This probably isn’t news to many of you but for some time now PLoS ONE has been posting referees’ reports alongside the papers it publishes. Not all reports are posted and reports are often not presented in their entirety. Also some of them have the referees’ name attached and some don’t. This could be a little confusing so I thought it was time I explained what precisely we were doing and why.
It might seem obvious why we are posting referees’ reports given that PLoS ONE is trying to foster openness and discussion in the assessment of papers however the situation isn’t completely simple. Referees reports have a very specific function in helping an editor decide whether to publish a paper and advising authors how their paper should be revised. That means that much of a referees’ report is only intelligible in the context of the version of the paper that they were reviewing. PLoS ONE does not make that original submissions public. All the same we feel that the comments made about the work in general might be very helpful to readers.
From the very start of PLoS ONE we have been telling referees when papers they have helped to assess are being published so that they can come and comment on papers directly. However this hasn’t proved as successful as we had hoped and several referees have asked why we were wanted them to comment again when they had already told us what they thought of the paper.
So now as well as encouraging referees to come to the site and comment we also ask their permission to post the more general comments from their reviews. We hope that they will allow us to post their reviews with their name but as we allow anonymous pre-publication review we are content for them to maintain that anonymity if they so wish (for a referee’s view of the process see Heather Piwowar’s blog entry and the letter we sent her).
So there you have it. All referees are asked for permission to post their reviews and if permission is granted the reviews are posted whether supportive or not. What is removed is only the very specific comments (like typos and such) which have been made completely obsolete in revising the manuscript for publication.
We hope that this will help readers to understand our editorial processes a little better; but chiefly we hope you find these reviews interesting and informative.