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7/7/2020  
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R&D
Research review process

Scientist claims that the review of scientific studies in journals sometimes may subjective


Peer reviews in science, in which independent scientists who are experts on the subject assess the paper, is the current strategy for ensuring quality and control in scientific research and, therefore, it is essential for the academic world. However, a study led by the Portuguese, Catarina Ferreira, uncovers why this system frequently receives harsh criticism about its effectiveness and transparency, and she proposes alternatives to improve it.
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In the sphere of scientific publications, the process known as ‘peer reviews’ consists of evaluating manuscripts that are sent to scientific journals to be published, by two or more qualified independent reviewers, who are usually experts on the subject.

Catarina Ferreira, researcher at Trent University (Canada), the Institute of Research in Game Resources and CIBIO-UP in Portugal, is leading a study reviewing the history of this review process. In the study, published in ‘Biological Reviews’, Ferreira highlights the resistance of this technique to changes in publishing practices, which has further exacerbated the vulnerabilities of this system.

This is a serious problem, not only for the scientific community, but also for the journals, which in the last few years have openly recognised that it is increasingly difficult to secure the participation of scientists as reviewers –in ecology, the non-acceptance rate for requests to review articles is 49%– and obtain high quality exams.

In the specific case of this study, all of the authors, who are trained as biologists, focussed on the field of ecology and evolution. From the hundreds of scientific journals that are published in these fields, they chose to contact the 38 considered to be the top journals, as classified by the standings produced by ‘Google Scholar Metric’.

How can this system be improved?

Some measures have been suggested as potential mitigators of weaknesses such as the privatisation of peer reviews and making participation mandatory.

In the 38 reviews analysed, the disparity of methods used by the journals to instruct their reviewers on peer reviews was evident, from the complete absence of guidelines and unclear criteria, to more formal systems with forms and defined criteria.

They also propose that this centralisation be led by scientists, since this would facilitate the standardisation of the process, as well as increasing its transparency and reliability.

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