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Peer review trickery?

Leading stem cell researchers are accusing some scientists of abusing the peer-review system, writing unreasonable or obstructive reviews and delaying the publication of high quality science. Image: Wikimedia commonsTwo researchers -- Robin Lovell-Badge, who spoke in a personal capacity, and Austin Smith, from the University of Cambridge -- linkurl:told the BBC;http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8490291.stm that sometimes scientists might write negative reviews of the work or request ad

By | February 2, 2010

Leading stem cell researchers are accusing some scientists of abusing the peer-review system, writing unreasonable or obstructive reviews and delaying the publication of high quality science.
Image: Wikimedia commons
Two researchers -- Robin Lovell-Badge, who spoke in a personal capacity, and Austin Smith, from the University of Cambridge -- linkurl:told the BBC;http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8490291.stm that sometimes scientists might write negative reviews of the work or request additional and unnecessary experiments in an effort to get their own papers, and those of their friends, published sooner. In an linkurl:open letter;http://eurostemcell.org/commentanalysis/peer-review to the editors of major scientific journals published last year, a group of 14 researchers, including Smith, argue that "papers that are scientifically flawed or comprise only modest technical increments often attract undue profile. At the same time publication of truly original findings may be delayed or rejected." To prevent this sort of corruption, they say, reviews, response to reviews, and associated editorial correspondence should be published as supplementary materials with the paper. Nature editor Philip Campbell denied that "there's some privileged clique" mistreating the review process, and Monica Bradford, executive editor of Science, told the BBC that they "have not been convinced to switch" to a system involving the open review of the quality of peer-review feedback. The EMBO Journal has, though: Starting January 1, 2009, all articles published in EMBO have a supplementary Review Process File (RPF), which includes the timeline of the review process and all relevant communication, such as referees' comments, decision letters and the responses from authors. On linkurl:their website,;http://www.nature.com/emboj/about/emboj_review_process.html EMBO claims that the experiment "appears to be successful," and they hope other journals will try similar initiatives.
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:Journal plays with peer review;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55394/
[3rd February 2009]*linkurl:Tackling peer review bias;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/54893/
[28th July 2008]*linkurl:Is Peer Review Broken?;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/23061/
[February 2006]
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Comments

February 2, 2010

\n\nCongratulations EMBO for your initiative and leadership !!
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 24

February 2, 2010

Nature denies the existence of a privileged clique! To paraphrase Decartes, they speak, therefore they are. Next we'll hear that politics have no place in the review process at Science and Cell, and that no advantages accrue from serving on study sections. \nI don't object to people getting some reward for doing a whole lot of work, but why can't we stop pretending that there are no abuses? A major problem is the anti-intellectual attitude in life sciences that enables senior people to propagate anile attitudes such as 'ideas are a dime a dozen, it only matters who does the work.' It's a short step from that to 'it only matters who gets into to print first.' This is a great way to justify the intellectual piracy and over-competitive attitudes that corrupt peer review and stifle innovation.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

February 2, 2010

I think an ideal system would be to list the reviewing authors for all publications. This has an major advantage: keeps the reviewers honest and accountable. If the reviewer knows they will be identified, they will be more fair in their critique and not ask for impossible or illogical experiments. The reviewing authors can be listed in the footnotes section (next to received/accepted information). \nWhat is wrong with knowing who reviewed your paper? Most researchers guess anyway... why not take the guessing out and open up the system?\n
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 12

February 2, 2010

I have substantial evidence that the\nPeer Rev. criticism- is actually worse than stated!\n\nA referee- NATURE has rejected at least THREE major discoveries containing valuable MSS-\n(i) the result was not what the referee had 'hoped' and published the flawed paper with contaminated test samples, producing the absence of a receptor that the referee thought it should be! That flawed paper is still on the archives of NATURE-never withdrawn though Campbell made aware of it.\nThe discovery- parallel-simultaneously ongoing independent- by another Lab sent to IMMUNOLOGY by the other author published- losing some sort of simultaneous priority for the Cambridge work.\nThe MSS eventually published by another 'good J-editor being a practising scientists.\n\nThere are now at 500-1,000 papers supporting the Cambridge.\n\nThe big scientists: 4 in the UK, a NIH Nobel laureate, 3 others in the USA were not able to clone the receptor because of their bias- obviously- and are still smarting about their failure that despite millions, they failed and modest labs cloned the receptor!\nThe incompetent bad refereeing cost Britain not only credit but research/patent monies of the applications that would have emerged.\n\n(ii) The preliminary screening of multidisciplinary papers in the biomedical sciences by the not quite so widely read sub-editors is losing good papers containing striking discoveries- dismissed by the routine circular 'non-acceptance' slips-e-mails with no real explanation.\n\n(iii) I have spent 40 years as a specialist of practically all methods of cell separation. A specialist editor (DSc level) of J -section: criticised a generally-internally accepted method of cell separation in my paper although it was exactly the same in a paper published in the J by another author- but, it turned out that this author was a co-author of papers with the subeditor of ~5 years standing.\nThe subeditor showed ignorance of simple undergraduates biophysics that has been taught to the 2nd year TRIPOS undergraduates at least since 1903!\n\nWhen this was pointed out to the Ed in Chief- my pointing out was not considered appropriate in tone!\n\nN.B. I have written a parody based on Shakespeare's Henry V-PROLOGUE. I wish I could publish it somewhere! Would you consider this request seriously?\n \n
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

