Ethical Co-Review

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How do we ethically involve Early Career Researchers in peer review?

The Problem

Peer review is viewed as central to the evaluation of research. Talking to Early Career Researchers, however, we often came across anecdotes of peer review “ghostwriting”: that is, trainees carrying out peer review of a manuscript, writing the report, and submitting it to a supervisor. The supervisor then submits the report (or some version of it) under their own name and without co-reviewer attribution. This led us to ask how often this practice occurred and why it happened. We were also curious as to whether it was unique to the life sciences and, more importantly, what could be done to ensure the recognition of ECR scholarly work?

Our Goal

The aim of this project is to increase transparency around peer review, particularly the practice of co-reviewing, to make sure that future generations are left with a sustainable system for rigorous and recognized peer review for the benefit of researchers, science, and communal trust in the peer review process.

Outcomes

Co-review and Ghostwriting article

We carried out a literature review and a survey of researchers with an emphasis on co-reviewing and ghostwriting. Most respondents believed co-reviewing to be a beneficial and ethical form of training in peer review. About half of the respondents had ghostwritten a peer review report, despite 81% responding that ghostwriting is unethical and 82% agreeing that identifying co-reviewers to the journal is valuable.

Article: Co-reviewing and ghostwriting by early-career researchers in the peer review of manuscripts

Authors: Gary S McDowell Is a corresponding author, John D Knutsen, June M Graham, Sarah K Oelker, Rebeccah S Lijek

 

Perspective and flowchart 

Based on our survey responses, we developed recommendations for ensuring the inclusion, training, and recognition of ECRs’ scholarship in manuscript peer review. We wrote a perspective, created instructional graphics, and developed a flowchart explaining how systemic changes that acknowledge this fact would result in ethical co-reviewing, peer reviews of greater quality, and a reduction in peer reviewer burden.

 

Perspective: How to bring peer review ghostwriters out of the dark

Authors:Gary S. McDowell, Caroline A. Niziolek, and Rebeccah S. Lijek Doug Kellogg, Monitoring Editor

 

Other media:

Podcast

Helium podcast with Dr. Matt Hotze & Dr. Christine Hendren: Peer Review Integrity: Mentoring Early Career Researchers, interview with Gary McDowell and Becki Lijek 

Interview

ASAPBio E-magazine article, Early Career Researchers and their involvement in peer review by Gary McDowell

 

Project outcomes

We carried out a literature review and a survey of researchers with an emphasis on co-reviewing and ghostwriting. Most respondents believed co-reviewing to be a beneficial and ethical form of training in peer review. About half of the respondents had ghostwritten a peer review report, despite 81% responding that ghostwriting is unethical and 82% agreeing that identifying co-reviewers to the journal is valuable. Our findings were published in an article titled Co-reviewing and ghostwriting by early-career researchers in the peer review of manuscripts

Based on our survey responses, we developed recommendations for ensuring the inclusion, training, and recognition of ECRs’ scholarship in manuscript peer review. These recommendations included a perspective, How to bring peer review ghostwriters out of the dark with a flowchart and graphics.

Additionally, former FOR president Gary McDowell appeared on a podcast and wrote an article with further suggestions learned from our study.

 

    Article: Co-reviewing and ghostwriting by early-career researchers in the peer review of manuscripts

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    Perspective: How to bring peer review ghostwriters out of the dark

    Future of Research is committed to highlighting the issues of international postdocs, who face unique challenges in the US due to visa, salary, childcare, benefits, and lack of access to federal funding mechanisms. Most recently we conducted a survey to study the impact of COVID 19 immigration policies on international postdocs. See our International Postdoc page for more information.

    Helium podcast with Dr. Matt Hotze & Dr. Christine Hendren

    At most institutions across the US, graduate students and postdocs are considered some combination of employee and trainee. Funding source and the official title given by the university can greatly affect a grad student or postdoc’s salary or access to benefits. We believe all postdocs and grad students deserve a liveable wage, access to benefits, and intentional training that will prepare them for their next career stage. Our task force studies institutional policies that affect ECR labor, and supports unionizing efforts by ECRs across the nation. Visit our page to find out more about our latest work.

    ASAPBio article by Gary McDowell

    At most institutions across the US, graduate students and postdocs are considered some combination of employee and trainee. Funding source and the official title given by the university can greatly affect a grad student or postdoc’s salary or access to benefits. We believe all postdocs and grad students deserve a liveable wage, access to benefits, and intentional training that will prepare them for their next career stage. Our task force studies institutional policies that affect ECR labor, and supports unionizing efforts by ECRs across the nation. Visit our page to find out more about our latest work.