September 16-20, 2019 marks the 5th Annual Peer Review Week. This year’s theme is “Quality in Peer Review.” Peer Review Week is a global event celebrating the essential role that peer review plays in maintaining scientific quality. Look for more information on ASPET’s website and in the journals’ social media posts.
We asked each editor of ASPET’s journals a question related to quality in peer review:
What are the key things you are looking for in quality peer review?
Pharmacological Reviews has a mission to publish comprehensive and authoritative reviews in important areas relevant to therapeutic agents. Quality peer review by leading subject matter experts allows us to achieve reviews of this caliber. Knowledgeable reviewers who can balance broad expertise with an emphasis on critical evaluation of the literature provide the feedback to our authors that ensure we continue to meet the high expectations of our readership. In addition, due to the comprehensive nature of our manuscripts, many may be quite long so we are very grateful to our peer reviewers for accepting these challenging assignments.
Eric L. Barker, Editor, Pharmacological Reviews
What is the editor looking for when someone reaches out to be a reviewer for the journal?
Independent and objective peer review by field experts is absolutely critical for achieving rigorous science and impactful publications. Editorial boards are highly dependent and grateful for the timely and thoughtful feedback peer reviewers provide to authors for improving their manuscripts. When seeking new peer-review opportunities, successful publication in the journal of interest is the best way to demonstrate the scope and depth of a potential reviewer’s scientific expertise. New peer reviewers should also leverage mentoring interactions with established reviewers and editorial board members to identify mutual interests and to further develop their critical thinking and reviewing skills.
Michael F. Jarvis, Deputy Editor, Pharmacology Research & Perspectives
How does statistical review work?
The statistical review policies for Molecular Pharmacology arose from the efforts of the previous Editor-in-Chief to apply rigorous standards to all papers published in the journal. The approach has expanded under the current EIC, and currently involves three statistical reviewers appointed as Associate Editors. Critical to the enterprise is the selection of these reviewers, who are all familiar with the types of data, submitted to the journal, and who confer with each other to develop consistent standards that can be conveyed to the authors. These reviews address reproducibility along with statistics. At this time, all manuscripts that receive a preliminary decision of “revision requested” are assigned a statistics reviewer. In this way, the two scientific reviews and the statistics review are presented to the authors simultaneously with the decision letter. Authors are asked to address the concerns of all three reviewers. The statistics reviewers strive to be educational and helpful in their comments to the authors. As this procedure has evolved, the need to provide guidelines to prospective authors has become apparent. This has resulted in publication of articles in the journal explaining “best practice”, and in pending revision of the Instructions to Authors for all of the society journals.
Kathryn E. Meier, Editor, Molecular Pharmacology
How does someone who has never been a reviewer get trained to be a reviewer?
The most important training toward becoming a reviewer for a leading journal is gaining subject matter expertise during graduate and post-graduate research. There is no substitute for following the current literature and participating in an active research project in a particular field. This combination will allow the scientist to assess whether the experimental techniques and associated results described in a paper support the hypothesis, and, on a larger scale, to objectively rate the impact of the paper under review relative to other current research. Journal clubs, where group discussions critique published work, are excellent forums for building reviewer skills. With this training, an aspiring reviewer should then work with a more senior investigator or editorial board member to gain access to a journal – ideally a journal where both have published and are familiar with the expected scientific rigor and review process. Mentorship can often occur within the online review system, and a junior reviewer can request feedback from the associate editor around the first decision. Successful reviewers will balance criticism, objectivity, and clear direction to the authors for improving the manuscript.
Jeffrey C. Stevens, Editor, Drug Metabolism and Disposition
What steps do editors take to ensure quality peer review?
Peer review resembles democracy in that, “democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time,” a quotation secondarily ascribed to Churchill. Scientists frequently conclude that reviewers of their work have abject qualities, but, for the most part, peer review works because editors monitor the process and intercede where necessary. Upon receipt, a manuscript is viewed by the Editor in Chief (EIC) and assigned to an Associate Editor (AE) on the basis of expertise. The AE selects qualified referees and adjudicates acceptability, conveying back to the EIC, who can ratify, or modify, this decision. Editor requests for further qualifying data are designed to enhance subsequent revisions. With the help of referees, a primary role for an editor is to encourage an ultimately publishable study. Avoiding conflict of interest, authors can select an AE to handle the submission, but after a negative decision, they should contact the EIC to identify injustices, understanding that editors endeavor to maintain quality feedback at every level. Despite time constraints, experienced scientists should participate in manuscript reviews in order to lessen the chance that peer review ends up as “the best form of government”.
Kenneth D. Tew, Editor, The Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics