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Using peer review to improve peer review

peer-reviewSeptember 2016 saw the second ever ‘peer review week’, during which a range of activities, including webinars, interviews and social media events centred around the theme ‘Recognition for Review’ took place. A number of publishers also got involved, with features including a survey from Elsevier revealing how researchers really feel about the peer-review process and a series of blog posts from a range of journals including Bio Med Central and Nature.

In a blog published by BMJ Open, by Dr Adrian Barnett, a Principal Research Fellow at Queensland University of Technology, and a member of the BMJ Open editorial board, suggests that “if we believe in peer review then we should believe in using peer review to improve peer review”. He goes on to comment on articles relating to medical publishing and peer review published in the journal. BMJ Open currently features 54 papers in this category, which includes research on peer review as well other important meta-research issues, such as unpublished studies and how research is reported. These studies and analyses provide important information that could help to enhance the peer review process. For example, one of these studies revealed that author-suggested reviewers were far more likely to recommend publication, with 64% reviewers recommending acceptance compared with just 35% of reviewers found by editors. Another revealed that industry-sponsored studies had fewer peer-review comments on poor experimental design and inappropriate statistical analyses than non-industry-sponsored trials.

Dr Barnett also argues that if peer reviewers realise that there is a chance their work will be checked, then they will deliver better reviews. However, such an exercise would be time-consuming to complete. Therefore, instead of checking every peer-review, Dr Barnett suggests that the scientific community should randomly check a sample of reviews as part of an auditing process. This would allow a reasonable number of reviews to be assessed in detail. Data from such audits may provide a foundation for journals to evaluate whether their peer-review policies are adequate and to gauge whether improvements in peer review policies are required.

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Summary by Louise Niven, DPhil from Aspire Scientific.

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Peer review

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