Written evidence submitted by Elsevier
1. Elsevier is a world-leading publisher
of scientific, technical and medical information and services.
Elsevier is part of Reed Elsevier Group PLC, headquartered in
London, which employs more than 4,500 people in the UK alone.
Elsevier works with a global community of 7,000 journal
editors, 70,000 editorial board members, and over 300,000 reviewers.
Elsevier's roots are in journal and book publishing where we have
fostered the peer review process for more than 125 years. Today
we are driving innovation by delivering authoritative content
with cutting-edge technology, allowing customers to find the answers
they need quickly.
2. The company works in partnership with
the global science and health communities to publish more than
2,000 peer-reviewed journals, including The Lancet and Cell,
and close to 20,000 book titles, including major reference works..
Elsevier's online solutions include SciVerse ScienceDirect, SciVerse Scopus,
Reaxys, MDConsult and Nursing Consult, which enhance the productivity
of science and health professionals, and the SciVal suite and
MEDai's Pinpoint Review, which help research and health care institutions
deliver better outcomes.
3. We appreciate the opportunity to respond
to the Committee's call for evidence regarding its inquiry into
the operation and effectiveness of the peer review process. Our
response contains an Executive Summary followed by detailed comments.
Although peer review is used in many academic contexts, we confine
our comments to peer reviewed publications.
4. Peer review is fundamental to academia
and research. Peer review was developed by researchers and exists
to assess articles for originality, sound method, and valid conclusions.
Peer review is crucial to the learning and progression of scholars,
is the essence of the scientific journal, and is essential to
the progress of knowledge.
5. Publishers manage the peer review system
on behalf of scientific communities. Publishers act as stewards
to support its continuous development and facilitate its use for
the scientific community. Publishers have made significant investments
into the peer review system to improve efficiency, speed, and
6. The peer review process is highly valued.
Researchers regard it as an integral part of their research and
they actively support it to further knowledge, encourage learning,
and to ensure the highest quality research is communicated. Peer
review has also evolved to underpin other aspects of science,
such as allocation of funding and promotion decisions.
7. The peer review process is not perfect
in every respect, but it is dynamic and continues to evolve. We
strive for continual improvement in three key areas - speed, time
commitment for reviewers, and impartiality.
8. Peer review processes continue to benefit
from publishers' investments in technological platforms and workflow
systems, and from the deployment of guidelines, procedures and
frameworks that uphold the high standards of objectivity and ethics
in science communication.
9. As the Committee will be aware, peer
review is the system by which experts give informed comments on
papers in highly specialised fields of science. The aim is to
provide independent, informed, objective assessments to maintain
the quality of the scientific record and to ensure that science
develops independently of commercial, ideological and political
10. Peer review is used to inform decisions in
multiple academic contexts. Peer review panels are deployed to
make decisions about career advancement; the award of research
grants, funds and prizes; the appointment of members to professional
societies; and the acceptance, improvement of, or rejection of
articles for publication in peer-reviewed journals.
11. Articles published in peer-reviewed journals
mark developments in science over time. Each peer reviewed article
is submitted, assessed, disseminated, and preserved and so becomes
the definitive "version of record". Peer reviewers assess,
amongst other matters, the originality of the research, the validity
of the results, the soundness of methods described, whether the
interpretation and conclusions are supported by the facts presented,
and any major omissions of prior work that should be acknowledged.
12. Since the founding of the first peer reviewed
journal by the Royal Society in the mid-seventeenth century, publishers
have evolved to become stewards of the peer review process on
behalf of research communities. There are c. 6,000 publishers
around the globe who manage c. 25,000 peer-reviewed journals.
13. Publishers manage publication processes such
as peer review on behalf of academic communities, taking on the
financial risks of founding and operating journals. Publishers
maintain international networks of millions of highly specialised
reviewers, and these networks extend beyond those of individual
academics, institutions or societies.
14. Publishers identify and appoint editors and
editorial board members who in turn appoint expert reviewers that
are qualified to provide objective, informed assessments of whether
a specific submission is appropriate for publication, and whether
it fits with the editorial scope and mission of the journal to
which it has been submitted.
15. There are various peer review models. Typically
a journal editor will solicit anonymous peer reviews from two
to five experts that s/he appoints in the field, or fields, to
which the paper would add knowledge. In some cases the peer review
process is "double-blind", meaning that the identities
of both author and reviewer are hidden to further limit any possibility
of bias. However, many employ a single-blind approach where the
identity of the reviewer is not revealed to the author, unless
the reviewer agrees otherwise.
16. Academics contribute time to provide reviews.
The Publishing Research Consortium
estimated that researchers spend on average 40 hours per year
performing reviews, and an average researcher reviews eight papers
each year with an average review time of five hours. Reviewers
contribute this time because it is regarded as part of being a
scientist91% of respondents indicated they review to play
their part as a member of the academic community. At the same
time, researchers also benefit from having their own work peer
reviewed, as the publication of their research in peer reviewed
publications is valued in decisions for promotion, tenure, association
memberships and grants. Researchers also gain prestige if they
review for prestigious journals, and researchers often indicate
on their Curriculum Vitae those journals for which they have reviewed.
