Identity and integrity in peer review: the role of co-reviewing - F1000

Identity and integrity in peer review: the role of co-reviewing

4 mins


Publishers and academics alike highlight the ways early career researchers (ECRs) can benefit from participating in peer review. But what about how the peer review process can benefit from the involvement of ECRs? In this blog post, we explore identity and integrity in peer review through the lens of co-reviewing. Keep reading to explore how ECRs diversify the reviewer pool and why receiving proper credit for their contributions is essential. 

In recent years, efforts to include ECRs in peer review have been on the rise. Many publishers, funders, and other organizations now offer training and resources for ECRs looking to find their feet in unknown territory. Participating in the peer review process no doubt offers a variety of benefits for junior researchers: sharpening their reviewing skills, building their academic profile, and giving them a voice in academic publishing, to name just a few. The way in which their involvement improves the quality of peer review, however, is often overlooked. 

Greater diversity, greater quality

While peer review is intrinsic to research quality and scientific rigor, it is not a system without flaws. Both reviewer fatigue and the small pool of reviewers selected by editors pose a threat to the sustainability of peer review. Though peer reviewers aim to give impartial commentary and critique, they cannot completely disentangle from the worldviews, experiences, and perspectives they bring to the table. ECRs are considerably more diverse than senior researchers in terms of gender and ethnicity. Therefore, expanding the pool of well-trained reviewers to include ECRs can serve to diversify research and counter tendencies toward bias. 

So, how can ECRs find their footing when it comes to peer review? Co-reviewing is a good place to start. 

Improving a flawed system with co-reviewing 

Co-reviewing is when the invited reviewer works with a colleague (often a more junior member of their team) to assess a manuscript together. Sometimes, the invited reviewer will bring in a co-reviewer with specific expertise to ensure all aspects of the article can be assessed fairly.  

A 2019 study surveying ECRs found that 73% of respondents had co-authored a peer review report when they were not the invited reviewer. Yet almost half of the respondents hadn’t received any recognition for doing so. As such, it’s clear that while co-reviewing is already the norm for many ECRs, formally recognizing the value they provide and giving due credit is not. 

“It’s really important that this contribution is acknowledged,” explains Eleanor-Rose Papas, Editorial Operations and Peer Review Manager at F1000. “Not only for the obvious ethical reasons but also so that they begin to form their own connections with other academics and can include reviews in their academic profile.” 

Credit where credit is due 

Arguably, ghostwriting by early career researchers undermines the integrity of the peer review system. Also, it fails to recognize the varying identities that bring in added layers of diversity, viewpoints, and experience to peer review. At F1000, we feel strongly that all ECRs should receive authorship for their contributions to peer review reports. As Papas points out, “When early career researchers are able to show a record of their reviews on Publons, ORCID, or even their CV, it becomes more likely that they will be invited as the main reviewer and showcases them as an expert in their field.” 

As part of our fully transparent, open peer review model, we: 

  • Explicitly state that we allow co-reviewers in our reviewer invitations and our website 
  • Enable co-reviewers to easily link their reviews to their Publons account and ORCID ID 
  • Always publish the co- reviewer’s name alongside the invited reviewer on our open peer review reports 

Take a look at this example on F1000Research: 

Co-authorship is not simply for manuscripts—it should be the standard for peer review reports regardless of where an article is published. Plus, as some scholars have argued, if journals and readers do not know who is reviewing a paper, how can we be sure there are no competing interests? 

How to get started as a peer reviewer 

If you are an ECR and are interested in co-reviewing a paper, “approach your supervisor or principal investigator and ask to assist with the articles they’re invited to review”, says Papas. “Just don’t forget to ask they credit you when returning the review!” 

If you’ve had some experience co-reviewing already and are ready to take the next step, you can email journals directly to volunteer. “The most important thing is to make sure that publishers can view your academic profile online, with your email address and expertise available, so they can contact you if you’re a match for an article,” she adds. 

ECRs are the future leaders of their fields and their value as part of the peer review system cannot be understated. ECRs should feel empowered to ensure they receive authorship for peer review reports. Publishers, editors, and invited reviewers have a responsibility to make it happen. 

Interested in becoming a peer reviewer, but not sure where to start?

Discover which route you should take and the associated benefits.