Reinforcing Research Integrity with New Forms of Peer Review

Since its advent in the 18th century and eventual widespread adoption in the 1940s, peer review has been a process mainly intended to ratify the quality and validity of scholarly research work. However, new models of scientific publishing and advancing ways of practicing peer review have bolstered the dynamism of scholarly communication system.

Constant Rebuttal against Conventional Peer Review

The peer review system is broken—a phrase we all may have heard in the recent years seems to have become a truism. Given the existing state and the incessant complaints from authors that peer review is slow and it delays publication. It’s almost a secret affair where authors are unaware of who is reviewing their work—perhaps an ally, or worse, one with a competing interest. Furthermore, the potential of blocking ingenuity can’t be defied either. If the standard peer review process is thought to be beyond repair by authors, there are some cracks in the system that reviewers have acknowledged too. For instance, how are review reports compiled? What proportion of the referee reports are from which round of review? What if the author prefers to take their chances with another journal to avoid the extra work of revising their work?

There are two core issues linking to the weakness of the conventional peer review models:

  1. It is conducted pre-publication which involves a vigilant process of filtering and ratifying scholarly content further delaying publication. This can hinder future advances in research and interrupt dissemination of science, especially for topical matters that require immediate attention and action.
  2. The concern of reviewer bias or even outright scams in which authors manipulate the review process by suggesting cronies as reviewers.

Do New Peer Review Models Ensure Research Integrity?

The apparent increase in cases of scientific fraud and irreproducible research have declared science to be in a state of crisis; more so research integrity and quality of scientific literature have become a subject of heated debate. While self-regulation is a key concern, peer review amongst other mechanisms is considered an essential gatekeeper of both quality and integrity.

The fundamentals of peer review hold true across forms; however, the augment of digital in scholarly communication has stimulated the development of more peer review models for handling manuscripts through stages of review and consideration. The ever evolving peer review process strives to maintain research integrity by introducing new models, such as the ones outlined below.

Pre-publication Peer Review Model: In the new pre-publication peer review model, articles are first submitted to a group of peers, who correspond with the author/s and other reviewers to ensure that the submitted paper is true to science and its claimed results. These papers, often called preprints, can later be published in a journal, which would follow a traditional peer review process. As preprints are reviewed by a community of peers with expertise in the research area, even if the process is not that critical, reviewers ensure that the papers are not published at the stake of research integrity. Examples include:

Open and/or Post-publication Peer Review: Unlike blinded reviews in traditional peer review, wherein reviews are seen only by editors and authors, the new model of post-publication peer review provides an open platform encouraging public conversation about a paper. This model presents an author’s ideas online and readers are invited to publicly post their comments and censure. When making these papers subject to public critique, the peer review report is published alongside the article with signed reports, or indicating the peer reviewers’ names for increased transparency. This encourages reviewers to provide constructive feedback maintaining research integrity, which allows author/s to shape future versions of their work. Examples include:

High Volume Peer Review: Pioneered by PLOS ONE, the model of “Mega-journals” publishes numerous peer reviewed articles covering different subject areas and accepting articles that are technically sound rather than selecting them for perceived importance. This model ensures research integrity by determining the fundamental validity of the contribution and not only its novelty or impact. Examples include:

Independent Peer Review: The allocation of responsibility for research integrity to the peer review system is not recent. However, there is an increasing interest in extricating potentially discrete publication processes and exploring the actual funds required to provide these services, which still remain controversial. Hence, authors are opting for independent service of peer review that does not confine to a particular journal. These independent review systems are AI-based helping in reporting unprejudiced reviews which are reliable and ensures research integrity. Example:

Key Takeaways

If conventional peer review is intended to support the publication process, so are the new peer review models. The rationale for choosing new peer review models is transparency while maintaining scientific research integrity. The advocates of the new models argue that these lead to more constructive feedback, reduce reviewers’ bias, and give credit to the reviewer. Thereby, addressing some of the important concerns raised in conventional models. Furthermore, these new peer review models could potentially reduce the possibilities of reviewers taking unfair advantage of their position as a reviewer—be it plagiarising the manuscript under review, unjustly delaying the publication process, or advising rejection for bigoted reasons.

Every paper could eventually be published cascading until they find a journal that accepts it. The changing landscape of scholarly publishing demands advances in the publishing mechanisms too, including peer review. Although the flaws and redundancies of the peer review process are acknowledged, it is imperative to have a robust and reliable system. As science advances, the need for peer reviewers will grow to help us disseminate knowledge without compromising the integrity or drawing invalid conclusions. With a systematic analysis of all peer review models, especially the ones fuelled by modern technologies, we can improve research integrity and reporting with peer review.

Attribution: This post was written by Enago

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