Background: Peer review of medical papers is a confidential consultancy between the reviewer and the journal editor, and has been criticised for its potential bias and inadequacy. We explored the potential of the internet for open peer review to see whether this approach improved the quality and outcome of peer review.
Methods: Research and review articles that had been accepted for publication in The Medical Journal of Australia (MJA) were published together with the reviewers' reports on the worldwide web, with the consent of authors and referees. Selected readers' e-mailed comments were electronically published as additional commentary; authors could reply or revise their paper in response to readers' comments. Articles were edited and published in print after this open review.
Findings: 60 (81%) of 74 authors agreed to take part in the study, together with 150 (92%) of 162 reviewers. There was no significant difference in the performance of commissioned reviewers before and during the study. Four articles were not included because of insufficient time before print publication. Of the remaining 56 papers, 28 received 52 comments from 42 readers (2% of readers submitted comments). Most readers' comments were short and specific, and seven articles were changed by the authors in response.
Interpretation: Open peer review is acceptable to most authors and reviewers. Postpublication review by readers on the internet is no substitute for commissioned prepublication review, but can provide editors with valuable input from individuals who would not otherwise be consulted. Readers also gain insight into the processes of peer review and publication.