What should journals do when peer reviewers do not disclose potential conflicts?

Peer reviewers, like authors, are supposed to declare any potential conflicts of interest. But what happens when they don’t?

Take this case: In a court transcript from Feb. 23, 2017, Bryan Hardin testified that he was a peer reviewer on a 2016 paper in Critical Reviews in Toxicology, which found that asbestos does not increase the risk of cancer. In the deposition, Hardin—who works at the consulting firm Veritox—also said that he has testified in asbestos litigation on behalf of automakers, such as Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler, but said he had not disclosed these relationships to the journal.

Last year, the first author of the 2016 review withdrew a paper from another journal (by the same publisher) which concluded asbestos roofing products are safe, following several criticisms — including not disclosing the approving editor’s ties to the asbestos industry. In this latest case, the journal told us it believes the review process for the paper was up to snuff, but two outside experts we consulted said they believed Hardin’s relationships — and failure to disclose them — should give the journal pause.

We obtained a copy of the transcript from Christian Hartley, who was representing a man suing a mining company because the man developed cancer after being exposed to asbestos at work. When Hartley asked Hardin whether he had told the journal about testifying for companies involved in asbestos litigation, Hardin responded:

Continue reading What should journals do when peer reviewers do not disclose potential conflicts?

Peer review in 2030: New report hopes it’s faster, more transparent, and more diverse

Elizabeth Moylan
Rachel Burley

Over the decades, the concept of peer review has changed dramatically – so what does the future hold? That’s a question examined in a new report issued today by BioMed Central and Digital Science, based on discussions held during the SpotOn London conference. (Disclosure: Our co-founder Ivan Oransky spoke there.) We spoke with Elizabeth Moylan, Senior Editor Research Integrity at BioMed Central, and Rachel Burley, Publishing Director at BioMed Central about the central question posed by the report: What will peer review look like in the year 2030?

Retraction Watch: People have many complaints about peer review. What do you think are its most pressing flaws?

Continue reading Peer review in 2030: New report hopes it’s faster, more transparent, and more diverse

Welcome to the Journal of Alternative Facts. They’re the greatest! And winning!

Ever since Kellyanne Conway, counselor to U.S. President Donald Trump, used the term “alternative facts” on Meet The Press earlier this month, the term — an awful euphemism for falsehoods, as many have pointed out — has become a meme. And like every new field, alternative facts needs its own journal. Enter the Twitter feed for the Journal of Alternative Facts, featuring such gems as Scientistonce, I.A. (2017), “We Have All the Best Climates, Really, They’re Great.”

We spoke to the founding editor to find out more about how they became the greatest overnight: Continue reading Welcome to the Journal of Alternative Facts. They’re the greatest! And winning!

Do you calculate if you should accept an invite to peer review? Please stop, say journal editors

Raphael Didham

Scientists are always pressed for time; still, Raphael Didham of the University Western Australia was surprised when he fell upon a group of early career scientists using a spreadsheet formula to calculate whether one was obligated to accept an invitation to review a paper, based on how many manuscripts he’d submitted for review. “I recall that sharp moment of clarity that you sometimes get when you look up from the keyboard and realise the world you (thought you) knew had changed forever,” Didham and his colleagues write in a recent editorial in Insect Conservation and Diversity. We spoke with Didham about how to convince scientists that peer reviewing is a benefit to their careers, not a burden.

Retraction Watch: You talk about the current problem of “zero-sum” reviewing. Could you define that in the context of the scientific peer review system? Continue reading Do you calculate if you should accept an invite to peer review? Please stop, say journal editors

Why don’t women peer review as often as men? Fewer invites and RSVPs, researchers say

Brooks Hanson
Jory Lerback. Image courtesy of the University of Utah

Women don’t peer review papers as often as men, even taking into account the skewed sex ratio in science – but why? In a new Comment in today’s Nature, Jory Lerback at the University of Utah and Brooks Hanson at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) confirmed the same trend in AGU journals, which they argue serve as a good proxy for STEM demographics in the U.S. What’s more, they found the gender discrepancies stemmed from women – of all levels of seniority — receiving fewer invitations to review (both from male and female authors). And when women get their invites, they say “no” more often. We spoke with Lerback and Hanson about what might underlie this trend, and how the scientific community should address it.

