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Talking Peer Review: Q&A with Kyle Martin and Gareth Fraser

Happy Peer Review Week!

On the 19th of September we will be announcing the winner of our Sentinel Award - for outstanding advocacy, innovation or contribution to scholarly peer review.

In this series of Q&A posts leading up to the announcement, we meet our eight finalists and get to know a bit more about them.

Up today, we have peer reviewers Kyle Martin and Gareth Fraser. Kyle and his then supervisor Gareth co-authored this open pre-publication review, which our judges considered an excellent example of how valuable a considered and detailed peer review can be for advancing the state of the art.

"It is the perfect example of peer review mentorship, and an open peer review process functioning well and advancing science."

We asked Kyle a few questions about peer review, and his plans for the future:

Publons: Can you tell us a bit about yourselves and how you came to collaborate on this review?

Kyle Martin: I was working as a postdoctoral researcher with Gareth Fraser when he approached me to ask if I would like to take on this review. Gareth is recognized internationally as an expert on the evolution of tetraodontiform fishes, and I had the expertise in genomics which was the main subject of this manuscript, so the collaboration was a natural one. As a junior researcher clambering for independence I was grateful for the opportunity to start contributing to the peer review process and to make it known I was available to take on my share of these responsibilities.

What (or who) inspired you to write such a considered and detailed peer review?

KM: In all honesty I could not imagine doing anything less. Perhaps it is a naïve view but I believe that the time and energy I invested in this review should be considered about average. This may have been my first review but I have been on the other side of the editor’s desk a few times and know very well the time and effort involved in doing this type of research and assembling a manuscript of this quality. I therefore thought it only fair that this effort was matched with a thorough, and constructive, review. Of course, it helped that I found the subject of this manuscript quite interesting, happened to have recent first-hand expertise in this field, and was not burdened with a mountain of other administrative duties.

How do you think scholarly peer review could be improved?

KM: I imagine selecting reviewers who are well matched to the subject of a submitted manuscript is a challenging task for scientific editors, but it seems like the most important first step in the process. I was able to write a detailed review in this case in part because I was so familiar with the subject. On the other hand, I have also received less than helpful reviews from scholars who were clearly not expert in the subject area, and this is always disappointing – regardless of the recommendation to the editor. Besides this, I think that increased transparency in peer review, including publishing open reviews, coupled with a system whereby reviewers receive due credit for their efforts, like the system espoused by Publons, are the way forward.

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

KM: I am a big fan of transparency in peer review. I don’t see any reason why reviewers should be able to hide behind a veil of anonymity whilst authors wear their hearts on their sleeve and put everything on the table. Reviewers should be accountable for their comments and this would discourage the minority of scholars who take the process less than seriously from casting manuscripts aside with casual one line responses to the editor. Published, open peer reviews can also be a rich resource for scientists who are seeking to improve their manuscripts before submission, and can help demystify the scientific method in the eyes of the public. At a time when certain political factions around the world are aiming to delegitimize the authority and trustworthiness of ‘experts’ the importance of transparency in peer review is redoubled.

What are you plans for the future? / Anything else you'd like to add?

KM: I am currently a postdoctoral researcher at the Natural History Museum of London working with Zerina Johanson. Working at the NHM with Zerina has been a great experience and I am now seeking independent fellowships to strike out on my own and continue pursuing my research interests which, at the moment, are in the evolution and development of the chondrichthyan (cartilaginous fish) skeleton. There is a lot we can learn from the great experiment of Evolution and chondrichthyans are both woefully understudied and rich in amazing biological adaptations which I hope to understand and, if possible, exploit!

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