• A Bold Step Forward in Peer Review

    I am on the editorial board of a fairly new peer-reviewed, scientific journal called the World Journal of PsychiatryIn what I see as a brilliant, and yet bound to be controversial move, the journal is going to begin publishing not only the completed, revised, accepted manuscript online but also both the peer reviewers’ comments on the initial paper and the authors’ letter addressing the reviewers’ concerns. An email I received yesterday from the publisher said that:

    In order to increase the quality of peer review, push authors to carefully revise their manuscripts based on the peer reviewers’ comments, and promote academic interactions among peer reviewers, authors and readers, we decided to anonymously publish the reviewers’ comments and author’s responses at the same time the manuscript is published online. For example: World J Gastroenterol Volume 19 Issue 24 June 28, 2013. See: http://www.wjgnet.com/1007-9327/current.htm

    I think this is just absolutely fantastic for improving the peer review process. If you are not familiar with how the typical peer-reviewed scientific journal operates, here are the basic steps:

    1. Authors submit a manuscript to a journal’s editor (often through online portals, although some few small journals still require hard copies be sent in)
    2. Editors will give the paper a read and decide whether or not is should be sent out to multiple peer reviewers (ideally experts in the subject matter), based on aspects such as fit with the journal’s mission, quality, and reputation of the author(s).
    3. If deemed worthy of peer-review, the manuscript is then sent out to (from the authors’ side) anonymous peer reviewers, usually at least two (although many journals, like the WJP, use three).
    4. These reviewers are to read the manuscript and provide detailed feedback in the form of general (how the writing was overall) and specific (methodological or statistical choices by the authors, for example) comments, as well as overall recommendations for accepting, accepting with major/minor revisions, or rejection.
    5. The editor takes all the reviewer’s comments and make the call about whether a manuscript should be accepted or rejected, and then sends that feedback to the author(s).
    6. The author(s) see the feedback and decide if he/she/they want to make the requested changes and send it back in for a secondary review (if given an accept with revisions decision) or where to try and submit it again (if given a rejection).
    7. If and when an acceptable manuscript is received, then the manuscript goes through copy-editing and is put in the queue to be published.

    Outside of the editor(s) and author(s), people typically do not get any opportunity to see inside the review process: what the reviewers say, how the authors answer, how the manuscript is changed by the review process itself. The decision for WJP to actually publish this type of “behind the scenes” material is a great move at increasing the transparency of the peer-review process, which can be quite opaque and problematic at times (EDIT: changed link).

    In addition, this could be a great teaching and social learning tool for junior researchers, who can look at manuscripts to see what the most common errors and mistakes are in submitted manuscripts, then take that and improve their own submissions. This could include undergraduates, graduate students, and early-career researchers who have not been through the review process themselves over and over again.

    Finally, knowing that your comments will be published (even anonymously) may help to improve the quality of feedback from reviewers. Sometimes reviewers can be downright hostile, in a completely non-constructive way. This may be because they disagree with your hypothesis, or they hate your former advisor, or they just had a bad day.

    At the very least, seeing the process ahead of time might prevent you from reacting in such an angry fashion when you get your reviewer comments back….

    Category: PoliticsPsychologyScience


    Article by: Caleb Lack

    Caleb Lack is the author of "Great Plains Skeptic" on SIN, as well as a clinical psychologist, professor, and researcher. His website contains many more exciting details, visit it at www.caleblack.com