17. Publishers remain largely independent of
the decision to publish or reject individual articles, as these
decisions are made on a case-by-case basis by the reviewers and
the editorial team that are appointed by the publisher.
18. Around three million manuscripts are submitted
to journal publishers for peer review each year. Around 50% of
manuscripts are rejected, either because they are deemed not to
be scientifically sound, or because they do not fit the editorial
scope and mission of the journal. The rejection rates vary by
journal, for example titles such as Cell and The Lancet,
which have extremely high publication impact (ie are heavily
cited), have rejection rates of 95%. The overall level
of 50% is not an artificial or arbitrary construct but one that
has evolved organically as a result of peer review globally. The
resultant filter is one that is neither too high to bar publication
of valid research nor too low to lead to too much questionable
research getting a publicity.
19. Recent research
shows that academics all over the world play a role in the peer
review process. In the UK there is a balance between the effort
spent reviewing and publishing articles. However this is not true
always true: researchers in the US do more reviews in comparison
to their output, whereas the opposite is true in China. Elsevier
monitors these patterns and actively works in countries showing
high article growth to educate researchers on the importance of
effective peer review. In addition, Elsevier works with agencies
that assist researchers to ensure their articles are linguistically
accurate before submission. This helps to reduce burden on reviewers
in navigating poor language, enabling them to focus on the research
content of the article.
20. Since the late 1990s STM publishers have
invested over £2 billion in technology, including systems
to support peer review processes and to increase their efficiency.
Investments include submission systems that enable authors to
upload their manuscripts online, and track the progress of their
manuscripts. So while the functions that publishers have performed
have remained stable for over 350 years, the ways in which we
perform these functions have been dramatically modernised.
21. These systems facilitate the review of around
three million submissions by 125,000 editors, 350,000 editorial
board members, and hundreds of thousands of peer reviewers. 3.8
million peer review reports and 30 million author/publisher communications
are generated each year. Around 1.5 million peer reviewed articles
are then published and disseminated to 14 million people globally,
resulting in over two billion article downloads and over 40 million
article citations per year.
Given the massive scale of publishingwhich
continues to grow by 3-4% annually driven by equivalent growth
in R&D fundingSTM publishers have established best
practices and standards to protect the scientific record, nurture
public trust in science, and to build the reputations of journals.
For example COPE (Committee on Publication Ethics) provides case
studies to assist editors in resolving cases of ethical infringements
(eg plagiarism, fraud, etc), and an online forum to share best
practice in protecting the integrity of the scientific record.
Publishers also train and support editors and reviewers to have
the confidence, integrity and skills to adhere to these high standards.
Elsevier provides support in handling ethical issues to editors
directly and through an online Publishing Ethics Resource Kit.
Publishers have also invested in systems such as CrossCheck to
help detect plagiarism.
22. Publishers have robust procedures to take
action and to correct the scientific record when errors or fraud
are detected. Like other societal systems scientific research
and its communication is not immune to abuse including the conscious
misrepresentation or misinterpretation of facts. However, such
cases are the exception, not the rule. Elsevier publishes over
260,000 articles per year, of which we typically retract 70 articles
per year due to information that surfaces post-publication. A
further 200 are detected post acceptance but before final publication.
23. The peer review system has formal mechanisms
to correct and record abuse, and there are serious consequences
for those responsible to discourage such behaviour. For example
Chinese computer scientist Chen Jin was fired from Jiaotong University
for faking his findings concerning development of microchips.
More recently, The American Society for Microbiology retracted
several papers by a Japanese researcher because of image manipulation
and issued a 10-year ban on the author from publishing in any
of its journals.
Furthermore, such transgressions are exposed through
formal retractions and corrections to the scientific record.
24. Academics' perceptions of peer review are
important given its central role in scientific communication.
Overall, academics value peer review extremely highly. For example,
(a) 90% of researchers think that peer review
improves the quality of published research.
(b) 84% of researchers indicate that without
peer review there would be no control in scientific communication.
25. As Richard Horton, Editor of The Lancet,
has commented, "Science journals create the norms and rules
that determine the ethics and integrity of science in society,
and as such are crucial in building public trust in science. Without
journals, there would be a cacophony of claims and voices with
no means of judging quality or authenticity. Journals shape an
ethics of knowledge, which is critical to the effective use of
that knowledge in public affairs".
26. The significance of peer review is reflected
in the HEFCE application criteria for sub chairs for the 2014
Research Excellence Framework. The second criterion for appointment
as a review panel sub chair is "experience and understanding
of peer review and research quality standards."
