Peer review futures: Balancing efficiency and transparency to crack the issues in peer review
Peer Review Week is here and a great time for us to reflect on what we do best at PeerJ! With seven peer-reviewed publications to our name, we know that detailed, thoughtful, constructive improvement of scientific work is what authors are looking for and what quality science depends on. Facilitating quality in peer review is what we are most proud of at PeerJ and we do this by focusing on efficiency through a streamlined editorial system, with clear guidelines for authors, reviewers, and editors, and transparency in sharing the full peer review history of all our articles and through our steps to encourage people to sign their names to their peer reviews (optional open peer review).
Our system of optional open peer review at PeerJ is somewhat unique – both the author and the reviewer still maintain a choice. At this moment in time, where changes are happening everywhere in academia, we think this is a good transitional path that is working well. Here are some stats on where we are so far. We look forward to encouraging more transparency and efficiency in peer review to improve the entire process but we also recognize that the culture of openness is different across countries and disciplines. Below PeerJ Section Editors Andy Farke and Jennifer Vonk share their thoughts on quality in peer review.
Andy Farke, PeerJ Section Editor Paleontology and Evolutionary Science
Can you share a memorable experience receiving peer review in your career? How did this experience go on to shape your own approach or understanding of peer review?
In one of my early papers, I submitted it to the journal, and waited for the reviews with editorial decision. And waited. And waited. I prodded the editor (reluctantly, because I don’t like to bug editors unless I absolutely have to!), and they told me they were still waiting on a reviewer to get back to them. So I waited some more. Something like six months went by, and I finally got the reviews. One of the two reviewers had a detailed and very constructive review. The other had about two sentences with some vague suggestions. I don’t know for certain, but I strongly suspect the short and unhelpful review was the person who sat on it for six months, and they phoned it in just to get the editor off their back. This experience stuck with me in two ways–one, it’s important to be as timely as possible with reviews. A minor delay is OK, but if you say you’re going to review something, do it. A slow review has a cascading effect, especially on early career researchers; they might depend on this paper for a job! Plus, slow reviews just slow down the overall progress of science! Secondly, this experience affected how I work as an editor–I’m sympathetic to the delays that happen in the course of life, but I’ll almost never accept a review that is delayed by several months. It’s not fair to the authors! So, I’ll just move on and find another reviewer.
“A minor delay is OK, but if you say you’re going to review something, do it. A slow review has a cascading effect, especially on early career researchers; they might depend on this paper for a job! Plus, slow reviews just slow down the overall progress of science!”
Jennifer Vonk, PeerJ Section Editor Zoological Science
I think the most frustrating thing is when editors make decisions based on a reviewer’s misread or error in interpreting an aspect of a study. Editors need to contribute more to the process than just summarizing the reviews.
Editors need to contribute more to the process than just summarizing the reviews.
I suppose, like most people, I remember the negative reviews the most. I remember a reviewer commenting on my lack of experience as a graduate student author. I think that graduate advisers really must do the work to provide guidance before having students submit their own papers. I was embarrassed but it did wake me up to the fact that writing a publishable paper is very different from getting a good course grade. I’m not sure if enough advisers talk to their mentees about that.