In scientific communication, reproducibility1, transparency2 and openness3 have long overshadowed fairness. Yet, disparaging fairness in editorial governance undermines efforts to counter misconduct, an assertion that is none more so true than in peer review. Despite increasingly sharing review reports, among other self-corrective measures often touted in perspectives and comments, most editors dismiss suggestions to follow similar policies in editorial processes.
Maintaining authors and their affiliations anonymous to both reviewers and editors may not realistically prevent either party from recognizing some researchers based on their manuscript alone, but this triple anonymized review inevitably mitigates prestige bias. In other words, junior faculty, researchers from developing countries and underrepresented minorities may have an opportunity to access top-tier journals and reviewers otherwise unavailable to them. Peer-review reports and reviewers’ names can be subsequently published to foster research and editorial integrity alike through accountability.
Close relationships between editors and leading researchers remain, nevertheless, intrinsically linked to most publishers’ business model. Those publishers are as prone to relinquish their business model as social media giants are likely to change their algorithms towards thwarting adverse effects on users. To some extent, this closeness may be unavoidably, but not its influence on journal content. Ultimately, editors should be held to the same standards as those that authors and peer reviewers must meet. In doing so, they will benefit from raising the quality of their work while simultaneously lifting fairness as the fourth pillar of scientific communication.
1 Amaral, O.B. & Never, K. Reproducibility: expect less of the scientific paper. Nature 597, 329-331 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-021-02486-7
2 Perkel, J. M. A toolkit for data transparency takes shape. Nature 560, 513-515 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-018-05990-5
3Yarborough, M. Openness in science is key to keeping public trust. Nature 515, 313 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/515313a