Peer review week 2019: an interview with the chair

Peer Review Week is upon us once again!

By Bahar Mehmani, PhD - September 19, 2019  4 mins
PRW image

Peer Review Week is upon us once again! This celebration of all things peer review this year takes the theme of "quality in peer review". We take the opportunity to interview Bahar Mehmani,
Reviewer Lead at Elsevier and chair (with Emily Jesper-Mir from Sense about Science) of Peer Review Week 2019.

Bahar Mehmani

Bahar was interviewed by Christopher Tancock.

  1. For those who don’t know, tell us about peer review week…. What’s it all about?
    BM: Peer Review Week is a global event celebrating the essential role that peer review plays in maintaining scientific quality. The event brings together individuals, institutions, and organizations committed to sharing the central message that good peer review, whatever shape or form it might take, is critical to scholarly communications. We organize virtual and in-person events, webinars, interviews and social media activities. You can find out more about the peer review week here.
  2. What part does peer review week play in creating or raising awareness of peer review and its issues?
    BM: Peer Review Week brings organizations from different communities and subject areas into dialogue around its chosen theme. For example, the theme of this year's peer review week is quality in the peer review process and we see many organizations including funders, universities, publishers, startups and service providers organizing interviews, webinars, surveys, blog posts, podcasts, etc. to raise awareness around the theme. You can find the list of all events here.
  3. The theme of this year’s PRW is “quality in peer review”. Does that imply there’s a problem with quality that needs fixing?
    BM: I think we all agree that the peer review process is not perfect and that it is evolving as are the needs of the scholarly communities (along with the tools and technologies available). If you look at the recent survey study Elsevier and Sense About Science published, you see that although the majority of respondents are satisfied with the peer review process, over a third (37 percent) admitted they had doubts over the quality of at least some research outputs they had encountered in the week prior to the survey – including those they thought had been peer-reviewed. The theme allows for dialogue and opinion exchange, which is important to understand what needs to be fixed - and how.
  4. What does “quality” in peer review mean for you?
    BM: It means an inclusive, transparent, engaging process run on a user-friendly system/service, which adds value to the progress of science.
  5. Are there any simple steps that editors, authors or reviewers could take to improve quality in peer review?
    BM: I am not sure if they are simple enough but here are my suggestions:
    - Editors can make sure they have proper data reporting about the health of the performance of the peer review process in their journals. For example, they can check if the geographical distribution of their authors maps onto that of their peer review pool. They can check if author-suggested referees' reports and recommendations are balanced with independent reviewers' comments and recommendations, and furthermore check all reports to make sure they are backed up with firm evidence and are not merely opinions. What is more, editors are champions of change. They are the ones who can introduce a more transparent process to their journals and it's the publishers' role to support them with tools and services to accomplish this.
    - Authors can raise their concerns in the event of suspicious/unethical reviewer queries such as citation manipulation. They also need to appreciate a slow but effective peer review process. It strikes me how researchers in their author role expect a quick peer review while in their peer-reviewer role they want it to be slow!
    - Reviewers can make sure they are backing up their recommendations with evidence. They should put themselves in the shoes of authors when writing their reports and be as objective as they can. One more thing: upon receiving an invite, either don't accept to review (and in that case suggest an alternative reviewer to the editor) or when accepting, make sure to acknowledge (and abide by) any deadlines.
  6. If you could sum up in a sentence of two what you hope people will take away from this year’s PRW, what would it be?
    BM: That every one of us concludes the week with a To-do-list to work on. We are publishing a few to-do-lists during the week, which can be found here.

Written by

Bahar Mehmani, PhD

Written by

Bahar Mehmani, PhD

Dr. Bahar Mehmani is Reviewer Experience Lead in the Global STM journals at Elsevier. She works on several peer review initiatives and projects, all of which are designed to recognize reviewers' contribution to the progress of science. Bahar is co-chair of Peer Review Week 2020 Events and International Outreach committee, Vice-chair of the peer review committee and council member of the European Association of Science Editors (EASE). She received her PhD in Theoretical Physics from the University of Amsterdam (UvA) in 2010. Before joining Elsevier, she was a postdoc researcher at Max Planck Institute for the Science of Light (MPL).

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