Scientific Journal Nature Ends Online Peer Review Process

Citing a lack of participation, the British journal Nature said Thursday it was ditching a closely watched online experiment that allowed scientists to comment on their peers' research before publication.

The four-month trial, which began in June, was aimed at democratizing the peer review process, a time-honored tradition in which a group of select scholars critique scientific manuscripts and decide what appears in print.

In the Nature experiment, authors whose manuscripts were selected for traditional peer review could also opt to have them simultaneously posted on the Internet for feedback by rank-and-file scientists. Journal editors then weighed both sides when deciding whether a paper gets published.

The experiment generated high online traffic, about 5,600 page views a week, according to Nature. But it was ultimately canceled because few authors participated and many of the online comments were nothing more than "nice work."

Journal editors said they would continue to explore using the Internet for scientific discussion.

"This was not a controlled experiment, so in no sense does it disprove the hypothesis that open peer review could one day become accepted practice," according to an editorial published Thursday.

During Nature's trial, only 5 percent of 1,369 papers ranging from astronomy to neuroscience that were selected for traditional peer review were also posted on the Internet for open commentary. Of those, 33 papers received no comments. The rest received a total of 92 technical comments.

The journal concluded that many researchers were either too busy or had no real incentive in evaluating their colleagues' work publicly. In addition, none of the editors found the posted comments influenced their decision whether a paper gets published.

Nature, published by an arm of Macmillan Publishers Ltd., is highly selective of the research it publishes. Of the 10,000 papers it receives every year, the journal rejects about 60 percent outright. Only about 7 percent of submissions are published.

Supporters of open peer review fretted the end of Nature's experiment, but said they weren't surprised because authors are typically reluctant to share their results before publication for fear of being scooped by their rivals.

"It's a shame. I would have been very pleased if Nature had great success and adopted this form of peer review," said Chris Surridge, managing editor of the open peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE, which launched this week.