Despite its flaws, peer review is fundamental to the integrity of scholarly communication. It helps to ensure that published research is accurate, trustworthy, and meets the highest standards. And every journal depends on the hard work of numerous reviewers who test and refine each article before publication.
“Reviewers are the lifeblood of any journal” – Mike J. Smith, Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Maps
If you are a researcher, have you ever been a reviewer yourself? If the answer to that question is ‘no’, then you’ll be interested in this series of Insights posts, published for Peer Review Week 2018. They look at why you should become a reviewer, how you can get involved, and how to be an effective reviewer.
Firstly, we set the scene by highlighting a set of problems raised by this year’s Peer Review Week.
Journals need more reviewers
The Taylor & Francis peer review survey found that 60% of editors have difficulty in finding qualified reviewers. It’s therefore not surprising that discussions about how to recruit more reviewers are a common feature of many editorial board meetings.
A consequence of this problem is that authors are sometimes having to wait longer than they should to receive feedback and a decision about their manuscript. It also means that a minority of the scholarly community are doing the majority of reviewing. This isn’t good for the peer review system, putting pressure on those who do review.
Can you help? If you are a researcher who has never been a reviewer before, please read ‘Why should you become a reviewer?‘
Many researchers want to review but haven’t been given the opportunity
The peer review survey also found that two thirds of authors who have never peer reviewed would like to. This means that there’s currently a lot of wasted enthusiasm which could used to solve the first problem. Many of the researchers who would like to review are part of groups which are currently underrepresented. This leads to the next problem.
Can you help? If you are ready to become a reviewer yourself, please read ‘How to become a peer reviewer‘.
The diversity problem
The theme of this year’s Peer Review Week was ‘diversity and inclusion in peer review’. The organizing committee chose this focus because of a common concern that peer review isn’t as inclusive as it should be. There is also a fear that a lack of diversity among reviewers could impact fairness in the process.
Our peer review survey revealed that researchers feel there is a relatively high prevalence of both regional and seniority bias in peer review. Whether or not this perception is correct, this is another reason to improve diversity within the pool of reviewers.
Earlier this year we highlighted the issue of diversity on editorial boards. PhD candidate Verity Postlethwaite gave us her perspective on the issue of gender and publishing. She noted that very few of the journals she regularly reads have female editors or co-editors.
What can be done about these problems?
Publishers, editors, and researchers all have a role in ensuring that peer review remains thorough, efficient, and fair.
One reason that some researchers don’t volunteer to review is that they aren’t confident in their ability to do so. Our survey found that over two thirds of authors who are yet to review a paper would like training. This was motivation to develop our ‘How to be an effective reviewer’ workshop and update our popular reviewer guidelines. We will soon be introducing a new program of reviewer training – register for the Insights newsletter to receive more details about that.
In addition, Taylor & Francis sponsors Peer review: the nuts & bolts. This is a series of workshops Sense about Science host for early career researchers. It introduces the main discussions around peer review and encourages researchers to get involved.
Earlier this year Taylor & Francis journal editor Yana Suchy presented the steps she’s taken to promote diversity within the Editorial Board of The Clinical Neuropsychologist. This has resulted in an increase in women on the Board from 23% to 50%. The number of racially and ethnically diverse individuals has also increased from 2% to 13%. Such progress is not always easy but this is a great example of what can be achieved.
Peer review is very often anonymous, resulting in a lack of recognition of the reviewer’s work. This may also be a reason why editors sometimes find it difficult to recruit reviewers.
One recent solution to this problem is Publons, an online platform that helps reviewers get verified recognition for their contributions. If you review for a journal where Publons is available, you can choose the option of having your reviews automatically verified and logged when you complete your review. This helps you to build up a profile of your peer review contributions.
Other ways that Taylor & Francis journals say ‘thank you’ to reviewers include free journal access, certificates, reviewer lists, and book discounts.
Motivation and invitation
You may never have considered becoming a reviewer yourself. If so, please read the next post in this series which looks at some reasons why you should be.
Some researchers are put off reviewing because of impostor syndrome. But please remember that you can become a reviewer at any stage of your career. You just need to have enough specialist knowledge in the research field and to be able to evaluate and critique a manuscript.
And if you have never reviewed because you have never been invited, then please accept this blog post as your invitation. Your research community needs you to become a peer reviewer.