Celebrating Peer Review Week 2017

September 14, 2017

By Colin Guthrie, Ph.D.

This week we’ve been celebrating Peer Review Week, a time to salute and discuss the sometimes controversial process that remains an important cornerstone of scientific research.

The theme of the week this year is Transparency in Review

What does the word transparency mean in the context of peer review? Peer review is a process that has traditionally taken place behind the curtain. It’s a process that usually happens anonymously: the reviewer may not know whose work they’re reading and while the author sees the reviewer’s comments, they don’t know who wrote them. This secrecy is meant to encourage honest reviews, protect reputations, and avoid feeding any grudges.

In some ways, the idea of transparency in peer review could be seen as antithetical to how the process has always been done.

To me, the concept of transparency when it comes to peer review is all about trust. As a researcher, do you trust that your work has been given a fair shake during review? As readers, can we trust that what we are reading is true, has been held to the highest ethical standard and properly vetted by experts? Many recent articles point to an erosion of trust in the peer review process while others suggest what we can do about the issue and regain and build on that trust.

In honour of the week and its theme about shedding light on the process, we wanted to talk about peer review in general and share some of our recent and continuing efforts to improve the review experience at Canadian Science Publishing.

As a not-for-profit publisher of over 20 rigorously peer-reviewed scholarly journals, you can understand that this topic is at the very core of what we do!

If you’ve ever submitted a piece of your research work for publication in an academic journal, you probably already have strong opinions about the peer review process. You might think it’s great; a necessary part of carrying out good scientific research. On the other hand, you might loathe the lack of transparency as your work is whisked away behind closed doors and pored over by mysterious, anonymous reviewers.

As a publisher, we see ourselves as champions of peer review and take our cues on the process of peer review from our Editorial Boards made up of experts selected from each field of study. We also aim to provide early career researchers with the necessary tools and tips for peer review such as a recent blog post on surviving your first peer review.

A few quick tips: when you get that email saying that the review of your work is ready, take a deep breath and remember:
  • An article is a tattoo, once it’s published it’s out there forever; you want reviewers to cast a hard, critical eye on your work to be sure it’s relevant, trustworthy, and free of errors.
  • Rigorous and critical review of each piece of scholarly work ensures that journals are publishing research that is dependable and reproducible.
  • The goal of the peer review process is to work together and produce and communicate the best possible work so that readers know they can hang their hats on the data and results they’re reading.
  • Reviewers are people and sometimes people have a bad day. Take it in stride; patience and a thick skin are science accessories that never go out of style.
  • If the reviews are positive, great! If they’re negative, it’s not the end of the world. Now is your chance to go back to the lab, hone the work, and try again another day.
Preparing good quality reviews when called upon is a sometimes overlooked part of being a good scientific researcher. Part of the issue is that learning to write good reviews often falls into on the job training with little to no formal instruction. Add to that the fact that traditionally, there has been no easy way for reviewers to get recognition for the voluntary peer-review work that they do.

We have been carrying out a number of projects for the last few years at Canadian Science Publishing to improve this situation with an eye to continually increasing the quality of our reviews and to provide some well-deserved recognition for our reviewers.

Each year, we announce the Outstanding Reviewers for our journals and let the readership know who these hard-working individuals are through our newsletters and journal websites. 

Our upcoming peer-review mentorship program will provide students and early career researchers with the tips and tools they need to become effective peer reviewers. Representatives from Canadian Science Publishing are working with teams at the University of Western Ontario and STEM Fellowship to develop course content that teaches students about scientific publishing and peer review, how to deliver a high quality review, and ways to improve their scholarly writing.

We have also been looking at ways to give each reviewer some visibility for the time they spend performing this valuable service that was until recently, carried out almost entirely behind the scenes. This includes exploring partnerships that will help provide our reviewers with a place to show off their output and get some appreciation for the countless hours they spend helping to ensure our journals publish only the best research.

Stay tuned!

Filed Under: Scholarly Publishing

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