Stem cell biology is highly topical and is attracting great interest not only within the research community but also from politicians, patient groups and the general public. However, the standard of publications in the field is very variable. Papers that are scientifically flawed or comprise only modest technical increments often attract undue profile. At the same time publication of truly original findings may be delayed or rejected. At the recent EuroSyStem/EMBO Conference on Advances in Stem Cell Research there was much discussion about the peer review process. Peer review is the guardian of scientific legitimacy and should be both rigorous and constructive. Indeed most scientists spend considerable time and thought reviewing manuscripts. As authors we have all benefited from insightful referee reports that have improved our papers. We have also on occasion experienced unreasonable or obstructive reviews.
We suggest a simple step that would greatly improve transparency, fairness and accountability; when a paper is published, the reviews, response to reviews and associated editorial correspondence could be provided as Supplementary Information, while preserving anonymity of the referees. We note that this procedure has recently been adopted by The EMBO Journal. We wish to encourage other journals to follow suit and would like to hear your considered opinions.
This letter and your replies will be disseminated via the EuroSyStem website (www.eurosystemproject.eu) and EuroStemCell.org. You may post your comments directly at http://eurostemcell.org/commentanalysis/peer-review
If you wish to make any comments privately to the signatories, please send them to Austin Smith
Austin Smith, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom (Conference Organiser and EuroSyStem Project Coordinator)
Yann Barrandon, University of Lausanne, Switzerland
Margaret Buckingham, Institut Pasteur, Paris France
Connie Eaves, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
Tariq Enver, Weatherall Institute & Oxford University, UK
Margaret Fuller, Stanford University, USA
Thomas Graf, Center for Genomic Regulation, Barcelona, Spain
Gerald de Haan, University Medical Center, Groningen, Netherlands
Ihor Lemischka, Mount Sinai Medical Centre, New York, USA
Shinichi Nishikawa, RIKEN Centre for Developmental Biology, Japan
Freddy Radtke, Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, Switzerland
Guy Sauvageau, Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer, Montreal,Canada
Azim Surani, Gurdon Institute, Cambridge, UK
Shinya Yamanaka, Kyoto University, Japan
UK news programme highlights peer review issue
The UK's BBC has highlighted the concerns raised in the open letter published above. On Tuesday, 2nd February, the prime time morning radio programme "The Today Programme" featured a news piece describing the concerns of some leading stem cell scientists about problems with peer review.
EMBO Journal has put in place a transparent review process for all manuscripts submitted for the first time after 1st January 2009. Under the new process, all articles published in The EMBO Journal now have a supplementary Review Process File (RPF) accompanying their online version, containing the timeline and all relevant communication from the review process, including referees' comments, decision letters and the responses from authors.
This process started as an experiment to promote transparency and good editorial processes overall, but according to the journal: "uptake suggests the experiment has been successful. We therefore hope that other journals will now move into the same direction with similar initiatives."