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#TurnItUP - University Presses Outlook On Peer Review

Earlier this year we spoke with a range of publishers to get their thoughts on some of the issues in scholarly peer review, including transparency, diversity, and efficiency.

Peter Berkery, Executive Director of the Association of University Presses, brought the view of the university press community into the mix - here we’d like to #TurnItUP for University Press Week!

Publons: What do you think is hindering peer review?

Peter Berkery: I think that for the university press community the largest challenge in relation to peer review is in many ways one that impacts us in a number of areas: we get swept up in broader trends that perhaps don’t really apply to us, or at least don’t apply in the same way. Sometimes, for example, people say “publishers” when they really mean “commercial publishers” or “STEM journal publishers.” In the context of peer review, this is happening because many of the practices currently in the spotlight primarily affect STEM journals. Peer review for academic monographs is a profoundly different process. While there’s been no serious conversation suggesting material shortcomings in the peer review of monographs, yet deficiencies in peer review elsewhere in scholarly communications get extrapolated globally.

Another important challenge facing peer review across all of scholarly communications – including university presses and academic monographs – is the need for greater diversity in the selection of peer reviewers.

Publons: how can we diversify the peer review community?

Peter Berkery: I don’t believe there can be any serious disagreement with the proposition that diverse groups reach better decisions, that diversity facilitates improved outcomes. Scholarly communications has an urgent need to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in every aspect of its enterprise, and peer review is no exception. University presses grapple with this need in nearly every aspect of our work – from recruiting diverse staffs through bringing diverse voices to our author pool all the way to diversifying the blurbers we choose to feature on our dust jackets.

There’s no easy fix for a challenge this pervasive, but it’s incumbent on every actor in the system to work to bring about change.

AUP and our members are taking new—and necessary—steps to expand the diversity of university press staffs, authors, readers, and reviewers.

Publons: is collaboration key to improving peer review?

Peter Berkery: I think that the university press community has the resources to defend and articulate its own value proposition, yes – our commitment to editorial rigor is so widely recognized and respected. However, to the extent that we are citizens of a broader scholarly communications ecosystem, university presses have both a responsibility and a role to play in ensuring that system remains robust.

I could be reflecting the strong bias toward collaboration within my own community, but I tend to believe that systemic challenges can only be addressed through collective action.

Publons: How much of a threat is fraudulent peer review in the scholarly research community?

Peter Berkery: I’m not aware of any serious suggestion of fraudulent peer review being an issue for university presses, at least within their books programs. But, as I’ve said, if it exists elsewhere in the ecosystem it’s a challenge for all of us. Our members are pledged to strict standards of editorial rigor, and we promote that commitment to faculty, administrators, and funders. It led us to release our Best Practices for Peer Review‚ a handbook for scholarly monograph publishers (available for free download on our website), in 2016.

Publons: What impact has the changing research ecosystem had on the role of the Publisher?

Peter Berkery: I love this question, because it goes right to the heart of the difference I’ve referenced repeatedly in the Q&A: university presses always have been service-providers!

In addition to the growth of service-publishing programs and the emergence of cooperative service divisions, many university presses serve as publishing and copyright educators to faculty and students on campus.

And of course university press editors are unique in the time they devote to educating their authors – especially first-time authors – on the entire publishing process. Welcome to our world!


Having launched the Reviewer Recognition Service for the academic article review workflow, Publons is now exploring other contexts for review recognition, including grant review and book review.

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