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Talking Peer Review: Q&A with Irene Hames

Happy Peer Review Week 2017!

To all the reviewers and editors worldwide: thank you from everyone here at Publons! You are the guardians of science and research, keeping watch over the quality and integrity of scholarly communication.

And thank you for helping us hit one million verified reviews on Publons! Woohoo! What an exciting start to Peer Review Week!

We look forward to honoring the top reviewers in our Publons Peer Review Awards tomorrow at 10am ET! These awards celebrate reviewers and editors across all disciplines and journals; you can find out more here and stay tuned via Twitter. Good luck!

Our new Sentinel Award, for outstanding advocacy, innovation or contribution to scholarly peer review, will also be announced a week later on Tuesday the 19th of September.

We have an exciting shortlist for this award (check it out here) and we're running a Q&A series with each nominee throughout the week.

The first of these is with a tireless advocate for high quality scholarly peer review, Irene Hames.

"Better knowledge and practice in research, its reporting and publication will lead to better peer review, and also better-quality / better-prepared submissions, which will make it easier for the work to be reviewed and to find reviewers for."

Irene is an independent research-publication, peer-review and research-integrity specialist with a PhD in cell biology and over 30 years’ experience in scholarly publishing. Her extensive body of work in this space has helped to define what robust peer review looks like and generally championed the critical importance of peer review amongst the research community.

We'll hand it over to Irene to tell you more!

Publons: Can you tell us a bit about the work you do?

Irene: For the past 7 years, since I retired from my journal managing editor role, I’ve worked independently and there have been two main aspects to my work. Firstly, helping editors, journals and publishers improve the quality of their peer-review and editorial processes, and secondly, advising researchers on research integrity, research publication and publication ethics. In both cases I’ve aimed to create awareness of potential problems and new issues, and tried to set these in context and provide practical solutions. One of my most recent efforts has been a project with the University of Dundee to create a comprehensive online research-integrity resource for researchers. I’ve also taken on several voluntary advisory roles, e.g. currently with the International Society of Managing and Technical Editors (ISMTE), Sense About Science and the Royal Society of Biology, and previously with the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE).

How does that feed into improving scholarly peer review?

In scholarly peer review there are two camps: the research side, where researchers carry out, write up and submit work for publication, and the editorial side, where peer reviewers and editors/editorial staff assess the submitted work and manage the processes involved in peer review. But many researchers are active in both areas, taking on the roles of author, reviewer and editor, sometimes all at any one time. There can be tension between the two sides, with people acting and feeling differently in the different roles, especially when things don’t go smoothly or there are problems. Surprisingly, considering the importance of research publication, many individuals receive little or no training to equip them for the various roles. Better knowledge and practice in research, its reporting and publication will lead to better peer review, and also better-quality/better-prepared submissions, which will make it easier for the work to be reviewed and to find reviewers for.

What or who inspired you to work towards this aim?

It often struck me when I was a journal editor that many individuals on both sides of the research – editorial divide were unaware not only of new or complex issues in research reporting and peer review, but also of some of the most basic principles that constitute good practice—it’s assumed that everyone knows these. The quality of peer review is very variable, probably partly because of this. I wrote my book to fill a gap, to be a practical guide for editors and editorial staff, and to create awareness of the issues involved in setting up and managing peer-review processes. I’m also proud to have been involved in the formation of ISMTE, which was set up 10 years ago to bring together an underrepresented group of peer-review professionals and provide support, networking and training. I remain connected with ISMTE, as a member of its Industry Advisory Board and Nominations Committee, and Chair of the Ethics Committee. My main focus over the past few years has, though, been working with researchers, raising awareness of integrity and ethical issues in research and publication, including training in peer review.

What does transparency in peer review (the theme of this year's Peer Review Week) mean to you?

To me, transparency in peer review means a number of things. At the most basic level, it’s about knowing how and what type of peer review is carried out at a journal or organisation, what the standards and policy requirements are, how long it takes, the timeline of submissions and decisions, who has made the editorial decision. Most importantly, it means being able to see the reviewers’ reports, author responses and editorial decision correspondence – as done, for example, by the EMBO Press journals (EMBO J introduced a transparent editorial process in 2009). As I’ve said before, I can’t see why making these available with published articles can’t become the norm. This would help readers and potential authors judge the quality of peer review. It would also help distinguish reputable journals from those that are questionable or carrying out minimal or inadequate peer review. To me, transparency doesn’t mean having to know the reviewers’ names. It will be interesting to see what definitions of ‘transparency’ come out from all the events taking place during peer review week!

What are you plans for the future?

Next year I’ll have been working in scholarly publishing for 40 years, and I’m planning on moving from semi-retirement to near full retirement – I want to have more time to spend on hobbies and personal projects. I’ll carry on with voluntary advisory roles but will be cutting back on other professional activities, focusing mainly on supporting the online research-integrity resource. Research publication and peer review have, however, been such a major part of my life for so long I can’t yet imagine a time when I don’t follow developments and take part in discussions – especially at such a dynamic and exciting time!

Our Publons Peer Review Award sponsors are:

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