new online platform, Wiley Online Library (

1.  Wiley welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Science and Technology Committee's inquiry into peer review which it sees as an essential part of the publishing process.

2.  The journals published by Wiley (many in partnership with societies) received around 470k submissions in 2010 for peer review. This represents a 12% increase in submissions from 2009, and a 29% increase from 2008. In 2010 we published 2% more articles than in 2009, ie we increased our rejection rate to achieve higher standards.

3.  To quote from Peer Review and Manuscript Management in Scientific Journals by Irene Hames (published by Wiley-Blackwell in association with the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers): "It is the quality-control mechanism that determines what is and what is not published, and in most scientific disciplines work will not be considered seriously until it has been validated by peer review. It acts as a filter for interest and relevance."

4.  Along with the selection function peer review plays an important role in many disciplines in improving the paper before publication.

5.  Peer review does not normally deal with fraud and plagiarism although reviewers will sometimes pick these up. There are now tools such as CrossCheck which assist editors in detecting duplication and therefore possibly plagiarism. New tools also enable publishers to detect duplicate submissions to the same journal.

6.  Wiley has been instrumental in working with the leading online peer review system, ScholarOne Manuscripts, to introduce features that increase the efficiency of journal editorial staff and the peer review process. Such improvements include: electronic copyright agreements, automatic deposit of NIH-funded papers in PubMed Central, and plagiarism detection.

7.  Peer review is a robust and evolving system which has been capable of handling an increase in submissions in recent years of around 10% per annum in our case without slowing publication schedules.

1.  The strengths and weaknesses of peer review as a quality control mechanism for scientists, publishers and the public

1.1  Ideally peer review filters out poor science, checking that:

(a)  Design and methodology is sound.

(b)  Work is reported clearly with acknowledgement to previous published work.

(c)  Results are interpreted correctly.

It should also help the editor select what will be of interest to the journal's readers, ie within scope of the editorial policy, and help the authors improve the quality of the paper. The Ware survey (Mark Ware & Mike Monkman, "Peer Review in Scholarly Journals - perspective of the scholarly community: an international study", a Publishing Research Consortium Project - see report at reported that only 8% of papers submitted are accepted without revision; 64% of respondents reported that peer review of their last published paper had identified scientific errors. To quote Ware: "Testing of work through the criticism of peers is in a broad sense at the heart of scientific method".

1.2  As is well understood by all users the quality of journals varies. Authors will submit their best work to high status journals and the reviewer will as instructed by the editor apply standards appropriate to the journal. Users will be aware of this hierarchy when searching the literature.

1.3  The system is remarkably robust. Its demise has been predicted for decades yet it handles an annual increase in submissions of around 5-10% in recent years across the industry.

1.4  The weaknesses of peer review can be minimised by emphasis on publishing ethics. Reviewers, for example, should declare any conflict of interest and not abuse their privileged status.

1.5  Peer review is also criticised for delaying publication but this has to be set against the benefits listed above. In some subjects, such as clinical medicine, releasing a paper without peer review could have serious consequences.

2.  Measures to strengthen peer review

2.1  It is in the interest of publishers to strengthen peer review whenever possible. We compete for authors who submit largely on the basis of the status of the journal. Most editors are trying to increase the Impact Factor (IF) of their journal. And some customers (libraries) are taking IF into account when deciding on renewals or cancellations.

2.2  There are two elements to improvement:

(a)  Technology - electronic editorial office systems have enabled editors to manage the peer review process more quickly and internationally, with feedback on performance.

(b)  Conduct and best practice - Wiley, for example, has been a strong supporter of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE; and issues its own guidelines to editors backed up by surveys.

3.  The value and use of peer reviewed science on advancing and testing scientific knowledge

3.1  The value is clearly understood by users as was shown in the Tenopir et al. study (Research Publication Characteristics and Their Relative Values. A Report for the Publishing Research Consortium, It is difficult to imagine how research would progress without the foundation of peer-reviewed literature; presumably less efficiently and more slowly.

4.  The value and use of peer reviewed science in informing public debate

4.1  Sense about Science ( has shown the importance of public awareness of peer review, as has the Science Media Centre ( in briefing the media. Publishers like to see their peer reviewed articles quoted by the media and encourage this through press releases and agencies.

5.  The extent to which peer review varies between scientific disciplines and between countries across the world

5.1  There is considerable variation between disciplines. We do not attempt to standardize the process but support whatever model has evolved in each community.

5.2  There is also variation between countries but this is perhaps reducing with the widespread adoption of online peer review systems, the efforts of COPE and other organisations such as ICSU with its committee on Freedom and Responsibility in Science (CFRS) and the larger international publishers taking on locally-based journals.

5.3  There is some imbalance between the origin of papers and the location of reviewers. For example North Americans make an above average contribution to the process while the Chinese are below average but this is likely to even out with globalization.

6.  The process by which reviewers with the requisite skills and knowledge are identified, in particular as the volume of multi-disciplinary research increase

6.1  The greater accessibility of journal content and discoverability enables editorial teams to identify potential reviewers more easily and through online peer review systems their performance can be tracked. As the multi-disciplinary approach develops it will produce more researchers capable of reviewing multi-disciplinary studies.

The challenge to find appropriate reviewers can be more acute in niche subjects where it may be difficult to find two independent reviewers without a conflict of interest.

7.  The impact of IT and greater use of online resources on the peer review process

7.1  This has enabled us to keep pace with the growth in submission as outlined above. Nearly all of our 1500 journals use online peer review systems.

8.  Possible alternatives to peer review

8.1  Most of our journals employ single blind review but we monitor closely experience with double-blind review and open peer review. One of our learned society partners (EMBO) is also developing a more transparent approach.

Evidence for the efficacy and usefulness of post-publication comment is not yet convincing, both in terms of the quantity and quality of such comments, although we expect to see links to blogs and other post-publication comments as standard practice, and our systems and processes will accommodate this if the academic and professional communities whom we serve want it. Post-publication comment is likely to be a supplement to pre-publication review rather than a substitute for it.

The real challenge is how to deal with the growth in research data that sits behind the journal article. Policies for data curation and sharing are emerging but there is no related peer review process or quality control.


Peer review depends on the voluntary support of the research community. The Ware survey indicated largely altruistic explanations for their support. The most popular reason was "to play your part as a member of the academic community", followed by "to enjoy being able to improve the paper", and "enjoy seeing new work ahead of publication". The second and third explanations indicate why pre-publication peer review as opposed, say, post-publication comment dominates the publishing process. Researchers like to be involved before publication in producing a better paper. It is our job as publishers to enable reviewers to carry out their task as efficiently as possible. We do this by investing in the appropriate technology, working closely with editors, supporting and implementing the guidelines from COPE and never taking our reviewers for granted.

Robert Campbell and Cliff Morgan
John Wiley & Sons

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 28 July 2011