”The threat is that the core of the publishing process is invisible and never recognised at any level” #peerrevwk16

As we wrote before we are celebrating Peer Review Week 2016 by focusing on the theme ”recognition for review”. Our aim this Peer Review Week will be to publish interviews with scholars from different disciplines at Stockholm University.

Today we publish a short interview with Peter Jansson, Professor at Department of Physical Geography, Editor-in-Chief Georg. Ann.

Peter Jansson. Photo: Anders Blomquist.
Peter Jansson. Photo: Anders Blomquist.

– I am Editor-in-Chief for an international peer reviewed ISI-listed journal and as such I encounter the problem of landing reviewers for manuscripts on a daily basis. The work is quite interesting since I encounter many different responses to review requests.

Some authors count their review jobs and say no when they have reached an “enough” number, relating to their own number of publications. This is a kind of an “eye for an eye” idea and is just one example of how people adopt strategies for the increasing number of review requests. I mention this because with time the number of requests have increased considerably, particularly if you are a senior scientist. Hopefully, because you are more known and respected, but also because the number of manuscripts produced rapidly increases.

So the threat to the review process is likely one of self-destruction. In order to remedy this, there must be some recognition for the work done. In academia, many jobs are not officially counted. Does, for example, Stockholm University, have any statistic over how many academics in the organisation that are Editors, and how many reviews are made annually by researchers? And so on. It is a combination of several factors, the “pressure to publish”, the invisibility of reviewers and editors and other unsalaried aspects of academic publishing.

At some point we need to take a serious look at the system as a whole. Publishing is supported by voluntary work, it is supposed to be open and free, but no-one seems to acknowledge the unseen cost for the voluntary work.

So the threat to our system comes from the fact that the core of the publishing process is invisible and never recognised at any level. Work is work and peer review is important work where our entire academic education is necessary to maintain a credible level.

Why is peer-review important in your field today?

– It is definitely important to obtain independent and educated views on scientific manuscripts and application for grants, positions and promotions. Peers in the sense knowledgeable on the topics and processes concerned are therefore the key.

What do you think about the future of Peer Review?

– I have not seen or heard of other ways to achieve what peer review accomplishes that would have the broad benefits of the current system. It is always possible to improve one detail here or there but that is usually at the expense of other aspects. Instead, it is the attitude that needs to change. The system is fallible but there is no fool proof system, and I dare say there probably never will be.

Usually there will be a mediator, an editor or equivalent, handling review exchange between reviewer and the reviewed. Such a person has a very important function and should be chosen with care and probably not be alone. A problem with peer reviews is also that they have increasingly become a “truth” that cannot be discussed. This, in my opinion, goes against the academic tradition where learned discussion should be the focal point. I think this problem is mostly noticeable in publishing where it seems the reviewer is always right despite the process being called PEER review. The role of the reviewer, reviewed and mediator is thus to arrive at an educated conclusion, not that one or the other is correct by default.

As with many other aspects of humanity you need to weight the benefits versus the problems and agree on what is an acceptable level. Then, academics should by nature be critical of all information and so, again, it is another human fallacy that is also causing additional problems with the system.

Another aspect worth mentioning is openness. Traditionally, at least in my field, anonymity has been the norm. I believe anonymity is detrimental to peer review and that open reviews is what is needed. One only has to go as far as to social media to see how anonymity releases all kinds of behaviour that would not be acceptable in an open conversation. So abolishment of anonymity in peer review is an improvement I believe will provide better and more balanced reviews.

The conclusion is thus that we have lost some of the sense of acceptable uncertainty that goes with everything we do and have replaced this with a right-wrong, good-bad approach. Where this comes from is perhaps another discussion.

What would make you accept (or reject) an invitation to review an article, a book or a research proposal?

– The first factor will be “does it interest me”, the second would be “do I have the time” and the third will be “do I have the expertise to provide valuable feedback”. I guess a fourth could be “am I to closely involved with authors”, but that is not so common a problem despite my collaborative network. If a review request passes these three or four points, I will likely say “Yes”.

Do you have any thoughts or want to contribute with your thoughts on Peer Review? Please leave a comment.

5 thoughts on “”The threat is that the core of the publishing process is invisible and never recognised at any level” #peerrevwk16

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