In the spirit of this year’s Peer Review Week (19th–27th September 2016), the Editor-in-Chief of Royal Society Open Science, Professor Jeremy Sanders, gives us his thoughts on the need to recognise the work done by peer reviewers in scientific scholarly publishing.
Why is peer review important for scientists and scientific research?
When we make a discovery, however large or small, most researchers become attached to it: there is often a sense of parental pride in “our” discovery. It’s one of the aspects of science that keeps us excited and engaged, but it can also make us blind to possible imperfections in the experiment, the data, the interpretation, previous work in the area or the writing. Peer reviewers can validate or challenge the work, open our eyes to the imperfections and improve the final publication. It’s not a perfect system: reviewers can be excessively conservative in the face of new ideas, can be jealous, or incompetent, but it’s probably the best system we have got if we need to maintain the idea of publication as the route to establishing priority, and we want to minimise the quantity of doubtful or poor science entering the public domain. In the era of social media, it is more important than ever that there are places to go and read with a degree of confidence.
Why is it important to recognise peer reviews and peer reviewers?
Because they are such a key part of the scientific ecosystem, but as everyone gets busier, peer reviewing is something that some colleagues will feel they can skip in order to concentrate in their own work.
Why do you think there is hesitation or resistance to openly recognising peer reviews/reviewers?
I don’t know. A conscientious referee who does a thorough and constructive job should be happy to have their name associated with the improved paper when it is published.
Have you ever received recognition for the work you’ve done as a referee?
It is always pleasing when the authors acknowledge the improvements made by “an anonymous referee” and I know it was me. I haven’t yet refereed any papers in journal that has open reviewing.
When surveyed in a recent poll, more referees felt that a form of public recognition of their work by a journal was more valuable than a financial incentive. Why do you think this is?
Any payment would surely be too small to be significant, while the currency of esteem in academia is public recognition. Applicants for jobs or promotions can point to publicly-verifiable contributions.
As someone who has acted as a peer reviewer, what have been your reasons for doing so? Do they reflect the results of the survey?
If we want to publish our own peer-reviewed science, then we surely have a duty to do our fair share of reviewing colleagues’ submissions. Actually, I often read papers much more thoroughly when I referee than when I see them published in journals. I also ask good postdocs and PhD students to read them first, express opinions, and write draft responses. We then go through them in a way that acts as good training for the next generation as well as generating good refereeing: everyone gets something out of it.