Peer review and research integrity: listening in on a publisher’s perspective

Have you ever wondered how a scholarly publisher publishing over 200 new titles a year actually gets the peer review process to work effectively? Continuing our series of blogs celebrating Peer Review Week, today we eavesdrop on a very definitely fictional Commissioning Editor advising a more junior colleague how it all “works” in the rough and tumble of day-to-day publishing workloads. Names have been altered and bear no relation to any living person or persons.

Hey, Karolyn I’m having a few issues finding the right peer reviewers for all the manuscripts I have on my desk right now. Any advice?

Sure Marc, the choice of peer reviewer in the first place is crucial. For a start, they must be open-minded to the author’s approach. Don’t send a heavily theoretically-inflected monograph to someone who comes out in hives at the very sound of the word “Lacan”.

What’s a “Lacan”?

It doesn’t matter. What does is that you don’t send a script to an author’s partner, ex-partner, ex-supervisor, sister, brother, cousin, head of department, ex-student etc. But if someone asks you, “I once saw them across the Old Bar at Leeds, does that make me too close?”, the answer is no, that’s fine.

Ok but what if the right people are too busy?

Everyone’s busy. Be respectful of your peer reviewer’s time; it is a crucial service they’re undertaking for the wider scholarly community, but it’s time-consuming and they have day jobs.

So, it’s a case of asking a busy person…

“If you want something done, ask a busy person” is all very well… but be careful to allow extra time when a prospective reviewer says they won’t get to it until Date X. This extra room in expectations is wise given workloads.

That will be an issue for some authors.

An author’s desire for the peer review to be completed often outstrips the reviewer’s ability to complete it by about 100 to 1.

OK so I’ll need to remind to authors that peer reviewers are busy…

That’s always a good idea – many of them are peer reviewers themselves. It’s probably a good idea to be a little hazy about the due date in the first place.

It’s a minefield – perhaps I shouldn’t bother after all?

Peer review is like your best friend – it usually tells you what you/the author need to hear, not what you want to hear. Neither of you have to like it. However, it’s important that the report, if it’s harsh, be mediated kindly and thoughtfully, with suggestions for the next step firmly to the fore.

Ok so it is worth all the time, but how can I possibly sugar-coat the criticism?

Be available to discuss the report with an author. They don’t necessarily have to agree with everything – it’s a dialogue, and they are subject specialists after all. You need to understand *why* they don’t agree with anything, and what mitigating steps they would take to head it off at the pass.

What if authors don’t agree with the advice given?

That’s fine too depending on the nature of the advice. It is always worth discussing with them whether they’d be ok with the criticisms appearing in a published review.

I’ll just hope that most of my reviews have nothing bad to say!

Distrust a review which has nothing but praise… or is nothing but criticism.

Oh ok – thanks Karolyn!

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