Trust in peer review, from the perspective of peer reviewers (Part 2)

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9 mins
Trust in peer review, from the perspective of peer reviewers (Part 2)

The raging pandemic has brought almost everything to a halt, including the scholarly publishing world and the way researchers conduct their research. As the world moves online, there is an added pressure for every player in the scholarly publishing world to do their bit to maintain trust in peer review, which is also the theme of this year’s Peer Review Week. We continue our conversation with experienced peer reviewers, who share their views about the challenges in this integral process and if technology can have an impact on the peer review process. Read on to find out what they have to say about this process and what they think can help improve trust in peer review!

The challenges you think impact trust in peer review? Can technology, such as AI-based manuscript assessments, help fast-track this process?

ATIYAH ELSHEIKH: With an increasing number of peer-reviewed publications every year, relying only on appreciable voluntary post-submission peer review is something that we need to reconsider and improve. It is not an optimal state that those who most contribute to a publication – i.e., journal editors, authors and peer reviewers – don’t get financial rewards, given the huge revenue publishers of scientific articles gain. Thus, in my modest opinion, a serious challenge against the mentioned goal is to make the efforts of those who contribute to a publication, financially rewardable to the degree equivalent to their contribution.

One can say: fine, let us do it. But well, this can be a challenge. Here are some examples, but not all potential obstacles, to this step. First, what about reviewers of free open-access journals, how can they be directly rewarded? How about papers conducted within projects financed by public money/taxes, should not they be open access? What kind of increasing conflict of interests may arise in the context of double roles of scientific reviewers involved in public governmental institutes or profit- (or non-profit) oriented private research institutes? We hope some people start to bring some good answers to these questions and definitely more important ones.  

With regards to employing AI-based technologies for assessing manuscript reviewing, here it is quite risky to give a definite answer, given that someone may be reading this opinion 100 years from now, laughing at my answer. However, what I’d like to do is to raise further questions, like:

  • At which level of article submission would these assumed AI technologies act? Pre-peer review, post-peer review?
  • Will these technologies be employed for rejecting a submission, or approving a submission, or even both?
  • How can human creativity, where each submission is incomparably unique, be measured, validated or falsified?  
  • If AI technologies can replace peer reviewers, why don’t all of us sit at home and watch other AI technologies writing and conducting original novel scientific publications?      

Let us see whether and how some creative minds shall produce some practical answers for those and other more important questions.  


The American administrative academic system is gradually weakening as there are administrators who are unsupportive of faculty members. However this should not stop faculty members from achieving their goals and follow the principle “when there’s a will, there’s a way”; my personal attitude is if “I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it right”. Since we switched from the real classroom to online, where I now teach 110 students, I’ve had to decline quite a few reviews because I’ve had to prepare lessons plans. So, it might be hard now to find reviewers, but it is even tougher to find people who have the right attitude. So there are two main challenges really, finding the people to review, and finding reviewers with the right attitude who will guide authors through and not destroy them.

I’m of the opinion that if I do a review, I need to do it right. For instance, when it comes to textbook reviews, I would take 2 days to do a good job, while a 5-page paper could be reviewed in about an hour. In fact, when it comes to the time taken per review, it completely depends on the topic of the paper and how well it is written - so some reviews take me about an hour, while others take about 7hrs. Some reviewers may do an unprofessional review as they just want to receive their paycheck, so they may do a review quickly and find any kind of reason to reject a paper. But it’s time for the attitude of reviewers to change, otherwise you’re not really giving authors a chance to publish.

During COVID-19, everyone’s tuition goals have escalated, and administrators are not cutting faculty members any breaks, so it can be pretty tough. Authors will just need to be more patient, and wait a bit longer in comparison to pre COVID-19 times; I don’t think we can really escape this. However, just because there is a delay, there should not be a drop in the trust level; it’s the quality of the review that’s important here to ensure that the trust is maintained. Having a quick but weak and unprofessional review won’t really help authors, but a delayed, yet very helpful review would definitely be more beneficial. Another beneficial factor would be to introduce stipends. When you’re getting paid to review, you will take the job more seriously in comparison to those who are treating it just as volunteer work. And as one who pays, you can be strict with reviewers, for example, give them a warning – this is not good, if it happens again, you’re out, or if they do a really unprofessional job, don’t pay them and say this is unacceptable because you’re not taking it seriously. It’s not really up to me to decide, but if it was my job, that’s how I would do it.

