A Journal Editor’s View on Peer Review Models
One of my favourite tasks at the Press is to start new journals. It is exciting to innovate and experiment with completely new journals. One question I always put to the academics helping me scope out new ideas is: “And what about peer review?”
This is an important question. As many others who will write about peer review this week, I am all too aware that we are asking busy people to volunteer their precious time when we ask them to be reviewers. And in some cases for a new journal they never heard about. Why would they do that? Apart from a sense of mission, loyalty to colleagues or the field, why else would an academic review someone else’s paper? If the journal’s editors don’t make a compelling case, then the reviewers have no reason to donate their time. So, the publisher’s contribution should be to facilitate the process and ensure it is fair and transparent. This is where we should be innovating.
I work in open access journals and therefore it sometimes follows that we will consider making the whole system open. Is open peer review a way to guarantee fairness and transparency? In a recent blog post at Scholarly Kitchen openness and transparency seem to be hand-in-hand in people’s minds.
I personally like the principle but I share the fears expressed by many researchers I interviewed. We don’t live in a utopia. The example that always comes up is what happens when a postdoc critically reviews a paper from a senior professor. Will it be met, as it should, as a contribution to the advancement of that field or will it simply close doors to that postdoc the next time they are looking for a job or funding? I can relate to this example having at one point been a junior researcher myself.
In fact, a senior professor giving me advice on a potential journal in the area of engineering argued for double blind peer review (in which the reviewers also don’t know who the authors are). This is because she still faced discriminatory remarks because of her gender.
There are in-between models such as keeping the reviews anonymous but publishing them with the article. This seems to incentivise professionalism and discourage personal attacks. Some researchers have replied: Who has time to read that? But I personally feel that if reviews are visible to the people who are interested in learning more about how the paper developed, then there is no down-side. Some publishers encourage all reviewers to discuss the paper together and send one unique report. From the point of view of the author it is very helpful as you only have to answer one set of remarks and address the essentials. From the point of view of the reviewers however, it can increase the time spent on a review and the work-load; not all academics would accept that.
There are other issues to consider: Should we focus solely on sound science as the gauging level for acceptance of the paper or should novelty be considered? Studies that test the reproducibility of previous work are notoriously difficult to publish. Yet, they are essential: How many times in history has the obvious been refuted? Personally, I believe that one answer to the previous point is that not everything needs to be an article. Published and citable data sets should be as valued as an article on a researcher’s CV. It should also be peer reviewed!
This takes me to the crux of the issue: Academia should value the various ways a researcher contributes to the field, including peer review. At the Press, we believe peer review should be a recognised contribution to research, and we facilitate this recognition through collaborating with Publons to enable researchers to publicise their peer review portfolio. Certain communities seem to be quite engaged with this. It is an easy way for a researcher (especially if they are an early career researcher) to show how they are contributing to the field by engaging in peer review.
At the Press, we try to address the needs of the academic communities we are engaged with, either by launching new journals or by innovations with our existing ones. If you read this and ‘A Personal Perspective on 30 Years of Peer Review‘ you will see how the industry has either spear headed innovation or been forced to join the band-wagon in the recent past. We hope to continue to do that by experimenting and always listening to our authors, editors, publishing partners and (especially this week – Peer Review Week 2017) our reviewers!