Essential Areas for Improving Peer Review – Three Experts Share Their Views

May 30, 2019 Elizabeth Moylan

This post was co-authored by Michael Willis, Senior Manager, Content Review, Wiley.

As part of the 6th World Conference on Research Integrity taking place in Hong Kong June 2-5th, Elizabeth Moylan (Publisher, Research Integrity and Publishing Ethics) and Michael Willis (Senior Manager, Content Review) will be co-chairing a symposium on better peer review. They will be inviting perspectives from three guest speakers Zijian Zheng, (Polymer Scientist, Institute of Textiles and Clothing at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University), Graeme Smith (Professor of Nursing, School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Care, Edinburgh Napier University) and Shayuti Mohamed Adnan (Senior Lecturer, School of Business and Maritime Management, University Malaysia Terengganu).

Over the last 18 months at Wiley, a number of colleagues have been thinking about what ‘better peer review’ might look like. Is there an accepted ‘standard’ for peer review? Or, could we think of peer review as an ‘aspirational framework’ consisting of some practices that meet expectations and others that could be improved? Our collective efforts have taken the form of a research project defining five essential areas of best practice within peer review: Integrity, Ethics, Fairness, Usefulnessand Timeliness.

From our findings, published in Learned Publishing, we have developed a Better Peer Review Self-Assessment to help Editors consider their peer review practices and processes. This is freely available to journal teams in the form of an online, easy-to-use questionnaire. It focuses on the five essential areas and provides journal teams with a means to reflect on their entire peer review publishing process. If you are interested in learning more, please visit our dedicated website.

The World Conference on Research Integrity is one of the largest and most significant conferences in this field and we are looking forward to discussing this project and sharing our initial findings. Ahead of our discussion, we’ve asked our guest speakers for their thoughts on peer review to share a flavor of some of the topics that interest them.

Q. Ziijan, you will be taking the role of ‘editor’ for our discussion, what are the key points that interest you in peer review?

A. From my perspective, I am particularly aware that it is my responsibility to check submitted manuscripts not only for their fit and quality for a journal but also for aspects of integrity and ethics too. During the symposium discussion, I would like to hear from other editors on their approaches to checking the integrity and how to make that effective. I would also like to hear individual perspectives from authors and reviewers about how an editor could or should help in dealing with integrity issues.  

Q. Graeme, you will be taking the role of ‘peer reviewer’, can you share some of the personal challenges you face in that role?

A. As a peer reviewer of academic papers, I believe that I make a significant contribution to the quality control process and integrity of research that is published within my academic discipline. To be effective in my role as a reviewer though, it is vital that I act in an objective, honest and constructive manner and always review in line with the house-style of a given journal. While there are many benefits to being a journal reviewer, reviewing can be challenging too. From my perspective in biomedical science, I have noticed the importance of reporting guidelines has increased significantly in recent years. Guidance on how to appropriately interpret and apply relevant publishing guidelines within the peer review process would be greatly appreciated.  Another area where problematic issues may arise is that of publication ethics. Again, updates from journals on ethical issues would enhance my ability to ensure the highest level of integrity in my role as a reviewer. 

Q. Shayuti, from the perspective of an ‘author’ what do you think are the main challenges within peer review?

A. There are a number of challenges facing authors, but in particular those which come to mind for me focus on the feedback authors receive, which in turn depends on how reviewers are selected (either via author suggestions or editor suggestions). How are potential conflicts of interest and bias handled? Are reviewer identities revealed to the author or not? Are there are cultural sensitivities at play? Another issue I am concerned about, from an author perspective, is the authenticity of the declarations authors make on submission to a journal. Authors are also very sensitive to potential plagiarism issues especially if a submitted manuscript is highly similar to a published thesis or student-related assignment published online. How do journals handle this situation? Is self-citation permitted? Are there potential opportunities to abuse the peer review system, for example, if a researcher submits to a journal with no intention of publishing there, but simply to gain comments to improve their paper for submission to another journal?

Of course, I’ve focused on some challenges to peer review, but there are also great benefits and it can be immensely helpful to receive different perspectives outside of those of close work colleagues, so I am very much looking forward to the discussion.

Thank you Zijian, Graeme and Shayuti for sharing your thoughts and interesting questions. We very much look forward to discussing these and other issues at the conference, and also hearing the perspectives shared from the audience too. We will be reporting back on our discussion but if you’d like to put a question to the panel please comment below or tweet using #WCRI2019.

About the Author

Elizabeth Moylan

Publisher, Wiley //

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