While technology would definitely help with peer review, you also need some kind of training for peer reviewers; there should be certain guidelines, which will be a bigger solution, because reviewers who don’t have the right attitude will be able to abuse any kind of technology. Pre-submission reviews by AI can also be helpful, but what authors need to know more is what kind of papers journals are looking for. In fact, I’ve submitted papers in top journals, where they said it doesn’t match with the principles of the journals, which gave me a heads-up that the paper does not match instead of waiting for a long time for the review just to receive a rejection. In this case, preliminary reviews are definitely beneficial both for the journals and the authors as well.


Scientific article writing is an art – it’s the same as to paint a picture or to write a novel. Can AI distinguish a good movie from a bad one? A genius song from a one-hit wonder record? Perhaps it will happen in future, but not today. There is no alternative to human peer review nowadays. That is why peer reviewer occupancy will not disappear in the near future. You are more than welcome to join our community J

It’s unlikely that AI and new technology will replace the peer review process, at least not for some time. However, when used ethically and at the right stage, it can help streamline and enhance the decision-making process for everyone involved in the editorial process. If you’re interested in AI and publishing, CACTUS has an exciting new solution, apart from the premium Editage Scientific Editing services, that can help authors speed up the peer review process. 

Read part one of this interesting round-up of views from our top-journal peer reviewers, where they talk about their experience with and as peer reviewer and how editing can support authors and publishers.

About our experts

Atiyah Elsheikh, Dr. Rer. Nat.

Independent consultant and researcher for Modelica-based technologies (

Atiyah Elsheikh is a researcher specialized in modeling and simulation with the main focus on object-oriented modeling with Modelica, Dynamical Systems, Optimization, Inverse Problems, Process Engineering, Scientific Computing and Scientific Software Engineering. Application areas included Systems Biology and Cyber Physical Energy Systems. His scientific background includes Mathematics (BSc. 1999 and Diploma 2001 from Kuwait University) and Computer Science (MSc. 2005 and PhD 2012 from RWTH Aachen, Germany). He worked in research environments for about 10 years (Siegen University, Research Center Jülich and Austrian Institute of Technology GmbH). He has published around 30 peer-reviewed papers and has conducted voluntary post-submission peer-reviewing for many journals, four of which are Q1-ranked journals. Currently, he is independent consultant and researcher for Modelica-based technologies ( Additionally, he works as a freelancer scientific reviewer for Cactus Communication since November 2019 with focus on mathematically-oriented papers. He professionally conducted many pre-submission peer-reviewing for papers targeting high ranked journals such as Science and Nature.

Michael A. Radin, PhD

Associate Professor of Mathematics, Rochester Institute of Technology, School of Mathematical Sciences, New York

Michael has spent over two decades providing students and authors with feedback on how to improve their work, with international teaching experience in several universities in Greece and Latvia. Apart from pursuing interdisciplinary research on pedagogical management, pedagogical innovations and pedagogical leadership, he has conducted many seminars and workshops, and has published four textbooks and is working on his fifth as we speak. Michael has also been associated as an editor with Forum Scientiae Oeconomia, Journal of Nonlinear Dynamics, Psychology and Life Sciences, and Journal of Proceedings of International Conference on Society, Integration and Education. Furthermore, Michael has taken an active innovative lead in teaching online courses, which has increased his pedagogical learning curve after teaching for 25 years in the traditional classroom atmosphere.

Oleg Sidletskiy, Dr. Ing. Prof.

Head of Department in Institute for Scintillation Materials, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine

Oleg has more than 10 years of experience as a scientific reviewer and has conducted around 100 reviews to Crystal Research and Technology, Journal of Crystal Growth, Materials Science and Engineering B, Optical Materials, IEEE Transactions on Nuclear Science, Radiation Measurements, Chemical Physics Letters, Crystal Growth and Design, Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics, and many other journals. He has published more than 110 papers and has completed over 80 reviews as a Scientific Reviewer for Cactus Communications.

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Published on: Sep 21, 2020

Senior writer, editor and mentor with a passion for weaving words into compelling content for academics in the sphere of science communication and scholarly publishing
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