Frequently asked questions

Why this initiative?

We believe that sharing information between participants in the scholarly ecosystem in a controlled way while fully respecting demands around privacy and confidentiality will make the peer review process more efficient, transparent, and recognizable. By creating a trusted data store of this data and thereby opening the black box of peer review, we can coordinate the review process, recognize reviewers better, and create a trusted and independent data trail of the peer review process which makes it more transparent and trustworthy.

Is this a commercial initiative?

No. This is a not-for-profit, industry initiative. In the same spirit as initiatives like ORCID and Crossref, we believe that by working together we can address challenges in the current ecosystem in the best way.

Why blockchain?

We believe blockchain is a natural technology for our aims. A datastore created with blockchain technology is transparent but pseudonymous, which makes it suitable to comply with crucial demands around privacy and confidentiality. Its decentralized nature ensures that we do not have to rely on a third party, and also makes the system more safe and robust. Trust between reviewers, editors, authors, publishers, institutions and funders is an extremely important factor in the review process, and the blockchain promises that it can bring that trust. However, if our assumptions are incorrect, and there are other platforms or technologies that could bring about the same results in a more efficient way, we would certainly consider them. For us, blockchain is a potential means, not the goal itself!

Will this be a closed system or an open blockchain system?

The blockchain we are using for our pilot is a private permissionless blockchain. This means all data will only be accessible to participants in the private network and all participants can send and retrieve data from the blockchain without permission.

What technology is used?

We developed our platform on top of an Ethereum compatible blockchain, called Ethermint. Ethermint is an implementation of Ethereum built on top of Tendermint. High level, the blockchain consensus engine, called Tendermint Core, and the generic application interface are used from Tendermint. Because of the flexibility of the way the application interface (Application BlockChain Interface (ABCI)) is designed and developed, transactions can be processed in any given programming language. Ethermint uses Ethereum Virtual Machines (EVM), meaning that it has the full capability of writing and executing smart contracts in Ethereum. After the pilot, we will evaluate if and how we proceed with this architecture.

Isn’t blockchain very energy consuming?

Tendermint Core, the consensus engine we’re using, is Proof-of-Stake, meaning we’re not abusing the environment and consuming huge amounts of energy like Proof-of-Work consensus algorithms.

What information is shared?

What we want to share in a controlled and safe way is metadata around peer review activities (e.g. dates of reviewer invitations, acceptance or decline of invitations, submission of reviews reports, recommendations). We do not intend to store review reports themselves. Please note that access to any confidential part of that information (e.g. reviewer names, manuscript titles) is only accessible to strictly selected parties (i.e. relevant reviewers and publishers) through strong encryption and anonymization (see next FAQ).

Are the review reports themselves stored?

No. Only the recommendations, in a normalized way.

How is the information retrieved? Does it mean more work for editors and reviewers?

We retrieve the relevant information from the submissions systems (Editorial Manager or ScholarOne for example). No extra work is demanded from editors, authors or reviewers (except giving permissions, see next FAQ).

How are reviewers asked for permissions to store data pertaining to their review activities?

Reviewers are asked for relevant permissions when accepting a review invitation within the submission systems.

Will reviewers who don’t have an ORCID ID need to get one?

ORCID IDs are required to save review data to an ORCID profile. For other applications on top of the blockchain (e.g. getting information on recent activities of reviewers), ORCID IDs are welcome, but not necessary as we could use other unique identifiers, e.g. email addresses.

What can the blockchain deliver in phase 1?

Based on data uploaded, we will start testing the retrieval of information across journals and publishers around review activities. For example, is the reviewer that I’m considering inviting to review currently busy with another review? For which other journals in my field of research did this reviewer review manuscripts? This information will allow us in the long term to enable editors to make more informed decisions about who to invite.

In this phase, we will also allow reviewers to submit their reviewer information to their ORCID, which will be displayed on their researcher profiles (this information will only contain journal name/year, not the article they reviewed for).

How does this initiative relate to GDPR and the confidentiality around single-blind and double-blind review models?

Our approach ensures that no data falling under GDPR is stored on the blockchain. Personally identifiable data falling under GDPR and other data which is private (under single-blind and/or double-blind review models) is not stored on the blockchain itself but stored by means of links back to internal publishing systems which hold that information. Access to those systems by other parties other than the publishers (e.g. reviewers) is safely controlled by means of public-key encryption and strongly anonymized links, where we carefully examine what type of data access is required based on their relationship.