Retraction Watch: What made you decide to undertake this project?

Continue reading Why don’t women peer review as often as men? Fewer invites and RSVPs, researchers say

Dear Peer Reviewer: Could you also replicate the experiments? Thanks

via the University of St Andrews

As if peer reviewers weren’t overburdened enough, imagine if journals asked them to also independently replicate the experiments they were reviewing? True, replication is a big problem — and always has been. At the November 2016 SpotOn conference in London, UK historian Noah Moxham of the University of St Andrews in Scotland mentioned that, in the past, some peer reviewers did replicate experiments. We asked him to expand on the phenomenon here.

Retraction Watch: During what periods in history did peer reviewers repeat experiments? And how common was the practice? Continue reading Dear Peer Reviewer: Could you also replicate the experiments? Thanks

“My time and energy were stolen:” Peer reviewer reacts to retraction

Martha Alibali

When a former Stanford psychology researcher lost her fifth paper last year due to unreliable results, one researcher took particular notice: Martha Alibali at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Why? She had reviewed the 2006 paper, and took to social media to express her dismay at the result of the time and effort she spent on the research. We spoke with Alibali further about her reactions to the news.

Retraction Watch: You reviewed the paper more than 10 years ago. Can you recall what you thought about it? In retrospect, were there any red flags or doubts you had about the findings that you wish you’d caught?

Continue reading “My time and energy were stolen:” Peer reviewer reacts to retraction

“Bats are really cool animals!” How a 7-year-old published a paper in a journal

a_martin1-200x240
Alexandre Martin

The scientific literature has seen its share of child prodigies – such as a nine-year-old who published a study in JAMA, and a group of eight-year-olds who reported on bumblebees in Biology Letters. But Alexandre Martin of the University of Kentucky sought to help his seven-year-old son get published in a non-traditional way – by submitting his school report to a journal on Jeffrey Beall’s predatory list, the (now-defunct) International Journal of Comprehensive Research in Biological Sciences. They recount the story in a recent paper in Learned Publishing, giving young Martin his first taste of academic publishing, and helping his father expose its flaws.

Retraction Watch: As part of your experiment, you reformatted a booklet written by your seven-year-old about bats. In an excerpt in your paper, one line says “Bats are really cool animals!” The entire paper was only 153 words, according to The Times Higher Education. Did you think the paper would be accepted by the journal? Continue reading “Bats are really cool animals!” How a 7-year-old published a paper in a journal

Reviewers may rate papers differently when blinded to authors’ identities, new study says

Kanu Okike
Kanu Okike

Although previous research has suggested peer reviewers are not influenced by knowing the authors’ identity and affiliation, a new Research Letter published today in JAMA suggests otherwise. In “Single-blind vs Double-blind Peer Review in the Setting of Author Prestige,” Kanu Okike at Kaiser Moanalua Medical Center in Hawaii and his colleagues created a fake manuscript submitted to Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research (CORR), which described a prospective study about communication and safety during surgery, and included five “subtle errors.” Sixty-two experts reviewed the paper under the typical “single-blind” system, where they are told the authors’ identities and affiliations, but remain anonymous to the authors. Fifty-seven reviewers vetted the same paper under the “double-blind” system, in which they did not know who co-authored the research. We spoke with Okike about some of his unexpected results.

Retraction Watch: You found that reviewers were more likely to accept papers when they could see they were written by well-known scientists at prestigious institutions. But the difference was relatively small. Did anything about this surprise you? Continue reading Reviewers may rate papers differently when blinded to authors’ identities, new study says

Would peer review work better if reviewers talked to each other?

katherine-brown
Katherine Brown

Would distributing all reviewers’ reports for a specific paper amongst every referee before deciding whether to accept or reject a manuscript make peer review fairer and quicker? This idea — called “cross-referee commenting” — is being implemented by the journal Development, as part of its attempt to improve the peer-review process. Katherine Brown, executive editor of Development from Cambridge, UK, who co-authored a recent editorial about the phenomenon, spoke to us about the move. 

Retraction Watch: Many journals share the reviews of a particular paper with those who’ve reviewed it. What is cross-referee commenting in peer review and how is it different from current reviewing processes? Continue reading Would peer review work better if reviewers talked to each other?