Julia Wilson
Julia Wilson
Development Manager, Sense About Science

There’s little doubt that peer review is an essential arbiter of scientific quality, so I think it’s important that we discuss its challenges and help answer the questions many researchers have surrounding it. That’s why I held two Sense About Science sessions on peer review at ESOF2014 – Europe’s top general science event – which was held in Copenhagen this June.

 

The sessions attracted an audience of early career researchers, policy makers, journalists and others who shared their concerns and ideas with our two panels of experts consisting of:

 

hands.jpgSource: NLshop / Thinkstock

  • Lars Rasmussen, Editor-in-Chief of Acta Anaesthesiologica Scandinavica
  • Iryna Kuchma, Open Access Program Manager at EIFL
  • Victoria Babbit, publisher at Taylor & Francis
  • Sabine Kleinert, Executive Editor at The Lancet
  • Paul Hardaker, Chief Executive of the Institute of Physics
  • Irene Hames, editorial and publishing consultant
  • Stephane Berghmans, VP Global Academic & Research Relations

 

We covered a lot of ground. Here are my top 5 insights from the discussions:

 

1.  Peer review is stretched
With such a high volume of papers getting submitted to journals, editors on the panel told us they are struggling to find willing reviewers and this is making the process very slow. Researchers are also struggling to find time to review with all the other competing pressures of work. ‘Cascade reviewing’ – where rejected papers are passed on to new journals with the review reports alongside – is becoming much more prevalent and helping to prevent redundancy of reviews.

 

2. We need better training
I asked for a show of hands – “Who has reviewed a paper?” Nearly everyone in the room put his/her hand up. My next question: “Who has had any peer review training?” Everyone put their hands down. Most attendees reported that they’d learned ‘on the job’ and felt better guidelines and training workshops would have made a big difference.

 

3. Reviewers want recognition
I was interested to hear that Denmark formally recognizes reviewing in their research assessments. If other countries followed their lead, I think this would put more pressure on institutions to provide support and training for reviewers. Publishers have also been looking at using ORCID identifiers to record peer review activity. Several early career researchers also raised concerns that they were reviewing papers on behalf of their supervisors without any acknowledgement. This needs to change and we should push for shared acknowledgement in these cases. The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) also has useful guidelines to help protect early career researchers in these types of instances.

 

4. New models are springing up
This is such a fast moving area. New initiatives are offering financial incentives for reviews and creating communities of peers who all participate in reviewing. We are seeing new players managing peer review outside of the traditional journal model. Some, such as Peerage of Science, even encourage journals to bid for papers, so we are starting to see the publishing process getting turned on its head. But while some may offer an effective alternative, it seems that the jury is still out on quality, and with so many new models, it will be interesting to see whichwill still bearound in 10 years’ time.

 

5. There’s a move towards transparency and openness
I heard concerns that peer review is closed and cases of bias or misconduct are not exposed. Despite this, we are seeing a move towards openness and transparency with journals publishing reviewer and editor comments alongside papers.

 

One audience member raised an important point: “We still do not know how well the new models for peer review work. But we are scientists, so try it out! Engage in experiments!”

 

For more on peer review read our VoYS guide Peer review: the nuts and bolts written by early career researchers, for early career researchers.