November 30, 2015 | Elaine Devine, Communications Manager

Ethics in peer review – the reality for researchers


Ethical issues in peer review, whether gender bias, competitor delays, seniority bias, false identities, review ‘rings’, or a number of other issues, have gained much coverage in the media, on social media and on blog sites in the last twelve months. But are ethical issues in peer review as widespread as they seem?

Our recent white paper, “Peer review in 2015: a global view” surveyed over 7,400 researchers
globally, alongside checking for global agreement and disagreement via a series of focus groups in the U.K., China, and South Africa. We asked researchers from across the sciences, social sciences, humanities and medicine, who had experience of publishing in a number of peer-reviewed journals (with Taylor & Francis and other publishers), to tell us about their perception of the prevalence of ethical issues in peer review.

In both the humanities and social sciences (HSS) and science, technology and medicine (STM), survey respondents rated seniority and regional bias as most common, and (unsurprisingly) suggested that double-blind peer review was most capable of preventing reviewer discrimination based on an author’s identity.


“I used to be at a university which is low ranking in my current field. When I was there I couldn’t get a paper accepted but now I am at a well-respected institution, I feel some papers are accepted too easily!”

Researcher, Environmental Science, UK


Double-blind peer review was also rated the most effective in stopping overly positive reviews,
though views in HSS and STM diverged on which peer-review model was most effective at stopping reviewers delaying the publication of competitor research. In HSS, double-blind review was top-rated in this area, whilst in STM it was open review (though by a very small margin).

Gender bias and the use of false identities were rated as the two least prevalent ethical issues, although this comment, anonymously reported, highlights that this can, and does, happen:


“Some of the reviewers don’t exist. The author forges a name, creates an identity, applies for a new mailbox and reviews their paper themselves. They submit their paper the first day and get their comments the next day.”

Researcher, Healthcare, China


But who should be responsible for managing ethical issues when they do arise? Whilst the survey respondents in both HSS and STM weighted this towards the journal editor and editorial board, the focus groups discussed this responsibility being much more evenly spread across publishers, authors, editors, and reviewers, with each taking on board an element of that responsibility, matching to their role within the peer review process.

Read the full white paper, and key survey data here.

Got a query on an ethical situation in peer review? Speak to your Managing Editor for support and guidance.

Published: November 30, 2015 | Author: Elaine Devine, Communications Manager | Category: Ethics and rights, Front page, News and ideas, Peer review | Tagged with: