Dr Farooq Rathore is a rehabilitation medicine physician in Pakistan who has been involved in training early-career researchers for many years. For Peer Review Week he shares his experiences and reflections on peer review.
What are your experiences of peer review?
I published my first manuscript in Spinal Cord in 2007. I did not even know the terms peer review at that time and had to spend lot of time revising the manuscript based on the reviewer’s comments. Today I have published 116 manuscripts including four book chapters, serve on the editorial board of four journals and have peer reviewed more than 110 manuscripts for 18 national and international biomedical journals.
Peer review was definitely a part of this growth. The peer review comments I have received over the last so many years were mostly positive and helped me revise my manuscripts in a better way, especially the peer reviews that were more focused, gave an in-depth analysis and in many cases also recommended specific revisions which helped improve the quality of manuscript.
Why do you participate in peer review?
Peer review helps me learn and grow. I get to know about the latest research trends in my field and it gives me food for thought for my future research endeavours.
I also feel doing peer review is like “giving back to the scientific community”. Many unknown peer reviewers helped refine my manuscripts by their positive and constructive feedback and made me a published researcher. I am grateful to those anonymous sentinels of science. It is my duty to carry on this legacy and anonymously (and sometimes not anonymously) help other colleagues improve their manuscript by the peer review process. I also see doing peer review as an acknowledgement of my previous contributions to science that I have been promoted from an author to a peer review who is also an evaluator.
What challenges do you see with peer review today?
- The biggest challenge is of having too many manuscripts and probably too few good quality peer reviewers. Many peer reviewers specially in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) are not formally trained for peer review and focus mostly on English grammar mistakes instead of focusing on the science.
- Despite the changing paradigms of peer review, it mostly remains a personal academic endeavour with little or no official support from the institutes and departments. There is usually no formal recognition or reward for the time and efforts a peer reviewer spends on improving the manuscript.
- In some cases, peer review manipulation is done where a high-ranking author manages to know the identity of the peer reviewer or manages to get a peer reviewer of his/her choice. This makes the whole process of peer review questionable. I think this problem should be acknowledged and addressed
- There is no globally accepted criteria for becoming a peer review, like the ICMJE guidelines for authorship. Many of my young colleagues start getting invitations for peer review after publishing their first manuscript online, although they are neither trained nor qualified enough to peer review other publications.
- Authors based in LMICs are at a disadvantage when their manuscript is reviewed by a published expert based in a developed country. Many times, researchers based in developed countries cannot comprehend the challenges, authors based in LMICs face. These reviewers evaluate the manuscript very strictly and sometimes give comments which are not applicable to the research being done in LMICs.
What could be done to improve peer review?
- Researchers and authors must be formally trained in the art of peer review. Authors need to understand that writing own manuscript and critically analysing another person’s research work are two different things and require different skill sets. Publons Academy is an excellent initiative which needs wider dissemination. Other useful online training resources include those from the American Chemical Society and Editage.
- There is a need to formally recognize peer review as an academic activity. CME and CPD points should be awarded by the journals or the institutions. Publons is again leading the way by maintaining a record of peer reviews performed by researchers which can be shared.
- Incentives; both monetary and non-monetary (access to the database etc) can help improve quality of peer review. It is said that there is nothing like a free lunch in the world, but I know for sure there is something called “peer review for free”.
- Although there are multiple models of peer review available nowadays, there is no scientific evidence that one form is superior over the other. Journals probably need to adopt a hybrid model of peer review, where the same manuscript undergoes two to three different types of peer review to improve the quality.
Peer Review Week is a global event celebrating the essential role that peer review plays in maintaining scientific quality. The theme of Peer Review Week 2018 is “Diversity and Inclusion” and aims to explore a wide range of issues and challenges that this topic presents within peer review. It is running from 10–15 September 2018 with activities taking place around the globe. For more information, see https://peerreviewweek.wordpress.com