Our last post during Peer Review Week brings a variety of perspectives. Five editors and managing editors share their thoughts on the challenges and opportunities in their respective fields: humanities, and the health, life, physical, and social sciences. Twelve others tell us in the video below what they believe are the most important outcomes of peer review.
Humanities David S. Oderberg Editor, Ratio
Peer review in the arts and humanities is the pivot around which scholarly publishing turns. Unlike the sciences it is rarely about confirming or evaluating empirical findings, but almost always concerns an assessment of the author's theory or argument. Are the claims made plausible, well argued for, with conclusions justified by their premises? Is the quality of writing sufficiently professional for publication? Is the author making an original and interesting contribution to the field?
For an editor, the main challenge is to find a peer reviewer who is unlikely to be biased against the submission due to being known for having a conflicting perspective to the author's. Still, one needs a reviewer who is not a mere fellow traveler of the author or their viewpoint. The reviewer has to be an expert in the area and willing to give the author a fair hearing, while also being sufficiently hard-nosed to provide a rigorous yet genuinely helpful critique. This adds to the difficulty of finding sufficient reviewers, given that it is already hard enough to secure them due to the increasing pressure on academics' time.
It is very important for peer reviewers to feel part of the process until the final editorial decision. They should be shown as much courtesy as authors, especially given the voluntary sacrifice of significant time involved in peer reviewing. Editors and authors should always take their professional judgment with utmost seriousness, even if the final decision rests with the editor rather than the reviewer.
For good or ill, academics in arts and humanities generally must publish in order to have a positive trajectory for their careers. Healthy, efficient, and objective peer review untainted by personal or professional bias is essential. Publishers who support this are crucial to the health of academic publishing.
Health Sciences Cherry Agustin, Editor in Chief Journal of Medical Radiation Sciences
Editors must always be aware not to overwork excellent peer reviewers. However, increasing the number of experts to choose from to conduct peer review is a challenge. Journals with a double blinded peer review have the additional challenge of maintaining anonymity. Reviewers and authors of small specialty journals do share similar research interests and are likely to attend the same conferences, especially if they live in the same region. What can editors do to help ease these challenges? Editors must build rapport to known experts both within and outside their local regions. They can offer support to experienced colleagues with limited peer reviewing experience and discuss with colleagues and students (the future reviewers) the altruistic rewards of participating in peer review with the aim to inspire them to contribute. My personal rewards are professional growth and knowing that I contribute to producing quality publications with the view that these publications will benefit our patients.
Life Sciences Jennifer Mahar Executive Peer Review Manager with Origin Editorial
During my time as a Managing Editor in life sciences I felt like I'd hit the jackpot. We had the normal peer review challenges that all of us face, but the most rewarding part of my experience was how unbelievably kind each and every researcher was. In the field of evolution, we didn’t need to move nearly as fast as medicine, and their expectations of a ‘fast’ turnaround were very different. The conservation crowd moved a bit faster but, again, each and every person was thoughtful and aware of the world in ways that changed the way I now view the world. I bring my own water bottle to every conference I attend as an example of the small changes that can be made living by their example.
Of course there were some challenges. We were often working around the life scientists’ ‘in the field’ time, which meant they could be gone for months, and working on a revision of a paper came after sample collection for flowers that only bloom at a certain time of the year! Data archiving is a very important part of publishing in these fields, and being able to understand the tools to archive the data and create a workflow for your journal can be challenging.
My time in Life Sciences was extremely rewarding, personally and professionally, and made me much more aware of the world around us.
Physical Sciences Jianke Yang Managing Editor, Studies in Applied Mathematics
One of the opportunities is easy online access to a lot of information (including more and more journals which are available online). This wealth of information can make peer review easier and less time-consuming. The main challenge is to obtain quality reviews from reputable scholars. The quality of a journal depends on the quality of its reviewers. But reputable scholars are often very busy, which makes it difficult for them to perform reviews. Editors often need to use their personal connections to extract quality reviews. But for manuscripts on which the editor cannot identify friends or colleagues as reviewers, things will get difficult.
Social Sciences, Nadine Schuurman Editor, The Canadian Geographer / Le Géographe canadien
Social sciences tend to be behind the natural sciences and medicine when it comes to integrating change in traditions and cultures of authorship (and review). Case in point, social science journals have been much more hesitant about shifting to Open Access journals. One of the emerging challenges in peer review is that Open Access journals frequently forego double blind review and simply reveal all to both reviewers and authors. This is probably more honest in the end, and certainly helps to eliminate the scientific gatekeeping that plagues academia. However, there are also good reasons to continue to use blind reviews. The point is that the social sciences are being forced to re-evaluate this issue simply by virtue of so many OA journals tossing tradition on its head.
Another widespread issue is an inability by editors to find reviewers for papers in a timely manner. Like the discussion of double blind reviews above, this one has also been highlighted by the relatively rapid speed of review processes for OA journals. Faster industry times to publication have significantly raised the ante for traditional journals. As an editor, I sometimes have to ask as many as 20 people before I find three reviewers - which really slows down the time from submission to publication. I like the idea of faster turn around but achieving it is a scramble.
We created a series of three short videos asking individuals from across the globe about peer review and we'll be sharing them here in the coming weeks. This first video answers the question, “What do you believe are the most important outcomes of peer review?”