Peer Review Week - reviewed: Julia Wilson, Sense about Science


Today is Peer Review Week 2017 and we will be joining the rest of the scholarly community in celebrating the important role of peer review. Numerous planned activities are taking place throughout the week to mark this year’s theme of transparency in peer review. We are delighted to have been a part of it again this year, working with close to 30 leading science publishers and communicators to promote the critical role of peer review in scholarly communications. 

For last year’s Peer Review Week, we surveyed almost 3000 individuals from the microbiology community to better understand their perception of peer review and published numerous publications on peer review. This year we have been busy inviting campaigners, researchers and thought leaders in peer review to share their thoughts on why peer review matters. We are delighted to be sharing some of these perspectives with you throughout the week.

To kick start Peer Review Week 2017, we are joined by Julia Wilson on behalf of Sense about Science in this month’s Peer Review – reviewed series. Sense about Science was closely involved with Peer Review Week from the beginning to ensure the wider benefits of peer review were shared with the public. Julia has played an important role in campaigning and promoting how evidence and peer review matters to the public.

What does peer review mean to you?
“Peer review, the system in which papers are scrutinized by other experts in the field before being published in journals, is such a unique and important process for maintaining quality in research. It may not be perfect, but it does a vital job and I think scientists should be talking about it to others as much as possible. When Sense about Science was set up in 2002 as a charity to help people make sense of science and evidence, peer review seemed a strangely kept secret. It was a time when newspapers were filled with headlines about the MMR vaccine and genetic modification. Often, little attention was being paid to the quality of research and whether it had been peer reviewed.

Asking whether something is peer reviewed is an important consideration for policy makers, reporters and the public when weighing up research claims and debates about science. For the past decade, we have been sharing the value of peer review with the public and running workshops about peer review for early career researchers. In 2005, we published a guide, I don’t know what to believe, which explains the peer review process as a tool for helping people make sense of science claims.”

Various challenges to peer review have been reported. Does the peer review process need reviewing?
“During our peer review workshops for early career researchers, we often hear questions such as “How can I get recognition for reviewing?” and “Should reviewers be rewarded?”. Peer reviewing is clearly a huge part of researchers’ involvement and contribution to their field and to their own knowledge and skill development. But our workshops have highlighted the mounting pressures on researchers to get grants and publish papers, leaving little time to actually review papers.

I think recognizing reviewing formally would help prioritize peer reviewing and safeguard it in the longer term. Those who contribute to this time-consuming activity need to be recognized for the service they provide to the scientific community. It needs to be approached professionally and seriously, enabling senior researchers to spend time mentoring early career researchers in it.”

What is Sense about Science doing to raise awareness of the importance of peer review?
Ask for Evidence is our public campaign that helps people request for themselves the evidence behind news stories, marketing claims and policies. Its website includes resources to help people make sense of the evidence they come across. This includes our guide to peer review for the public, and information about how to tell whether you’re looking at a published scientific paper. We have exciting plans to develop these resources, reaching new audiences with animations and video content.

We continue to run our popular peer review workshops for early career researchers where editors share insights about how they manage the process and experienced reviewers give tips and advice for reviewing papers. Several participants wanted to share the insights from the workshops more widely and so interviewed editors and researchers and shared their tips in a guide for their peers – Peer review: the nuts and bolts. The guide is popular in the UK and with researchers around the world including the US, China, Romania, Turkey and France. There is clearly a demand for this kind of support.”

How can researchers get involved in ensuring the integrity of their research?
“Reviewing is a role that is fundamental to the scientific community and so it is important that early career researchers get involved in the process early on. If reviewing for the first time, try to find an experienced reviewer to be your mentor. Look out for training opportunities and webinars offered by publishers and universities and come along to our workshops to learn from experienced editors and reviewers. Some research groups hold their own ‘journal club’ where they discuss a recent paper – this can help you keep up to date with the latest research as well as develop skills that are useful when reviewing.”

You can keep up-to-date with all activities related to Peer Review Week this week by using the Twitter hashtags #PeerRevWk17 and #TransparencyinReview.

If you would like to share with us your views on what peer review means to you, join the global conversation using the hashtag #wepeerreview

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