Peer Review - reviewed: Flaminio Squazzoni, PEERE project


We are joined this month by Prof. Flaminio Squazzoni, the Chair of PEERE. This  is a project action funded by the European Union to explore and address the issues around peer review in scholarly publications. We discuss why peer review matters to Prof. Squazzoni and the milestones and future outcomes of the PEERE project

What does peer review mean to you?

“Peer review is at the core of science. While most of us believe that it has only the function of ensuring that only high-quality research is published, peer review is also a means to increase the value of knowledge that is embodied in a paper and connect unrelated scientists into a constructive dialogue. An American sociologist, Robert Merton, suggested that one of the principles of science as a community is “organized skepticism”, according to which papers are scrutinized by experts based on their pure knowledge content. I see peer review as the key pillar of this “organized skepticism”. Of course, it is far from perfect. However, mind that also science is imperfect; also we humans are imperfect.”

As the Chair of the PEERE project, could you tell us more about PEERE and why it is important?

PEERE is a COST-funded network that includes about 160 academics and professionals.  Established in 2014, the network is working towards a systematic analysis of peer review by integrating different disciplines, approaches and methods. It also aims to improve the peer review management by stimulating the development of tools for selecting and rewarding reviewers and by detecting bias that can sustain the quality and sustainability process. The collaboration started from a general frustration about the debate on peer review and the lack of robust evidence about what is working and what is not. Innovations are pursued without a true experimental attitude, only case-by-case and individually by certain  journals. We set up this large-scale collaboration to acknowledge the value of evidence-based, scientific approaches to experiments and reforms, also as a means to avoid ideological stances coming from peer review enthusiasts or detractors.”

Who is involved with the PEERE project currently? And what have you achieved so far?

“PEERE includes about 160 members, from 30 different EU countries, plus some non-EU experts. It also includes representatives of some publishers, e.g., Elsevier, Springer Nature and Wiley. We have quantitative analysts, specialists from qualitative sciences and humanities, professionals and journal editors. It is a unique community that took us almost 3 years to establish. We have stimulated scientific collaborations, mutual visiting periods between different groups, organized workshops and conference panels, supported publications (a special issue on “Scientometrics of peer review” is under publication in Scientometrics this year, in which there is a collection of papers by PEERE members). More importantly, we have worked years to produce a protocol that makes data sharing on peer review possible between different stakeholders. This required an intensive work between academic experts and professionals.

Now, PEERE is collecting data from a large number of journals and will be able to provide a comprehensive analysis of the situation of peer review in different domains. The protocol is publicly available. We hope this will inspire similar initiatives in other contexts.”

How do you see peer review in the future? And does this reflect what you want to see in the future outcomes of the PEERE project?

“Peer review has a future, on condition that we find a way to make it more sustainable in a world of hyper-competition between scientists and academic institutions. Initiatives to reward peer reviewers at a reputational level, more efficient organization of the process, technologies that can help decrease the burden and the costs on everyone involved, from editors to reviewers and authors, are necessary. Here, PEERE aims to change the situation by stimulating constructive dialogue between stakeholders. Although the project is going to end next year, we are planning initiatives to keep this community growing.”

How can people get involved with the PEERE project?

“By browsing our project website or connecting to our Facebook group in which everyone can contribute. PEERE is a COST Action and so is open to everyone!”

And what does peer review mean to you? Become a guest writer on our Peer Review – reviewed series and share your peer review views with the wider microbiology community. Please email us if you are interested.

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