27. Despite the embedded role of peer review
and the high levels of satisfaction with it by scientists, we
do not claim that peer review is perfect. We strive for continual
improvement in three key areas: speed, time commitment for reviewers,
28. While peer review has existed for hundreds
of years, it is a dynamic system that continues to evolve to further
improve effectiveness, efficiency, and transparency. This is also
a by-product of the intensely competitive nature of publishing:
thousands of journals compete to publish the articles of millions
29. Examples of peer review innovations currently
in development at Elsevier include:
(a) PeerChoice enables reviewers to use
advanced analytics software to select articles that match his/her
academic competency and current interest. Early results suggest
this model can decrease the time to publication decision by nine
(b) Scientific Screening professional
screening helps editors manage the large number of out
of scope and substandard papers that would otherwise require peer
(c) Review Sharing if a paper is rejected
from one journal and is considered to be more appropriate for
publication in another journal, the article and reviews can be
automatically forwarded to the editor of the other journal if
the author agrees. We are experimenting with such a system within
Elsevier. We are also part of the NeuroScience Peer Review Consortium
which cascades submissions and reviews between journals published
by different publishers. 129 papers were successfully cascaded
through the consortium during 2010.
(d) ReviewerFinder a new tool to help
editors expand their reviewer network to improve quality and also
to decrease the workload of long serving reviewers.
(e) Reviewer Mentor Programme experienced
editors employed at two universities mentor postdoctoral researchers
who have authored papers but not yet served as peer reviewers.
Each mentor runs training workshops for the postdocs and then
the postdocs review real articles under supervision. Each postdoc
is marked, and upon successful completion receives a certificate.
We are exploring ways to provide formal certification and a reviewer
kite mark to scale up this successful pilot.
(f) Author Feedback pilots to improve
transparency for authors, so that they understand where their
article is in the review process and understand how and when their
article will be published or the reason for rejection.
(g) Open Peer Commentary published review
articles are accompanied by five one-page comments from other
scientists along with the author's statement/rebuttal of these
comments. While successful in attracting attention to a journal,
it is very time intensive. How scalable this is remains to be
30. Some have suggested that the process of review
by experts could be replaced and potentially bettered by social
networking approaches, leveraging the "wisdom of crowds".
Publishers have experimented with open peer review models. So
far the outcomes of none suggest that review by selected experts
can be replaced to sustain the production and dissemination of
high-quality science over the long term:
(a) Atmospheric Chemistry & Physics
journal operates a two-stage open review process. Following
initial review by an editor to assess alignment with the title's
coverage the manuscript is published online (usually two to eight
weeks after submission). Comments and discussion by members of
the public and select reviewers then take place for an eight-week
period. The author responds to comments within four weeks, and
then prepares a final revised article. The editor then decides
whether to accept the paper. The original paper, comments, and
final paper are all permanently archived and remain accessible.
Other than comments from invited reviewers, spontaneous comments
from members of the scientific community have been relatively
(b) A European-funded project, Liquid Publications,
envisages an online platform on which scientists can post
research outputs including papers, datasets, slides, and other
materials. The platform enables other scientists to search, read,
comment on, link to and from, and collate materials together into
"personalized online journals". The reputation of individuals
active on the platform is used to assess quality, assign credit,
and measure impact. This project is at an early stage of development
and outcomes are unknown.
(c) PLoS ONE provides post-publication
tools that allow readers to rate the quality and impact of a paper,
or to leave comments. All papers are reviewed by invited experts.
However, the take up of post-publication commentary or ratings
has been very low.
(d) Nature tried an open review model
in 2006. Willing authors had their submissions posted online for
reader comment while in parallel a traditional blind peer review
process was conducted. The trial was cancelled as public comments
were rare, and editors found that these were less helpful than
the comments of the conventional peer reviewers.
31. Elsevier will continue to innovate in these
areas. When developments have potential to improve the peer review
process without compromising current high levels of quality, accuracy,
objectivity and efficiency then we will actively invest in those
32. Occasional suggestions are made to replace
peer review entirely with post-publication metrics such as citation
and/or usage data or to substitute publisher-managed peer review
with review by internal university panels. None of these alternatives
attract major support from the academic community and most academics
continue to see publisher-managed peer review as the best option.
33. Whatever approach is taken it is important
that the review system caters for differences between disciplines
by continuing to accommodate anonymous and/or identified reviewers,
register new science; lead to rapid high-quality publications;
be used for static or dynamic publications; facilitate search
and retrieval of underpinning data, operate effectively with any
business model, and create a permanent, citable, cross-referenced
record of science.
Submitted on behalf of Elsevier by:
Senior Vice President, Research and Academic
10 March 2011
41 Sources: Elsevier's Scopus database and Ulrich's
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Sense About Science-Peer Review Survey 2009: Preliminary Findings.
Sense About Science-Peer Review Survey 2009: Preliminary Findings.
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Source: Research Excellence Framework, Sub-panel chairs further
particulars for applicants-available at http://www.hefce.ac.uk/research/ref/pubs/2010/01_10/01_10fp.doc Back