At first encounter, this might seem like a dangerous suggestion. After all, how can early career academics, especially those with vulnerable employment, critique honestly and even harshly, when it is called for? But if we look past this first reaction, two strong arguments can be found for this position.
For one, there finally will be motivation for people to write more responsibly, since they can claim credit for well-written and well-argued review but obviously cannot for abusive ones. While it is true that a reviewer who has no interest at all in using peer review history as academic credentials might still continue being abusive, this should help better things significantly.
Second, it should be pointed out that peer review still is academic work, even essential academic work. As Justin Weinberg from the University of South Carolina points out, “my sense is that the credit one gets for peer reviewing is disproportionately small compared to how important peer reviewing is for the academic enterprise”. To give people the ability to take credit for work well-done then is a matter of fairness.
An interesting model for how this might be done, without stripping anonymity from reviewers without their permission is the website Publons. This collects information on a voluntary basis from peer reviewers and verifies this with the journal publisher. This allows for the creation of reviewer profiles that each reviewer can claim claim credit for and add to their CVs.
With any solution there are those skeptical. David Roy Smith from Western admitted that as an early career academic, he simply hadn’t had the opportunity to review many papers, especially from prestigious journals, and so he wasn’t all that eager to sign-up. In addition, there’s the perpetually relevant question about whether the endless march to quantifying and comparing work done and its impact is actually good for academia.
Still, the removal of anonymity in peer review, voluntary for now, seems to be the direction we’re travelling and so we need to take it seriously. Universities and funding organizations need to incorporate the now-public data about peer reviews performed into their decision making, and choose whether people without publicly recorded reviews will be penalized or not. Publishing and publishing tech need to incorporate the ability to transfer and approve finished peer reviewers quickly to standard sites, so workflows don’t get cluttered.
The opening up of Peer Review is bound to be a momentous transformation in what is now a procedure that hasn’t changed much in centuries, so who knows where we’ll end up.