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Highlights from peer review week 2021: Taking a collective step towards an equitable research environment

peer review week 2021

#PeerReviewWeek2021

Peer Review Week, the highly anticipated international event that celebrates the critical role of peer review in scientific research, took place from 20th to 24th September 2021. This year, the theme of the event was Identity in Peer Review.

The event sparked a global discussion that took place via webinars, blog posts, videos, social media threads, and more. Stakeholders across research and scholarly communities got together to discuss what identity in peer review meant to them and how we can collaborate to bring diverse voices to the community. However, factoring the aspects of ​​personal, professional, and cultural identity into peer review is a tremendous challenge because, for the most part, anonymity remains a critical element of the system.

This article explores some of the key talking points discussed over the course of Peer Review Week 2021. These highlights cover three broad areas that were widely debated during the event: open peer review, DEI initiatives, and the role of metadata in peer review.

Open Peer Review

Open peer review (OPR) is a multi-faceted concept that covers more than just disclosing the identity of the reviewers. The ambiguity about what OPR really means was addressed during some of the Peer Review Week discussions.

Although OPR has grown in recent years, it is far from flawless. Nevertheless, it presents a way to fill the gap caused by traditional peer review by holding reviewers accountable for the quality of their work. Traditional peer review is built to reflect the altruistic nature of the act, with anonymity forming an integral part of the system. However, anonymity is often perceived as contributing to a lack of accountability.

One way to bring transparency into the system is open peer review reports. But making reports openly available is a tremendous challenge, considering the lack of automation in the current peer review system and the disconnect between article production and peer review workflows.

The discussions during Peer Review Week 2021 shed light on a unanimous need for clear peer review policies to develop a system that benefits all stakeholders involved.

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Initiatives

Perhaps the strongest consensus that arose from the Peer Review Week discussions was the need for diverse voices in the research community. Every area of the publishing workflow—including peer review—faces the need for effective DEI measures. Diversity was discussed in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, career stage, and more.

The first step to making research more inclusive is clear: identify and address the blind spots that currently plague the system. The biggest roadblock affecting this step is the lack of reliable data about the current level of diversity in research communities. This year’s Peer Review Week discussions raised several pertinent questions about gathering sensitive information and data collection methods. Also, the role of persistent identifiers (PIDs) in this process was discussed.

A diverse editorial board can be a great starting point in the journey towards diversity, equity, and inclusion as it brings in fresh perspectives. Additionally, training programs for editors—and other stakeholders in the publishing workflow—to eliminate reviewer bias and understand diversity can help the research community take meaningful steps forward.

Metadata

Journals currently grapple with insufficient data about authors and reviewers. In some cases, even the basic contact information of stakeholders from different parts of the world is hard to find.

Reliable metadata lies at the heart of a diverse peer review process and reviewer recognition. Metadata helps create building blocks for the future and empowers the research community to evolve and develop its processes. Rich metadata also plays a significant role in research discoverability. Therefore, processes have to be established to ensure that all the necessary metadata is collected and verified. 

It is critical for stakeholders in the community to collaboratively create and deploy the right tools to keep records up-to-date and reduce the negative impact of human errors on metadata. 

Peer Review Week 2021 set off diverse and compelling conversations around the world about identity in peer review. While the research community still has a long way to go in terms of incorporating recognition and diversity, such conversations act as the catalyst for much-needed change. 

References

EASE Peer Review Week Discussion Panel (September, 2021), European Association of Science Editors

Ask the Experts Webinar: Peer Review Week 2021 – Identity in Peer Review, Charlesworth Author Services

Advancing the Science of Scientific Publishing – Peer Review Congress Virtual Symposium, Peer Review Congress

Image courtesy: Designed by Freepik

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