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Increasing Transparency Around Peer Review and Research

Chescheir, Nancy C., MD

doi: 10.1097/AOG.0000000000002712
Contents: Editorial

Dr. Chescheir is the Editor-in-Chief of Obstetrics & Gynecology; email: nchescheir@greenjournal.org. Photo of Dr. Chescheir is courtesy of the Central Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 2016.

Financial Disclosure The author did not report any potential conflicts of interest.

There is increasing skepticism about science in society today and, as a result, there is increasing pressure to be transparent about the scientific process. The blog Retraction Watch, which focuses on the integrity of the research record, reports that more than 500 articles in the peer-reviewed literature have been retracted because of fake peer reviews.1 Irene Hames, who has more than 30 years of experience working in scholarly publishing, was quoted in Retraction Watch as stating, “I don't think that saying something is ‘peer reviewed’ can any longer be considered a badge of quality or rigour.”2

For the past year, our editorial team and Editorial Board have been considering how to incorporate concepts of open science in Obstetrics & Gynecology. It is important for readers to have confidence in our processes, which result in the monthly selection and publication of 20–30 articles that inform their practice and address the social and political influences on patients' lives and on our own lives. Funders of research, including taxpayers and corporations, must have confidence that our peer reviewers and editors challenge the authors to find the clearest and most scientifically sound way to present their work, and that biased influences are kept to a minimum.

Obstetrics & Gynecology employs a single-blind peer-review process, in which the authors do not know the identity of the reviewers unless the reviewer voluntarily self-identifies. We will continue to do so. However, starting in July 2018 and phased in over several months, we will lift the curtain of the peer-review process for accepted articles and implement what is termed “transparent peer review.” Starting with this month's issue, we will publish the dates an article is submitted, revised, and accepted, increasing transparency. Then, later this year, readers will start to see the peer reviewers' and editor's comments to the author, along with the authors' responses to these comments, published as supplemental digital content to the online version of each peer-reviewed article. Authors can opt out of having their responses to these comments published if they wish to do so. Reviewer invitations will inform them that their anonymous reviews will be published online; invited reviewers can opt out by declining the invitation. The iterative communication from the editor to the authors (and their responses if they opt in) will also be published so that interested readers can see the process of moving a manuscript from submission to publication. Even if the authors decline to have their responses published, the reviewer and editor comments will be posted online.

Nature Communications implemented transparent peer review in 2016. One year into the process, they found that about 60% of authors had opted in to publishing the peer-review histories of their articles.3 The Obstetrics & Gynecology Editorial Board agreed that implementing a similar process will allow interested readers an important window into the process. We anticipate that early-career obstetrician–gynecologists, other scientists, public health scientists, and others can learn from the process. Additionally, we hope readers will have increasing confidence in the end product that they see. Please give us feedback on your thoughts about this new process by emailing .

We are taking additional steps at Obstetrics & Gynecology to assure the rigor of the science we publish and to support value in research. Systematic reviews lie at the top of the evidence-based medicine pyramid and inform development of institutional, societal, and government guidelines. Done well, they are time-consuming and difficult. Prospective registration of planned systematic reviews with PROSPERO4 is encouraged for all systematic reviews submitted from now through December 31, 2019, and will be required thereafter. As with prospective registration of clinical trials, PROSPERO registration can decrease the risk of reporting bias because reviewers, editors, and readers can compare what is published with what was planned. Those planning a systematic review can search PROSPERO to see whether a review is already being done and hopefully avoid the cost of duplicating the effort. And those developing guidelines or planning research can find out whether a systematic review has been done or not, even if it has not been published. Resource dollars are scare, time is our most precious resource, and the work ahead is huge without unnecessarily duplicating prior efforts.

The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) has made some recent recommendations that are also in keeping with the importance of transparency and openness.5 We have endorsed these requirements as they reflect our editorial commitment to international standards, as quoted below:

“1. As of July 1, 2018 manuscripts submitted to [Obstetrics & Gynecology] that report the results of clinical trials must contain a data sharing statement…

2. Clinical trials that begin enrolling participants on or after January 1, 2019, must include a data sharing plan in the trial's registration. The ICMJE's policy regarding trial registration is explained at www.icmje.org/recommendations/browse/publishing-and-editorial-issues/clinical-trial-registration.html. If the data sharing plan changes after registration this should be reflected in the statement submitted and published with the manuscript, and updated in the registry record.”

Providing care for women and doing research to answer the uncountable important questions that exist about health and wellness is a privilege. We believe it is our responsibility to assure you that we are doing all that we can do to earn your trust and confidence. The steps we have outlined are designed to do this and will be implemented in ways that minimize the burden on our authors and reviewers. We believe that steps such as these will allow us to continue as a major source of information you trust to help you care for your patients and to inform your own scientific inquiry.

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REFERENCES

1. Meadows A. What does transparent peer review mean and why is it important? Available at: https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2017/08/03/transparent-peer-review-mean-important/. Retrieved May 1, 2018.
2. McCook A. Make reviews public, says peer review expert. Available at: https://retractionwatch.com/2017/11/27/make-reviews-public-says-peer-review-expert/. Retrieved May 1, 2018.
3. Nature Communications. Transparent peer review one year on. Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms13626. Retrieved May 1, 2018.
4. National Institute for Health Research. PROSPERO: international prospective register of systematic reviews. Available at: https://www.crd.york.ac.uk/prospero/#aboutpage. Retrieved May 1, 2018.
5. Taichman DB, Sahni P, Pinborg A, Peiperl L, Laine C, James A, et al. Data sharing statements for clinical trials: a requirement of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors. Ann Intern Med 2017;167:63–5.
© 2018 by The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Published by Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.