The worthwhile challenge of peer review

Scholarly publishing is built on peer review –we just couldn’t survive without it. As such, it is an important part of our editorial process at Channel View Publications / Multilingual Matters. The concept of publishing something “scientific” that hasn’t been through some form of blinded approval process is quite frightening – we could be publishing completely unfounded results with wide-reaching and very serious implications (the meningitis vaccine controversy being a perfect example).

"Wikipedian Protester", by Randall Munroe (CC-BY-NC 2.5)
“Wikipedian Protester”, by Randall Munroe (CC-BY-NC 2.5)

Having said that, the nature of peer review can and does vary according to subject, format, and potentially publisher and editor too. For example, most journals will use double-blind peer review, regardless of whether social science and humanities or STM (scientific, technical and medical). Books will often use a single- or editor-review, often because the reputation of the author will have a bearing on book sales, so the publisher needs an insight into that reputation as well as reassurance that the work is academically sound. Some more applied or practitioner journals will use editor review only (see the glossary for more explanation of these terms). In all cases reviewers are expected to highlight any potential or actual problems and make a recommendation to the editor. They are not expected to replicate results, make direct changes to the manuscript or prove any suspected misconduct, but they are expected to comment on factors such as originality, coverage, relevance and structure.

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ajc1/6735929719/(CC-BY-SA 2.0)
Source: Flickr 

Peer review is under a lot of scrutiny at the moment – and there’s good reason. It isn’t a perfect system, and most people in the industry can tell a tale of peer review gone wrong (see http://retractionwatch.com/ for some recent examples). With the number of working-paper repositories in existence now, a determined reviewer can probably find out an author’s identity. Reviewing isn’t typically taught, so early-career researchers tend to hone their reviewing skills through trial and error. Editors say finding good reviewers is getting harder due to increasing pressures on researcher’s time. Reviewing is an often unpaid, often unacknowledged part of academic life, but it’s expected of every researcher. As pressures on academics grow, it stands to reason that some will simply stop doing what they’re not rewarded for. But out of discontent comes innovation, and there is certainly innovation and experimentation going on in peer review at the moment. Some publishers are publishing the reviews along with the finished article (including the reviewer’s names). Some allow comments and post-publication review on their platforms. Some publishers obligate their authors to do a minimum number of reviews. Companies are building systems to track and prove peer review has occurred (see http://pre-val.org/).

At Channel View Publications / Multilingual Matters we agree that peer review is of huge importance, and we won’t publish anything that hasn’t been through a minimum of single-blind peer review – and some manuscripts are rejected following review. The books that go on to be published can change dramatically after peer review – many of our authors comment how useful they found the process and how much their manuscript improved following review. We pay our reviewers in cash or books – we acknowledge this is an important and very valuable job that takes time, care and expertise, and we think they should be rewarded for that. Reviewers are also always sent a free copy of the book they reviewed when published so they can see the results of their hard work. We really appreciate our reviewers – so to those of you that have read and commented on a proposal or a draft manuscript, whether this year or ten years ago, thank you so much! We couldn’t do it without you.

Glossary:

  • Desk reject: a submission is rejected before any review has taken place (usually this is when a submission is completely irrelevant or inappropriate for the publication)
  • Double-blind: The author doesn’t know who the reviewer is, and the reviewer doesn’t know who the author is.
  • Editor Review: the editor reviews the submission without the assistance of another reader
  • Open Review: Neither the reviewer nor the author are anonymous
  • Pre-publication review: peer review done before publication
  • Post-publication review: peer review done after publication, usually in an open online forum
  • The terms reader, referee and reviewer are interchangeable
  • Single-blind: The author doesn’t know who the reviewer is, but the reviewer is aware of the author’s identity.

Kim

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