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Think Big and Peer Review for World Cancer Day

Peer review is about thinking big and long-term, says urologic oncologist, Leonardo Reis. It not only benefits researchers and reviewers, it helps patients - now and in the future - and is a key step in reducing the global burden of cancer.

We asked Dr Reis, from the University of Campinas - Unicamp, Brazil, a few questions for World Cancer Day on February 4th, 2017. He specialises in genitourinary cancers (including prostate, bladder and kidney cancer), and is currently Publons’ most active reviewer in a cancer-related field.

What got you so involved in peer review?

It goes back to the first article I published. It was a case report and I received seven consecutive rejections from journals before its eventual publication. Two or three reviewers from each journal offered me such valuable advice to get it accepted, and while I’ll never know who they were, I’ve never forgotten their support. It made me realise how much I could learn from peer review, and how much I wanted to give back to the process. I’ve kept it up because it continues to teach me a great deal. I keep up-to-date with current research, journals and editors, and I am continuously refining the ‘how’ and ‘why’ in my own work.

The theme for this year’s World Cancer Day is to explore how everyone – as a collective or as individuals – can do their part to fight cancer. How does peer review play into this?

Peer review is the best mechanism we have for keeping science sound, and that’s extremely important in cancer research and across all fields. Our work must go through the right critics before it’s published, applied in the field and offered to the patient. It also helps to expand knowledge and further ideas. Researchers can’t see or know everything as individuals, especially if they’re deeply involved in their project. Peer review means they help each other do all of the above as a collective. Teamwork ushers in new ideas and new solutions - for the paper and the public.

How would the battle against cancer look without peer review?

I can’t even imagine that because I think peer review is so important. It’s a safety process. We know it isn’t perfect and that sometimes we have problems with editorial and reviewer bias, but it is ultimately in place to safeguard research. It’s crucial to fighting diseases like cancer and progressing science.

Cancer in tissue
B0010326 Detecting cancer in human tissues, LM
Credit: Aamir Ahmed, Jane Pendjiky and Michael Millar. Wellcome Images

What if we had better incentives for experts to review and validate the research being produced?

I think it’s less about incentives and more about changing mindsets. It’s a matter of perspective: there are researchers and institutions who think peer review is about working for others for free. But that’s thinking small and in the short-term. That’s thinking that peer review only helps one individual. I don’t believe that. Peer review adds value to the field as a whole, and it also helps the reviewer to be a better researcher. It’s not losing time, it’s building knowledge. We need more people - from early career researchers to funders - to understand and appreciate all the benefits that come from peer review.

What’s your peer review advice for early career researchers in your field?

Think big and long-term. Reading and reviewing others’ studies gives you a broader perspective and positively influences the field. This will help speed up your research and progress your career. Peer review is now considered in all kinds of career selection processes, like jobs, promotions and grants, and your experience can be proven on sites like Publons. If I’m choosing between two candidates for an academic position, I see a lot of value in checking their peer review history to see what they’ve done and been recognised for.

Thanks, Leonardo.

Show your support for World Cancer Day by sharing Leonardo's post and the poster below using the social media links at the bottom of this page.

World Cancer Day poster

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