Do researchers from emerging research countries trust peer review?
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As you browse through social media, you will observe that most of the memes on your wall are by researchers passionately discussing their frustrations with the peer review process. Some complain about confusing or inadequate comments, while others discuss their experiences with Reviewer 2—that peer reviewer who is considered angry, bitter and overly critical in his/her reviewer comments. Surprisingly, this is not just an opinion in the West, but also prevalent among authors in emerging research powerhouses such as China, Brazil, Japan, South Korea, and India. Not all discussion about peer review is negative though. There are a few researchers that offer praise, highlighting constructive peer reviewer feedback, which helped strengthen their research. The truth is that love it or hate it, peer reviews play an integral part of the scholarly publishing process and research authors must learn to live with it. But in the run-up to the , you have to ask, do researchers – especially from emerging research countries – really trust the process?
What are the common complaints about peer review?
In a world of fake news, it’s crucial that new discoveries be verified by experts before being published. Harvard sociologist Michèle Lamont, who analyzed peer review in her 2009 book, How Professors Think: Inside the Curious World of Academic Judgment, correctly wrote that knowledge is not democratic; evaluating originality and intellectual significance can only be done by those who are experts in a field. This is why peer review is a crucial, widely accepted step to validate research and ensure it meets high quality standards, while giving researchers a chance to collaborate within the larger academic community. However, even as the scholarly publishing world evolves, this process has seen relatively minor changes since it was introduced some 300+ years ago, giving rise to growing criticism over the years.
One possible reason for the rising dissent over peer review processes is probably the increasing quantum of research around the globe; this surge in manuscript submissions is fueled by the intense pressure to publish for researchers. While this is great for research, problems with quality, a lack of transparency and long delays in the peer review process have resulted in a general feeling of dissatisfaction. A Publons study indicated that over 13.7 million manuscripts are reviewed every year, with 50% of these reviews being handled by just 10% of all reviewers.1This soaring volume of content is putting a strain on peer reviewers, and slowing down an already burdened system. Moreover, a lack of transparency in the traditionally mysterious peer review process means little is known about how it works, the time it takes, and how deep reviewers delve when assessing papers; this could lead to review errors and unjust conclusions.
These flaws are highlighted by the 2019 Peer Review Survey by Sense about Science, in partnership with Elsevier. This survey revealed that unethical research practices, reviewer bias, and challenges in maintaining research integrity are eroding trust in the peer review process.2 The increase in the number of predatory journals, many with unclear peer review processes, has led to spread of ‘bad’ science that is either irreproducible or insignificant, further weakening the trust people place in this evaluation system.
So, how do authors, especially those from emerging research countries, perceive peer review?
In 2018, Editage conducted a Global Author Survey that gathered comments from researchers across the world, with a majority of responses from China, India, Brazil, South Korea, and Japan. While most of the 6,853 participants were satisfied with the overall quality of peer reviewer comments received, a majority of respondents admitted difficulty in addressing peer reviewer comments and expressed unhappiness with some aspects of how peer reviews are conducted.
The survey found that about 60% of the respondents agreed that peer review comments were insightful, with 44-45% saying the comments were clear and constructive. On the other hand, 46-47% of the participants claimed reviewer comments could be confusing and often included additional research requests, which could be a reason why 70% of authors found it difficult to respond to peer reviewer comments.3
Fig 1: Author views of peer review comments based on their experience
Source: Author Perspectives on Academic Publishing: Editage Global Survey Report, 2018
While examining geographies, it was observed that 62-79% of Chinese researchers said that peer review comments were insightful, easy to understand, and constructive. However, more than 60% of Chinese researchers also complained that comments from different reviewers could be conflicting or confusing, and often included requests for complex, time-consuming additional research.3 Overall, the survey revealed a rather divided view on the value of peer review and the experiences associated with it. Many respondents seemed aware of the challenges journals and reviewers faced, and commented on the need for change to create more trust in the peer review process.
What can be done to improve trust in the peer review process?
The respondents in both surveys suggested several measures to strengthen trust in peer review. In the Editage survey, researchers from emerging research countries emphasized the need for:
- Objectivity, fairness and accountability, which can eliminate biases and self-protective rejections by peer reviewers. Here, a double-blind peer review was seen as a good solution.
- Recognition, remuneration or incentives to encourage better quality and shorten review time.
- Evaluation of and feedback on peer reviewer comments by journal editors to boost peer review quality by ensuring clarity and constructive commentary on the research.
- Process changes on how reviewers are selected, with recommendations for basic peer reviewer training so they know how to write quality reviews, and are accountable for their performance.
Some of these points were echoed by the Sense about Science survey, where a majority felt improving support and recognition for reviewers were key to promoting trusted quality. Interestingly, 76% of respondents felt quality controls for data and supplementary materials were also important;2 here, could be a reliable solution to help already burdened peer reviewers.
Mindful of such demands, top journals have experimented with peer review models – opening or blinding peer review to remove bias, post-publication peer reviews and even roping in independent peer review services to make the process faster and more efficient, but these don’t address the issue of quality.4 While journals move to boost transparency and improve peer reviews, the question is, what can you, as an author, do to reduce peer reviewer burden? One sure-fire way to streamline the process with the highest chance of success is to submit manuscripts that meet all the key requirements for publishing, by putting it through an R Pubsure manuscript submission readiness check.
Accelerate the peer review process with R Pubsure
Leveraging 18+ years of editorial intelligence gained by working with over a million researchers, harnesses the power of AI to conduct a secure, fast, accurate, and comprehensive manuscript check. Each manuscript is assessed on key parameters, such as language quality, ethical compliance, references and more, and receives the R Pubsure Report, highlighting problem areas with clear suggestions for authors to improve their work. Every high-scoring manuscript is also awarded the R Pubsure Certificate of submission readiness, which can be shared with journal editors to speed up the editorial and review process. A smart solution for authors to streamline submissions, this essential pre-submission evaluation reduces the time and burden for peer reviewers, who can focus on the research instead of the flaws in the manuscript.
Peer review is an essential part of scientific communication and a necessity for quality control, but it’s not without its flaws. While there is considerable scope for journals to improve the value of peer reviews to global researchers, it is important to remember that each player in the scholarly publishing process must perform their part with integrity. Make sure you do your bit, and ensure your manuscript is submission ready in minutes.
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- Global State of Peer Review 2018, Publons. Retrieved from
- I. Syed - Quality and trust in peer review: An overview of Sense about Science 2019 survey. Editage Insights, 2019. Retrieved from
- Author Perspectives on Academic Publishing: Global Survey Report 2018. Editage. Available online at
- J. Patel, et. al. – Do peer review models affect clinicians’ trust in journals? A survey of junior doctors. Research Integrity and Peer Review, BMC, 2017. Retrieved from
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