Reviewer-author contracts as a way to encourage openness in scientific publishing

In preparation for open access week, we are asking for feedback on our new initiative: Reviewer-Author contracts.


Academics review manuscripts for free  in order for publishing companies to make billions by charging readers to the access the work.   We think that a viable alternative is for scientists to only agree to review manuscripts which are first deposited in preprint servers, and to make the content of their review openly available alongside the preprint.    Reviewer agreements are a way to give the reviewer a bit more influence over the openness (open access, open code, open data)  of papers they choose to review, or at least a way for them to chose to only review papers which are following open practices.

How does it work:

1. Reviewer receives an invitation from a journal to review a paper.
2. Invited reviewer fills in the form at, specifying their conditions for agreeing to review the paper.
3. Academic Karma sends an email to the paper author informing them of the conditions requested by the anonymous invited reviewer.
4. The author can either agree, decline, or modify the agreement.
5. If the agreement is modified, an email sent to the invited reviewer, who can either agree, decline, or modify the agreement
6.  3-5 repeated until an agreement reached, or either invited reviewer or author declines.
7. Once an agreement is reached, the  reviewer agrees with the journal to review the paper.
8. The author posts the preprint.
9. The reviewer reviews posts as a comment on Biorxiv preprint page, or if they want to remain anonymous, they  post the review on the Academic Karma review page and we post their comment for them (possibly  after a specified ’embargo’ to give the authors a chance to respond first).
10. The review is sent to the journal editor.
11. The author modifies the paper, re-uploads to a preprint server, and posts their response to the review

What is currently included in the review agreement:

1. Option to ask author to post preprint.
2. Option to ask author to agree to post a revised preprint.
3. Option to ask author to make data openly available.
4. Option to ask author to make source code openly available.

So that the expectations are not just on the author’s side, the reviewer can also choose to  commit to

1. The maximum time they will take for the review.
2. Whether they will agree to review a revised manuscript.
3. Whether they would be willing for their review to be transferred to another journal.
4.  How long of an embargo period before the content of their review is posted.

These ‘contracts’ are not binding in any legal sense of course.  However, a permanent record is kept so that both reviewer and author can refer to what they agreed to.
We welcome any feedback on what extra conditions we might want to include, as well as what extra optional commitments reviewers might like to make.

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