A survey of hundreds of early career researchers suggests that many make unrecognised contributions to peer reviewing scientific papers, providing ideas and text for a report without being named or credited when it is submitted to journal editors.

Researchers from two US universities working with the organisation Future of Research collected survey responses from 498 early career researchers from across the sciences. Three-quarters of those polled said they had participated in co-reviewing – making contributions to a report when they are not the invited reviewer. The majority of these – 95% – said that the experience was beneficial, as it is seen as an opportunity to receive practical training in peer review. However, around 80% agreed that it is unethical when these contributions go uncredited and early career researchers’ names are left off the reports. Half of those surveyed said they had ‘ghostwritten’ a report in this way, sometimes without any involvement from the senior colleague who was subsequently named on the report.

The researchers who carried out the survey say the issue of peer review ghostwriting has not been studied before in detail. They published their findings on the non-peer reviewed preprint server bioRxiv, and say more work is needed to establish whether these practices are widespread, and identify the underlying causes.