Wednesday, August 14, 2019

How we operate the review process at Developing World Bioethics

Developing World Bioethics branding bannerI had the great fortune of attending the World Congress of Bioethics in December 2018 in Bengaluru, India. Besides my participation in two panels, I also hosted – jointly with Brian Collins, our Editor at Wiley‐Blackwell, the publisher of Developing World Bioethics – a workshop on academic publishing. It was meant to give prospective authors an opportunity to ‘meet the Editor’ so to speak, to acquire insight in the academic publishing enterprise, and last but not least, to ask us pretty much any questions that they might have, in so far as they relate to the publication processes of the journal.
There seemed to be a number of misconceptions about how peer review operates generally, and vis a vis this journal in particular. For instance, concerns were raised that ‘big name’ authors, or at least senior academics, might receive preferential treatment, and the question was asked whether such academics’ names should be added as authors to submitted manuscripts in order to improve the manuscript's acceptance chances.

Let me say, at the most basic, this journal is bound by the International Council of Medical Journal Editors guidelines on authorship.1 I would strongly encourage you to look those up and ensure that you and your co‐authors all meet those criteria. In multi‐author submissions each of you would have to confirm that each of you individually meets those criteria. If you decide to add a name of someone as an author who does not meet those standards, then you and they would have to proactively lie to us during your submission process, because you would be asked what each of you contributed to the paper, and how each of you met the criteria set out in the mentioned guidelines on authorship. I would strongly discourage you from any deception in this context.

The journal's Managing Editor, Andy F. Visser, will then pass the received manuscript on to both of us, myself, and Debora Diniz, the Co‐Editors of the journal, asking us for a determination on whether the paper should be send out for external peer review or whether we should reject it outright. The policy at this journal is that both the Managing Editor as well as the journal's Co‐Editors are always aware of the author(s) identities.

The Co‐Editors of the journal make then a decision on whether or not a submitted paper is prima facie worthy of peer review. That means that we will ascertain whether the submitted paper is within the remit of the journal, whether the analysis seems coherent, and whether references follow academic standards. If we think the submitted paper does not meet those standards it will be rejected by us without further peer review.

Once we have decided that a manuscript is worthy of external review, each of us as Co‐Editors chooses their own preferred peer reviewer. We do this without consulting each other, mostly in order to avoid any undue influence on or from each other. Reviewers are typically chosen with a view to receiving quality feed‐back with regard to the specialist subject area of the paper in question. As Co‐Editors we might have specialist expertise in a number of areas within bioethics, but certainly we don't have that kind of expertise with regard to most papers submitted to this journal. That's one of the reasons for external review.

We communicate our choices back to the Managing Editor who then invites our chosen reviewers to review the manuscript in question. At that point in time the manuscript is anonymised, the reviewers have access to the article but all author identifying information is removed.

There are other models of peer review, so why have we chosen this model? We try to avoid influencing reviewers’ decisions by removing author identifying information. We know today that anything from an author's name (because it's linked to fame, notoriety, sex, ethnicity, religion, etc) to their academic affiliation can bias reviewers. We prefer our reviewers are not subjected to such information, irrelevant as it is when it comes to reviewing the quality of a particular submission. A graduate student's submission will be treated no different than a submission by the most influential bioethicist alive today. There are other reasons to do with the size of our comparably small field. For instance, a junior academic might be negatively affected if their weak submission was rejected by a reviewer who also happens to be on an appointments committee that decides on whether or not the author of the rejected paper should be shortlisted for a job interview.

Equally, when we receive the reviews and pass them on to the author(s) with our editorial decision, the reviewers’ names are stripped off the reviews. In order to facilitate frank reviews it is counterproductive for reviewers to know, for instance, that during the next conference that they will be attending there will be authors who are supremely frustrated that their reviews led to a rejection.
The system of peer review we operate ensures that reviewer biases are reduced as much as is feasible, and it protects reviewers’ ability to provide us as Co‐Editors with frank reviews. We do think that it also protects authors, especially authors whose content has been rejected, from having to face their reviewers in person during the next academic conference that they are attending. Then there is the risk that a rejected author tries to get even with a reviewer if – by chance – they happen to get invited to review the submission of a now‐author turned reviewer.

To cut a long story short, we maintain a process of peer review where neither the reviewers nor the authors know each others’ identities. The main motive for this policy is to remove biases from the review process.

Wiley Blackwell has produced a fair number of useful tools2 that you can access if you wish to find out more about academic publishing generally, and peer review in particular.3

Also worth noting, this journal follows the procedures and policies laid out in a series of flowcharts produced by the Committee on Publication Ethics.4

Do keep in mind, Editors are human beings, much like you. Mistakes can happen. Nothing should stop you from communicating your concerns to us. We will always aim to deal promptly and transparently with your concerns.


No comments:

Post a comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.

COVID19 and the ethics of hospital triage decision-making

There is a lot of talk these days about the predicted coming wave of COVID19 patients needing ICU beds and ventilators in particular, and th...