Peer review – what does it mean to you?

Along with many other organisations and individuals all over the world, the BES has been celebrating Peer Review Week. We recognise that peer review underpins the high quality work published by BES journals and has done for over 100 years.

For this post we asked our Editorial boards for their thoughts on the importance of peer review and how they see the future of peer review. We received a huge number of thought-provoking responses, most of which we didn’t have space to feature, so a massive thanks to all our editors for their comments. Given the many responses, we also intend to publish a fuller article including more quotes on this topic later in the year.

Why is peer review important?

The majority of our editors felt that improving high quality science is a key role of peer review.

Even excellent research can be improved further when critically scrutinised by an independent mind. Johan Du Toit, Associate Editor, Journal of Applied Ecology.

However, peer review is also required as a validation tool in a world where more information is readily available and unchecked.

In an era where anyone can say anything and reach a global audience, it’s important that there are verified sources of information that have been independently checked for their reliability and rigour. Pete Manning, Associate Editor, Journal of Applied Ecology.

Good peer review can make science more accessible, to scientists from other disciplines, policy makers and the general public. Providing researchers with feedback on their communication styles enables them…

…to communicate science clearly and concisely which is one of the most challenging aspects that we face if we want to make a real translational impact from our offices, greenhouses and field sites into society. Rob Salguero-Gomez, Associate Editor, Journal of Ecology.

Ultimately our editors concluded that the scientific process should remain a…

…social collective enterprise based on shared goals and ideals, good faith and trust… Enrico Rezendes, Associate Editor, Functional Ecology

…which is vital to the generation of new ideas (in spite of the dreaded #reviewer2…)

As an author, I greatly value the constructive feedback received during peer review, even if Reviewer 2 remains an annoying torment… Brett K.Sandercock, Associate Editor, Functional Ecology.

What will peer review look like in the future?

Many of the Editors felt that the peer review process should remain the same.

My hope is that expertise continues to be the backbone of peer review, that knowledge will always be valued more than fashion or uninformed opinion. Jacqueline Frair, Associate Editor, Journal of Applied Ecology.

However, it was also noted that early career researchers are not often asked to review; yet this could significantly ease the increasing burden on volunteer reviewers.

Early career ecologists are often times some of the most knowledgeable researchers in their specific fields, and yet they don’t often get tapped into for reviewing. Rob Salguero-Gomez, Associate Editor, Journal of Ecology

In an attempt to address this, the BES journals encourage collaborative reviewing whereby senior researchers collaborate with other more junior members of their lab on reviews.

Some believe that advances in technology will help shape future peer review processes.

Technology might be able to help improve the selection of peer reviewers. Margaret Stanley, Associate Editor, Journal of Applied Ecology.

However, many were uncertain about how this might help and indeed some concerns were raised about too many automation tools being used and reducing reliance on scientific expertise.

Expert opinions cannot be automated or outsourced. Susan Schwinning, Associate Editor, Journal of Ecology.

Some felt incentives would help ease the increasing reviewer burden; however this also raised some concerns.

We should be careful in how we incentivise peer review – there’s a risk that this could lead to behaviours that distort and damage science. Peter Manning, Associate Editor, Journal of Applied Ecology.

Open peer review with referees signing their reviews was seen as positive by some Editors; however, it was recognised that this may be challenging for early career researchers.

Many others stated a preference for double blind peer review, where the authors are anonymous as well as the referees. Post-publication peer review was also cited by many as a potential future development or publishing citable reviews alongside the final article with proper DOIs.

…perhaps papers will end up like wikis with people posting them online and then those who read them commenting on them online. Rachel Norman, Associate Editor, Journal of Animal Ecology.

If reviews could be cited and are eventually public, reviewers would likely be more systematic, fair and constructive. Enrico Rezendes, Associate Editor, Functional Ecology.

Some Associate Editors would like to see a move to more dynamic reviewing in real-time, involving a “virtual” dialogue between authors and multiple reviewers.

Despite a wide variety of comments, all respondents were broadly supportive of peer review and any suggested changes seem likely to be incremental rather than a radical overhaul of the system.

One of our AEs sums it up nicely…

I think we are entering an experimentation phase and who knows which process will get established as the norm in the future. Ignasi Bartomeus, Associate Editor, Journal of Ecology.

In the meantime though, we would like to offer a huge thank you to the many different stakeholders who contribute to the BES journals’ peer review processes, reviewers, Associate Editors and Editors, and the many authors who engage in constructive dialogue with the Editors in order to improve the science that we publish. Thank you and happy peer reviewing!

BES Publications Team 

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