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Peer Review Week 2017


The central importance of peer review and its associated challenges and pain points means that it is something publishers and others in the information space think about a lot nowadays. Like citability, peer review is one of the cornerstones of academic publishing, be it the journal workflow where submitted manuscripts are managed by an editor(s) and editorial board, or in the evaluation that a publisher puts into its books publication approval process.

Why peer review?

Until now there has been an acceptance that:

“Peer Review is the worst form of content evaluation, except for all the others” with apologies/thanks to Winston S. Churchill.

Now that paper manuscript distribution and letter writing are no longer the primary means of scholarly communication, there are new ways that categorisation and validation of research can be applied. Additional information about a work can be shared from the underlying data sets, information about the paper such as author roles, funding and even the evolutionary process of the research work itself. This information is of value to the author, the reader, the publisher, the funder, the author’s institution, data miners and future researchers to name just some.

Challenges and Opportunities

There are many challenges and opportunities in the current approach to peer review including: lack of time available to review, identifying referees, the lack of recognition for refereeing, the benefits of detailed review pre-publication, the opportunity for post-publication review, the possibility of reviews travelling with content either in pre- or post-publication and, of course, there are examples of bias that can sometimes be shown to exist and of failures to detect plagiarism or spoofed research. New approaches are being suggested and tried and companies and services such as Publons, Peerage of Science, Rubriq, Academic Karma, PubMed Commons, PubPeer and others address various points around review or commenting on content.

There are also questions around what developments of  the ‘living article’ mean for the peer review activities of validation, mentoring and improving and engagement? What will it mean in the evaluation of longer form publication? The focus is often on review – when and how it can be done – but the peer aspect of the process is very important. How peer is peer? Reviewers can have more or less, broader or narrower experience than the authors. Using AI to find reviewers and support editorial work will certainly grow as a method, but the algorithms will need to be trained to ensure they don’t introduce bias of their own, or at least that such bias is understood. In a way, the point of the process is to select an appropriate reviewer while limiting other biases.

What can publishers do?

Cambridge’s determination to provide the best research and learning solutions means that we need to see how we can best support academic research publication and the trust required for this. We are looking at the review of preprint collections, post publication reviews, recognition for reviewer activity, granular credit by role attribution such as the CRediT taxonomy, training support for reviewers, support for the review of data and other non-text based outputs, the tracking of metrics and impact, the opportunity to use artificial intelligence to find reviewers and to support the manuscript evaluation process, where possible applying standard approaches to allow for portability and integration.

Publishers should try to make the experience for their authors and reviewers as positive as they can. After all, we want them to continue providing reviews and to recognise and appreciate what we can do for them. Structured training in peer review for researchers is increasingly common across researchers and higher education sector. We are making sure our traditional peer review processes support our authors and publications as well as they can and are appropriate to their discipline. We are also discussing new models and innovations to see where we can add value to our authors, readers and reviewers. As well as this, we remain committed to making sure that our engagement and processes are transparent (although the level of reviewer and content transparency will vary with the process that suits the discipline).

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