Tree of Life Peer Review
Peer-review, the critical evaluation of manuscripts by professional colleagues, is the traditional method of quality control in science. In order to improve the overall quality of contributions and to increase the involvement of the scientific community in the continuing development of the project, the Tree of Life implements a formal peer-review system. Currently, there are only a few peer-reviewed pages on the ToL, but their number is steadily increasing.
By soliciting the critical input of independent peer-reviewers, we hope to move closer to our goal of ensuring that each Tree of Life page provides a comprehensive, balanced synthesis of the current views about a given group of organisms, including the phylogeny of the group. We plan to have each contribution to the Tree of Life go through peer-review eventually, but preliminary drafts of pages are usually connected to the ToL before the definitive, peer-reviewed version is ready to be published. Since the review process is labor-intensive and time-consuming, there may be considerable delays between the first appearance of a page on the ToL and its final acceptance as a peer-reviewed contribution. Should the page be rejected, its content will be removed from the ToL website.
Only those pages that are labelled peer-reviewed have successfully completed the review process. Once a page has successfully completed the peer-review process, the initial and all subsequent reviewed versions will be archived, and access will be provided to these previous versions.
The Peer-Review Process
The Tree of Life peer-review works similar to the procedure adopted by many scientific journals. Pages that are to undergo peer-review are submitted to two to three independent subject area specialists. Reviewers are chosen by the editor-in-chief (David Maddison) in consultation with the associate editors (i.e., coordinators) of a given group. The major criterion for the selection of potential reviewers is their scholarly expertise as demonstrated by their publication record on the organisms represented on the page to be reviewed. The reviews are administered under the system of one-sided anonymity, i.e., reviewers are provided with the names of the authors, but authors are not told the identities of the reviewers; reviewers do, however, have the option of revealing their identity to the authors, if they wish to do so.
Reviews are usually conducted on-line, with the reviewer typing comments about individual sections of a contribution into the windows of a structured evaluation form provided on a special peer-review web page. An explicit definition of the review criteria is given on a linked page, Notes for Reviewers, which summarizes our guidelines for the design and content of contributions to the Tree of Life. Reviewers are expected to base their recommendation as to a page's acceptance or rejection on a thorough examination of the submitted material. If a page is deemed acceptable, reviewers have the option of requesting either major or minor revisions that would improve the page's content.
The comments furnished by the reviewers are passed along to the authors. If the reviewers recommend that a contribution be revised, the authors are asked to amend the page and resubmit it to the editor. Authors may at this point decline to make the requested changes, but they would be expected to support their opinion with plausible arguments. Any such explanation would first be considered by the editor-in-chief in consultation with associate editors, but it might also be forwarded to the reviewers for further comment. In the event of contradictory evaluations by reviewers or of disagreement between reviewers and authors, additional reviewers may be engaged.
A Tree of Life page is awarded the peer-reviewed status once authors have made all the changes and additions required by the editor on the basis of the reviewers' recommendations. If the peer-review process results in the rejection of a contribution, the page's content will be removed from the ToL website, and we will initiate a search for new authors for this page.