Background: BioMed Central (BMC) requires authors to suggest four reviewers when making a submission. Editors searching for reviewers use these suggestions as a source. The review process of the medical journals in the BMC series is open--authors and reviewers know each other's identity--although reviewers can make confidential comments to the editor. Reviews are published alongside accepted articles so readers may see the reviewers' names and recommendations. Our objective was to compare the performance of author-nominated reviewers (ANR) with that of editor-chosen reviewers (ECR) in terms of review quality and recommendations about submissions in an online-only medical journal.
Methods: Pairs of reviews from 100 consecutive submissions to medical journals in the BMC series (with one author-nominated and one editor-chosen reviewer and a final decision) were assessed by two raters, blinded to reviewer type, using a validated review quality instrument (RQI) which rates 7 items on 5-point Likert scales. The raters discussed their ratings after the first 20 pairs (keeping reviewer type masked) and resolved major discrepancies in scoring and interpretation to improve inter-rater reliability. Reviewers' recommendations were also compared.
Results: Reviewer source had no impact on review quality (mean RQI score (+/- SD) 2.24 +/- 0.55 for ANR, 2.34 +/- 0.54 for ECR) or tone (mean scores on additional question 2.72 ANR vs 2.82 ECR) (maximum score = 5 in both cases). However author-nominated reviewers were significantly more likely to recommend acceptance (47 vs 35) and less likely to recommend rejection (10 vs 23) than editor-chosen reviewers after initial review (p < 0.001). However, by the final review stage (i.e. after authors had responded to reviewer comments) ANR and ECR recommendations were similar (65 vs 66 accept, 10 vs 14 reject, p = 0.47). The number of reviewers unable to decide about acceptance was similar in both groups at both review stages.
Conclusion: Author-nominated reviewers produced reviews of similar quality to editor-chosen reviewers but were more likely to recommend acceptance during the initial stages of peer review.