Weekend reads: Is the peer review system sustainable?; when to submit papers; fraud as an outbreak

booksThe week at Retraction Watch featured news of a publisher hack, and a story about a Nature Cell Biology paper likely headed for retraction. Here’s what was happening elsewhere:

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7 thoughts on “Weekend reads: Is the peer review system sustainable?; when to submit papers; fraud as an outbreak”

  1. “It is really disappointing that science has not been able to put an end to this.”

    It is not obvious to me why it is the collective responsibility of scientists to prevent medical fraud, nor how “science” is supposed to “put an end” to a guy shifting his scam from one country to another.

  2. The first graf on the Nature language piece would have been a touch better were they able to actually figure out what a split infinitive is.

  3. Regarding the PLoS One peer review study, I would feel that that authors have made a fundamental mistake. They model various scenarios of the potential reviewer pool. For example, in scenario 1, the potential available pool is determined as “researchers who co-authored at least one paper that year”. However, these authors are not all equally available as papers normally only give ONE contact email. Indeed the authors own paper has four authors – and one contact email (for the first author). The other scenarios are thus largely equally flawed. While it could be argued that I (as an editor) could spend extra time tracking down the email address for, say Phillippe Ravaud, in practice I think most editors would not. The lack of equal availability of all authors on the paper as potential reviewers would argue that the available reviewer pool is significantly smaller than the study proposes.

    1. Thanks for your comment.

      When defining the author scenarios we didn’t try to answer the question of how many reviewers are available to an editor at a given time. If that was the case, then indeed our author scenarios wouldn’t be an appropriate answer. We would have also needed a totally different methodology to address such a complex question. It is something that we plan to do in the future, but we didn’t address it in this paper.

      The question we tried to address was rather who qualifies to be a reviewer in general.

      Clearly researchers that are first authors of papers qualify to be reviewers since they have conducted research on a given topic. Moreover, researchers that are last authors since they are the supervisors of a given project and/or the directors of the lab also qualify to be reviewers. Thus the minimum potential supply of reviewers in a given year are those who were first or last authors of at least one publication.

      Please note that we use the term potential supply and not real supply of reviewers. The reason for that is exactly the fact that not all of those qualified to be reviewers are available to editors at all times. In my personal opinion this is a main driver of the extreme imbalance in the effort that we observed. Those who do the least amount of reviews might be people that editors don’t know (such as young researchers) or those who decline a lot to review.

      The reason that it is important to know whether reviewers exist or not is because there have been many claims in the literature that there is a shortage in the pool of reviewers and that the system will eventually collapse. However, these claims are mostly anecdotal and not backed by data, so we decided to use data to examine whether this is true or not. If it would have been true that there is a shortage of reviewers, then the only solution would be to find ways to lower the demand for reviews or to convince the reviewers to perform more reviews each year. However, since we showed that there is no shortage of reviewers a third option is possible for the editors. To find ways to expand their databases and find people that were previously unknown to them because it seems that a lot of them exist.

      I hope this answer clarified the issue. I would be happy to answer anything else that might not be that clear in our paper.

  4. Potential reviewers could certainly come to the attention of editors and enter the general pool because they have been first or last authors on at least one paper, but there is also the contributor nomination route, where someone suggests a few names as reviewers of their manuscript. The editor may not use those names immediately, but they end up saved for future reference.
    It would be interesting to hear from a few editors. What proportion of their reviewer pool did they research through publication authorship, and what proportion were originally nominated by contributors?

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