Peer review is viewed as central to the evaluation of research, and in the case of peer review of manuscripts for journal publication, an activity that is seen as part of the service of a researcher.
Graduate students, as those training in how to carry out research, should therefore clearly be participating in, and receiving training in, constructive peer review. Postdocs are researchers in a position of mentored independence – working on their own projects and research plans, and learning how to manage a research group from an independent principal investigator. As such, postdocs are already intellectually capable of being fully involved in the peer review process.
But, how involved are these early career researchers (ECRs) in journal peer review?
A recent survey in eLife, a journal publishing life sciences research, indicated that 92% of those surveyed had undertaken reviewing activities. But more than half, and 37% of graduate students, had done so without the assistance of their advisor:
This statistic may come as a surprise to some but, anecdotally, discussions with ECRs (particularly in the life sciences) point to a number of incidences of “ghostwriting” of peer review reports: that is, carrying out peer review of a manuscript, writing the report, and submitting it to a supervisor, who submits the report (or some version of it) under their own name, and without the name of the co-reviewer.
This led us to ask: just how often does this “ghostwriting” occur? Why does it happen? Is it unique to the life sciences? What can we do to ensure the recognition of scholarly work by ECRs?
We are working on understanding more about, and resolving, this issue.
First, please help us by filling out this survey on peer review attitudes and experiences:
Find more details about the survey, and updates, in the toggle below.
Over the coming weeks, we will update this page with resources, data and recommendations to ensure that the scholarly work of ECRs is recognized, and that training for peer review is recognized as a central part of graduate training.
The ECR Peer Review Survey
Please take our survey: https://tinyurl.com/ECRs-in-peer-review
Peer review of academic manuscripts is essential to maintain integrity in science and is integral to the journal publication process. Early Career Researchers (ECRs) often contribute to this peer review process. While ECRs may review manuscripts jointly with or under the direction of a senior academic, such as a Principal Investigator (PI), Group Leader, or Professor, a large number of ECRs claimed in a recent survey to have acted as peer review “ghostwriters”; that is, the peer review report (i.e. the final review submitted to the journal editor) had only the senior academic’s name attributed to the report.
This survey is designed to collect more data about the phenomenon of ghostwriting by ECRs. The goal of this survey is to assess the experiences and opinions of the community, and to recommend best practices for recognizing co-reviewing activities.
This survey contains 16 questions and is estimated to take 15 minutes.
Please help us to gather data by filling out this survey and sharing it with your colleagues!
If you’re interested in hearing more about the survey results, sign up to our mailing list.
Which journals recognize or encourage coreviewers?
As part of our effort to increase transparency about the role of early career researchers in peer review, we are trying to collect data on the policies that journals have implemented with respect to involvement of early career researchers. Particularly we are looking at how transparent co-reviewer policies are, and whether expectations around co-reviewing are made clear. Future of Research is particularly interested in the component you can search below – which journals allow co-reviewers to be named!
We are part of a collaborative project, TRANsparency in Scholarly Publishing for Open Scholarship Evolution or TRANSPOSE, to work on gathering this and other data about scholarly publishing.
What is TRANSPOSE?
TRANSPOSE is a new, grassroots initiative aiming to crowdsource a list of journal policies for (1) open peer review, (2) co-reviewer involvement (displayed below), and (3) pre-printing. For more information and to contribute, visit TRANSPOSE. These data are licensed CC0.
If you can’t find a journal by searching below, you can add a new record by clicking here.
How can I help?
If you’d like to add data (which you can see below) please click on the journal you’d like to update, and enter the information!
The TRANSPOSE project has been accepted as part of the Scholarly Communication Institute 2018 Meeting in Chapel Hill, NC. This year’s meeting theme is Overcoming Risk, and one of the risks identified in our project is the risk ECRs face when it comes to ensuring their scholarly contribution is recognized. ECRs may feel hesitant to contribute to peer review done in the name of their supervisor; and supervisors may not disclose names of others involved in review where journal policies suggest such common practices may have punitive consequences. Providing appropriate and ethical credit for their involvement would reduce their risk.
This working conference, bringing together members of our team from around the world, will be used to improve and expand upon our efforts. The members of the team include Dr. Jessica Polka (ASAPbio), Dr. Jennifer Lin (CrossRef), Dr. Benedikt Fecher (Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society), Dr. Samantha Hindle (bioRxiv), Dr. Tony Ross-Hellauer (Know-Center GmbH) and Dr. Gary McDowell (FoR).
Show me the data already!
You can click on the link in the final column to update a journal. If you can’t find a journal by searching below, you can add a new record by clicking here.
For the related database on preprint policies, see the resource at ASAPbio here. A more comprehensive (but less detailed) listing of preprint policies can be found at SHERAP/RoMEO. ASAPbio also tracks additional information about journal preprint practices.
Resources on ECR peer review
Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) Ethical Guidelines for Peer Reviewers
ECR reviewer programs:
How to review a paper by Elisabeth Pain, Science
Early Career Researchers and their involvement in peer review by Gary McDowell at ASAPBio
Early-career researchers: Views on peer review by the eLife Early-Career Advisory Group
Point of View: Journal clubs in the time of preprints by Prachee Avasthi, Alice Soragni and Joshua N Bembenek, eLife
Publons’ ECR Reviewer Choice Award at Publons (Nominations in first competition closed August 1st, 2018)
Co-review Ghostwriting by Gary McDowell et. al., eLife
Practical Changes to Reduce Ghostwriting in Peer Review by Gary McDowell, Caroline Niziolek, Rebeccah Lijek
Peer Review and Preprint Policies are Unclear at Most Journals by Klebel et al.
Postdocs as Competent Peer Reviewers by Gary McDowell and Rebeccah Lijek