Peer review in the pandemic

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Lou Peck and Phil Hurst

Lou Peck and Phil Hurst cast an eye over proceedings during Peer Review Week

At the start of 2020, a group of industry professionals from more than 40 organisations worldwide came together to discuss our plans for Peer Review Week (PRW) 2020. The theme was decided upon and set, ‘Trust in Peer Review’.

We felt it was broad enough to be inclusive, yet specific enough that people could share examples and relate. Never, like everyone, could we have predicted what was to come and how our home and professional lives would be thrown into complete and utter disarray. As the pressures mounted on the research community to help us through this pandemic, public perceptions of the importance of quality research output surged. We knew our theme of ‘Trust in Peer Review’ really mattered.

The year 2020 has been an unprecedented time in terms of the creation of large volumes of research papers on a single topic (that is, Covid-19) in a short space of time, and their public accessibility. We wanted to shine a light on how peer review helps validate published information, as well as the significant work the community does in every step of the peer review process – from reviewing grant applications, through conference abstracts and preprints, to publication.

In particular, we wanted to demonstrate how trust in peer review can lead to more reliable published research, to actively engage with the community about their experiences, and promote best practices in the peer review process. As always, we set out to celebrate everyone involved in the process.

The impact of Covid-19

Covid-19 has impacted everyone, but despite personal and professional challenges, peer reviewers around the world have continued their vital work and we want to celebrate this.

The sharp increase in coronavirus-related submissions meant that reviewers were quickly overwhelmed. Data from ScholarOne (Clarivate Analytics) shows that from 1 September 2019 to 31 August 2020, more than 4.3 million reviews were completed – a 16 per cent increase on the previous year. From 1 March to 31 August 2020 the same data reports 2.3 million reviews were completed (55 per cent of the annual data); a 22 per cent increase from the previous year.

As well as celebrating the hard work of the peer review community, PRW was also an opportunity for participants to share their experiences and provide valuable advice. All you have to do is look at the most popular hashtags of the week #PeerReview, #PeerRevWeek20, and #TrustInPeerReview on Twitter to see the outstanding contributions and helpful guides from across the community. In total, all the related hashtags were mentioned more than 3,500 times and garnered 7.5 million impressions.

Progress toward wider collaboration

Peer review goes way beyond journals. In the early years, PRW was mainly journal-orientated, but this year we made some changes. We have been striving to extend involvement with other stakeholders beyond journal publishers and service providers. We wanted PRW to continue to make a difference and bring new community voices to the forefront to provide a more diverse steering committee. Of course, we know there is always more work to do here but it’s great to have made a start.

This year we saw active participation from funders, researchers, and librarians, as well as academic publishers and service providers. This made a huge difference — not only was the quality of the PRW planning process strengthened, but we were also able to take a broader view and enrich our understanding of the peer review community globally. We’ve been able to foster an environment where our fellow committee members could collaborate with those often out of reach.

This graph gives you an idea of the breadth of scope of our steering committee and we’ve already received expressions of interest from more stakeholders being involved for 2021. In addition to increasing participation across a wider group of stakeholders, we were also on a mission to grow international collaboration from across the world. This year, we really reinforced our international outreach with colleagues in the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Africa, including producing multiple translations of press releases and other materials. And our Reddit AMA gave the AskScience community an opportunity to ask questions directly to academic, library, and other knowledge industry experts, across multiple time zones.

What we have learnt?

The job is never done. As we conclude this year with our ‘wash-up meeting’ and look to see how we can continue to make next year even better, we know there is always so much more we can do. Don’t get us wrong, co- chairing PRW is time-intensive – especially leading up to and straight after PRW – but it is highly rewarding. Being able to co-chair has been one of the highlights for us, because it has enabled us to distribute the work between the two of us as well as talk through and brainstorm ideas. We’ve seen a whole host of activities and community participation — at least 40 events, and a host of marketing and content activities, an absolutely phenomenal effort from all the community involved in peer review.

Every year PRW’s two co-chairs lead the steering committee, plan out the preparations for the week, set and ensure that we deliver on our objectives. Our two subcommittees (events and international outreach, and marketing and communications) plan and implement the essential activities that make PRW the success it is, year on year.

This year, Alice Meadows (NISO) and Sian Powell (ACS) headed up the marketing and communications activities, including social media engagement, blog posts, press releases, and promotion of PRW events, infographics and the 22 new videos submitted to the Peer Review Week YouTube channel this year. We had a 50 per cent increase in subscribers and around a 30 per cent increase in website visitors.

Bahar Mehmani (Elsevier) and Caroline Campbell (IGI Global) headed up the 2020 Events and International Outreach activities, increasing the reach and dissemination of PRW – most notably with a number of regional specific initiatives through WeChat and ScienceNet, and press releases translated into 12 languages (Bulgarian, Croatian, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Spanish, Turkish, Vietnamese).

Every member of the 2020 Steering Committee and Subcommittees has made a positive contribution to PRW and we want to take a moment and thank each and every one for their continued support. Truly, we could not do this without you – we are better together. Now, who to hand the baton over to for 2021....?

For more information visit https://peerreviewweek.wordpress.com/

Lou Peck is managing director at The International Bunch; Phil Hurst is publisher at The Royal Society

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