Note: Review Commons posted this blog earlier this month. PLOS is cross-posting it to amplify the discussion of our participation in Review…
Identity in Peer Review: Looking Forward, Looking Back
This post is written by PLOS’ Editorial Director Suzanne Farley
Peer Review Week didn’t exist when I got my start in STM publishing. 2021’s celebration of this tenacious tenet of quality control in scholarly communication has me meandering down memory lane. Back in the day of small-scale publishing in Australia, we were still mailing unsolicited hardcopy manuscripts to prospective peer reviewers. Editorial feedback was scribbled in the margins. And everything was tracked in a desk-sized, color-coded ledger. Ah, how I loved its color-coding.
Back then, consideration of ‘identity’—the theme of Peer Review Week this year—was extremely limited. Does the invitee have the right subject-expertise? Do they work with the authors? Have I sent them any other manuscripts recently? ‘DEI’ was not an acronym that any of us could have defined even though diverse perspectives, discussion, and collaboration have always been key to strengthening scientific progress.
A New Era of Peer Review
Fast-forward two decades and DEI frameworks and approaches are rightly being centered in scholarly communication discussions, resulting in better benchmarks and knowledge-sharing that give publishers and other organizations the means to better track and hold ourselves accountable for creating a genuinely inclusive academic ecosystem.
But enhancing diversity necessitates establishing identity, and many of us are struggling with the practicalities. Our go-to databases for sourcing peer reviewers don’t include reliable demographic indicators. We make clumsy inferences based on names and locations, while trying to be mindful of our own unconscious biases. We manually trawl non-traditional sources. New lists of historically under-represented researchers are popping up all the time, but they are yet to be centrally curated. And what about GDPR? Doing it right takes more time. And no one wants peer review to take longer than it already does.
Despite the challenges, we all as publishers owe a duty to the trust and integrity of the scientific record to be actively involved in bringing the distinct identities and unique perspectives, knowledge, and diversity of all researchers to the process. Doing it right takes organizational commitment—including investment in extra resources and new ways of working. At PLOS, a new DEI-focused workflow for recruitment of Editorial Board members (EBMs) ensures we’re casting a wider net. (Want to be considered? Sign-up here!). Establishing a baseline so we can track improvements is also underway; a DEI-focused survey of EBMs will be deployed soon. And our Editorial Board Member Code of Conduct headlines inclusion and bias minimization.
A core tenet for PLOS has been to increase transparency at all stages of review and to offer inclusive forms of assessment for the researchers and reviewers involved in publishing. Authors who have published in our journals are often invited to peer review. Researchers at institutions with whom PLOS has partnered are another potential source of new expertise. So, we’ve been focusing on expanding our global footprint. Our newest journals, and partnership with TCC Africa, are just two examples of this effort. And the transparency of PLOS’ manuscript processing—where peer reviewers can choose to sign their reports, and authors can choose to publish their peer review commentary—confers visibility; seeing those with whom one identifies making a valuable contribution to a community encourages participation.
Celebrating Reviewers in Peer Review
Peer review will still be around long after I’ve left scholarly publishing. There’ll be ever more ways of doing it—formal and informal, pre-and post-publication, blinded and unblinded—facilitated by ever more platforms and technologies. A diversity of models which will hopefully be mirrored by a diversity of participatory identities.
However the future of peer review takes shape, it is important to continue highlighting and celebrating the individual contributions that reviewers make every day. PLOS is thankful to all reviewers that work with us and we look forward to continuing to learn from their individual experiences and tackling challenges in peer review together.