Peer Review Week 2016: It’s all about the reviewers

Integral to any form of peer review is the reviewers themselves. As part of Peer Review Week, John Inglesfield, a JPCM Board Member and experienced reviewer answered our questions about peer review from a referee’s point of view.

How long have you been a referee?
I think I’ve been refereeing for at least 45 years! My IOPP referee number is 85 I think, which must date me.

What do you most enjoy about reviewing a paper?
I enjoy reading the new ideas, methods and results in the papers I referee. I also enjoy the background reading which is (sometimes) involved – checking references, comparing with earlier work etc. Perhaps most of all I enjoy feeling in touch in current research.

How do you think peer-review affects the public’s view of science?

Peer review is supposed to give the public confidence in the “scientific method”. By and large this is justified, and my experience as adjudicator/editor shows me that most refereeing is done very well and conscientiously. I think there are very few cases of morally dubious practices.

What do you look for when reviewing a paper and what do you think are the key features of a good review?

Not only that the paper describes new work, but also that it is interesting. The features of a good review – it should, where possible, try to improve the paper, and it should be positive. The referee should be trying to help, not just criticise.

How has peer review changed since you became a referee?

The main change is the speed with which peer review can be carried out, thanks to email. The internet also makes it much easier to check references etc. With email I think that refereeing has become more international, with less dependence on local referees. Another change is increasing use of pre-refereeing; although I am involved in this, I do have my doubts about it, and would prefer all papers to be sent out for refereeing. I also worry about journals’ emphasis on the Impact Factor.

What do you think the main challenges are facing peer review? Do you think the peer-review system will change in the next five to ten years, and if so, how?
I don’t think peer review will change very much, though there may be more and more pressure to pre-referee. Open Access will be an issue for journals, but not necessarily for referees.

There are different several types of peer review (open, single blind, double blind, post publication, etc): what do you think are the benefits and pitfalls of the various methods?
I’ve never heard of post-publication refereeing but I favour double-blind. With two opinions both unaware of the authors identity the office is likely to make a better judgement. The IOPP methods and standards of refereeing are excellent, though I would prefer much more limited pre-refereeing, rejecting only obviously bad papers before refereeing. But I’m involved with the system anyway!

If you’ve missed any of our other Peer Review Week posts, you can check them out here.

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