February 2, 2010

I have had direct experience in this kind of discrimination. \n\nYears ago I tried to publish results which called into question the established dogma in a particular area of drug metabolism. My findings suggested that, for the particular structural moiety in question, the dogma was wrong in several major ways. The promulgator of the established model of metabolism for this class of compounds was and is highly cited and well known in the community. My work indicated that the reaction intermediate formed had the potential to alkylate DNA. This structure was a part of a drug just entering clinical trials.\n\nI submitted the work to a prominent drug metabolism journal. The editor replied "we don't publish papers of this type". Ultimately the study was published in a very obscure journal.\n\nThe drug entered clinical trials, and patients on study drug showed higher mortality than control patients. The trial was terminated after a few months. The drug, and ultimately the company, both died too.\n\nThis episode taught me that scientists, when they decide to behave in an unethical manner, are capable of tremendous evil. \n
Avatar of: Marlies Otter

Marlies Otter

Posts: 1

February 2, 2010

I have worked as an editor for EMBO. I feel that corruption is a big word for many cases but yes there is a certain underlying segregating side effect of peer review. And believe me editors are highly aware of it. Every field has its own little group that tries to drive or lock it for different reasons (political or scientific) by endorsing certain papers and rejecting others via peer review. These groups change over time, sometimes very rapidly and totally unexpected, as if soccer players exchanged shirts during the game and not after.\nAre editors to forensically dissect and keep track of the myriad of relationships of ex-labs, -pats, -wives, -projects and -colleagues with each submitted paper? Most editors try to be open-minded with a critical eye. \nOn the other hand I agree that part of the newsy culture of today?s science publishing is that controversial, lengthy or difficult to interpret material has a much harder time to get appropriately reviewed and ultimately published. I think is a good attempt to have the reviewers? comments published alongside the actual papers. It will most likely stop the more extreme and subjective type of review comments.\n
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

February 2, 2010

I have heard of reviewers who read only the abstract and conclusions in order to make their decision. The EMBO approach makes sense to me. I would even go so far as to require that names be attached to the reviews published as supplementary material. This would discourage some of the outrageous statements reviewers are prone to make.
Avatar of: Bjoern Brembs

Bjoern Brembs

Posts: 14

February 3, 2010

I commend EMBO for their decision. I'm an academic editor at PLoS One. PLoS One regularly publishes reviewers' comments (albeit only with their consent). I think publishing reviewers' comments should be a matter of course.

February 3, 2010

\n\nMarlies and Bjoern\n\nNice to meet you and thanks for sharing your views as Editors. \n\nI am sure that EMBO realizes the enormous impact of their open review policy as an educational strategy for scientists, pre and postdoctoral researchers. I can imagine them going through public reviews of scientific papers in preparation for seminars, their writing assays, thesis or fellowship or thinking about experimental approaches for their questions of interest.\n\nLearning to review a paper by walking through different ways of thinking about biological questions (three referees per paper per submission). Why the question arose, what and how was it tackled, where is it heading?.. and being able to discern if a specific contribution has provided meaningful integrative answers to challenging problems. It is equally important learning to identify what constitutes an excellent scientific review and recognize ?the minutia? as ?minutia? as to not postpone the placement, in the public arena, of potential breakthroughs that could hasten true discoveries.\n\nThanks EMBO again for your leadership.\n
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 2

February 3, 2010

Several years ago, I submitted a manuscript to a "high-impact" journal to be reviewed. One reviewer said that my manuscript should not be accepted for publication by the journal because I had already published the same data in another journal. This was such a lie because he/she could not even say when and where I had published it. Talking about a bad reviewer .... I wonder why this reviewer made things up.
Avatar of: Tarakad Raman

Tarakad Raman

Posts: 31

February 4, 2010

I am referring to the English word, not the Hindustani one. The dictionary definition is "a person who is of equal standing with another in a group". In other words, a research paper or application for grants is to be reviewed by my equals, particularly by someone who is working in the same area of specialization and/or has expertise in it. Performance appraisal is also supposed to be done by peers. In highly specialized areas, it is often quite difficult to find even half a dozen people who can be "peers" of this kind. \nIn India, the situation is still worse. True "peer review" has never existed in India. Here "peer" is taken to mean someone who is superior to you in ranking, not necessarily in knowledge or scientific achievement. The review is, therefore, done by titular superiors or sometimes even by persons totally unconnected with science of any kind. Citing from actual situations, the work of a biochemist or an entomologist could be reviewed by a physicist or an irrigation engineer. The reviewer could even pass on the job to a student or to a clerk in his office. The formally designated "peer" will, of course, put his signature at the bottom of the report. \nI don't foresee or hope for any change in the "system" in the near future.
Avatar of: eve barak

eve barak

Posts: 85

February 6, 2010

\nI add my congratulations to EMBO Journal.\n\nAs for identifying reviewers -- there used to be a journal that listed, at the end of each year, the names of all the individuals who served as reviewers during the year. It was a long list, and one could not specifically match a reviewer with a paper (after all, some papers were rejected outright as a result of the review process and never published in the journal). That kind of "reviewer list" should suffice to provide a sense of the quality and breadth of the reviewers for that journal. I would feel squeamish about specifically identifying reviewers of individual papers -- a good reviewer might be intimidated by such disclosure, especially if the paper she was asked to review had significant deficiencies.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

February 7, 2010

Hopefully EMBO's initiative gets high publicity as it should be the model to be followed.

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