Thoughts on Peer Review – Introduction

Ever since I published my first papers, I have been asked to participate in peer review. For me, peer review is an essential part of science. It is the part where (often anonymous) scientists will judge the work of other scientists and determine whether it is worthy of publication in the journal that the manuscript was sent to.

If you have ever submitted a manuscript for publication, you will know how nerve-wrecking and frustrating the peer-review process can be. Some reviewers can be very critical, denigrating, or even dismissive of your findings. They might demand additional experiments that will take months to perform, or they may just flat-out reject your paper.

The first time I was asked to review a paper, I was extremely honored (Finally! I am A Real Scientist!) but not sure what to do at all. Back then, there were not a lot of resources available online, and I did not have a lot of experience in critical readings of a paper. It definitely took many years of practice (“Eh, there is a typo in Table 2?”) to start to feel comfortable enough to suggest edits to other people’s manuscripts (“The findings described in this study are over-interpreted in the Discussion”). Even now, many years and about hundred peer reviews later, I am still not always sure if my reviews strike the right balance between being critical and fair. But I definitely try to do my best!

For the most part, peer reviewers do their work free and anonymously. It can be demotivating to never get credit for all the hours of work one puts in as a reviewer. But changes are underway.

Publons profile page Elisabeth Bik

My personal Publons profile page

In 2012, Andrew Preston and Daniel Johnston founded Publons, a new online community where scientists can get credit for their peer reviews. Richard van Noorden wrote a piece in Nature about Publons, called “The scientists who get credit for peer review“. And, if you want to see how the website works, here is a link to my online Publons profile. Recently, I was asked by Publons to be one of their advisors, and I gladly accepted. I think this is a great initiative and an innovative tool to make science more open and transparant.

Although I think that peer-review is an important and essential part of science, there are several flaws and frustrations that I regularly encounter, and I am planning to write about some of them here on a regular basis. So stay tuned!

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