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Dr Mike J Smith
Kingston University

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December
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Open Peer Review

Fri, 07 Dec 2007

At the Journal of Maps we operate an open peer-review system when reviewing papers that have been submitted. Peer-review has been around for over 300 years and, as far as the academic commumnity is concerned, is the best method to review the quality of material for publication. That is not to say it is ideal because it is far from it, but a viable alternative remains to be found. Of course peer-review is simply a "quality check" on an individual's work by their peers and with such a simple definition there is scope for a myriad of operational systems. In practice the primary concern comes down to whether the authors and/or reviewers remain anonymous. These are term single-blind and double-blind systems and the reasoning is that anonymity increases the likelihood of an unbiased review. This of course is a mute point and there have been a number of studies that looked at how these systems can be abused. This occurs in the form of "gift authorship" (where authorship is given to a minor party), redundant publication (multiple publication of principally the same work), but also covers plagiarism and deliberate delay (by referees). Whilst it is usually hard to retain author anonymity because of relatively small research communities, it is much easier to remain anonymous as a reviewer. This promotes the "pot shot" culture where a manuscript is an easy target for critcism. This is not good and most authors are familiar with the crushing feeling that an abusive review manifests. JoM therefore operates an open peer-review system where neither author or reviewer remains anonymous. We believe that reviewers are responsible for their comments and should be able to stand by them. Whilst the general principle is sound, this is open to subtle abuse. For example, a reviewer of a manuscript from a "well known" author might be reluctant to be overtly critical regardless of the quality of the manuscript. I know of colleagues who, whilst being the most appropriate reviewers, have refused on the grounds that it might not be the best career choice! It is notable that there are general "norms" for peer-review across disciplines, with spatial subjects (geography, geology) being quite conservative. Single and double blind systems are common and there is a certain amount of the "pot shot" culture (although any good editor will mitigate against this). Other subjects are much more liberal in their reviewing methods. This can include the public posting of a manuscript for comment and revision by any interested parties, prior to publication. This opens up the opportunity for significant contribution by other researchers and, in certain circumstances, it is appropriate for co-authorship to be offered. Indeed, peer-review offers the opportunity for significant "value added" through the improvement of a manuscript. I believe at JoM that nearly all maps have seen improvement as a result of review, with a small proportion significantly improved. It would be nice to think that in these instances joint-authorship might be a consideration.

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