Peer Review Week: Research integrity through collaborative and transparent peer review

Posted on September 19, 2022   by Microbiology Society

This year’s Peer Review Week focuses on research integrity and the role of reviewers in upholding it. Following a peer review workshop held by the Microbiology Society at the Early Career Microbiologists’ (ECM) Summer Conference 2022, we asked attendees how they found the session and discussed the value of transparent peer review, as well as its potential challenges for Editors. 

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Hebba Beech, Microbiology Society Journal Development Editor and workshop facilitator 

Why was there a need to facilitate this workshop?

As part of this year's Microbiology Society ECM Forum Summer Conference, the organising committee decided to run a collaborative peer review workshop, showcasing Access Microbiology, our new open research platform. As a publisher, we really value the contribution of our reviewers in ensuring that high-quality, robust research is published. We were also keen to give our early career Society members the opportunity to build on their editorial and peer review skills, and be credited for their efforts. 

How was the workshop structured?

The workshop started with a short talk where delegates learned more about why peer review is important, how reviewers are selected, and how to complete a reviewer report; then we took that information and put it into practice. Dr Claire Turner (Editor of Microbial Genomics) provided her expertise as a reviewer and Editor, and together we walked delegates through submitting a reviewer report on our peer review system.

What were your key takeaways from the session?

It was great to see so many attendees engage with the review and while they learnt from myself and Dr Turner, they also learnt from each other. We hope to continue to build these networks and supporting our ECMs with further workshops and further editorial opportunities. 

Claire Turner, Microbial Genomics Editor and workshop facilitator 

Do you think early career researchers (ECRs) get enough support with carrying out peer review?  

I suspect it will depend on what institution they are at but if offered I would certainly recommend it. When I was a PhD student I attended a training session on peer review and found it very useful. Although we did not ask the participants of the workshop if they had had previous training, we did ask if they were familiar with the process and not all were. I think that unless an ECR had been directly involved with writing, submitting a manuscript and receiving and addressing reviewers comments, they would struggle to know how to handle a review. Even with this experience it can still be difficult to know exactly how to handle a review and it is tempting to go too far with it - such as correcting all spelling and grammar mistakes.  I think the workshop provided quite a lot of guidance that is often missing, including what a manuscript looks like when it gets submitted, who handles the paper before review and then how to actually write a review. We were asked if the editors and reviewers get paid, which they do not. The whole process of publishing a paper is something that ECRs should get training on and perhaps even at undergraduate level. 

Do you think it was beneficial to host the workshop as a group session?

As a group there was more interaction between the participants and some errors in the manuscript were spotted that others (including myself) had missed. Some questions that were asked by the participants were also not things I had thought about. A one-on-one session may have been better for some of the quieter participants but the group session was certainly better for good discussion. Potentially a smaller group or division into smaller groups working around separate tables might have worked slightly better and allowed some to feel more included. 

I think overall the workshop was good and I have had some feedback saying as much.

This year’s Peer Review Week’s theme is research integrity. How do you think transparent peer review compares with traditional single/double blind review in ensuring research integrity? 

In my experience as an Editor for different journals I found it harder to recruit reviewers where reviews were transparent. I have also struggled a little with double blind as reviewers are uncertain if there is a conflict of interest where they do not know who the authors are. Reviewers also tend to be more reserved if reviews are transparent - this has advantages and disadvantages. I think it may prevent unnecessary personal attacks on the authors but may also prevent reviewers highlighting major flaws with the work.

Raphael Galleh, Early Career Researcher, ECM Forum Organising Committee member and workshop delegate 

Did you find the peer review workshop to be beneficial? 

Yes, the peer review workshop was incredibly useful and although there are workshops of similar focus at my institution, I did not avail myself. The opportunity at the ECM Forum Summer Conference therefore meant a lot to me. 

What was your main takeaway from the workshop? 

I now understand what reviewers are looking for in a manuscript and what will make a journal accept or reject a submission. 

How did you find the transparent peer review aspect of the collaborative review, and would you take part in transparent peer review again? 

It was indeed a transparent process, and I am happy to take part in subsequent reviews. 

This year’s Peer Review Week’s theme is research integrity. How do you think transparent peer review compares with traditional single/double blind review in ensuring research integrity? 

Transparent peer review is better, and this will surely promote research integrity as well as boost the confidence of the author(s) knowing that the remarks are transparent. 

Rebecca Hall, Access Microbiology handling Editor of the reviewed manuscript 

Did you find the review submitted by the ECM Forum Summer Conference workshop attendees helpful?  

The review was super helpful. It was thorough and thoughtful, and raised points not considered by the other reviewer. I was very happy with the standard! 

How can Access Microbiology help facilitate research integrity?  

I think it’s great that Access Microbiology is leading the way with open research. I think the open research platform will be a great resource for ECRs, not only by providing a place to publish null results or repeat experiments, but also by giving examples of the peer review process that they can then use as a guide when they start to review for the first time. Having perhaps yearly peer review workshops for ECRs (like the one at this year’s conference) could be a great thing for PhD students and early postdocs to train them in good review practises. 

This year’s Peer Review Week’s theme is research integrity. How do you think transparent peer review compares with traditional single/double blind review in ensuring research integrity? 

I would hope that it at least makes reviewers double check their review before they submit it to make sure that it is written in a tone that they themselves would be okay to receive. I haven’t followed up with any of the reviewers to ask their opinions so that could be something to think about. 

The review carried out at this peer review workshop can be found on the article preprint page on our open research platform, Access Microbiology. Please note this version of the manuscript is editorially accepted and has completed the formal peer review process, but has not been fully formatted and published.

About transparent peer review in Access Microbiology  

Our open research platform Access Microbiology aims to uphold research integrity by facilitating transparent peer review as well as encouraging submission of null results. In transparent peer review, all reviews are posted publicly online and reviewers have the option to publish their names alongside their reviews. Access Microbiology also includes posting of all article versions as preprints, so readers are able to see the editorial decision-making process from original submission of a manuscript, any revisions, right through to acceptance and publication.  

We would like to thank our workshop facilitators, Editors and reviewers for their efforts in ensuring rigorous peer review. Peer review underpins the success of our publications, which allows the Microbiology Society to give back to microbiologists in the form of grants, events and professional development opportunities.  

Access Microbiology is offering free open access publication until June 2023. Publish Open Access with us to increase your impact, expand your reach and support your community.