Recent controversies highlighting substandard peer review in Open Access (OA) and traditional (subscription) journals have increased the need for authors, funders, publishers, and institutions to assure quality of peer-review in academic journals. I propose that transparency of the peer-review process may be seen as an indicator of the quality of peer-review, and develop and validate a tool enabling different stakeholders to assess transparency of the peer-review process.
Based on editorial guidelines and best practices, I developed a 14-item tool to rate transparency of the peer-review process on the basis of journals’ websites. In Study 1, a random sample of 231 authors of papers in 92 subscription journals in different fields rated transparency of the journals that published their work. Authors’ ratings of the transparency were positively associated with quality of the peer-review process but unrelated to journal’s impact factors. In Study 2, 20 experts on OA publishing assessed the transparency of established (non-OA) journals, OA journals categorized as being published by potential predatory publishers, and journals from the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). Results show high reliability across items (α = .91) and sufficient reliability across raters. Ratings differentiated the three types of journals well. In Study 3, academic librarians rated a random sample of 140 DOAJ journals and another 54 journals that had received a hoax paper written by Bohannon to test peer-review quality. Journals with higher transparency ratings were less likely to accept the flawed paper and showed higher impact as measured by the h5 index from Google Scholar.
The tool to assess transparency of the peer-review process at academic journals shows promising reliability and validity. The transparency of the peer-review process can be seen as an indicator of peer-review quality allowing the tool to be used to predict academic quality in new journals.