Two editorials recently published in the Journal of the World Aquaculture Society (JWAS) addressed the steady proliferation of journals, particularly open access ones (D'Abramo 2016), and impact factors (Engle 2016). Both of them note that publication of high-quality, relevant articles based on research that contributes to the advancement of science and its application is the key to sustained value and ultimately survival of journals. Assurance that trustworthy and relevant research results are published is substantially based on peer review that consists of comprehensive and rigorous examination of content, suggestions for improvement, and recommendations to the editor concerning the next step in the postsubmission process. Careless peer review can readily overlook plagiarism, poor design, interpretation of data, and spurious conclusions, resulting in recommendation for publication. These unsatisfactory reviews are essentially a breach of the trust within the scientific community, a trust that is rooted in a code of ethical conduct and the foundation of progress of science. Supporting the belief that peer-review activity has a positive and critical value in scientific communication, I will focus on this service relative to professional responsibility, the fostering of respect and recognition among the scientific community, and benefits that enhance personal career-advancing skills.
Research scientists profit from the information published in journals and accordingly have a reciprocal obligation to execute a professional duty to serve as a peer reviewer. Worthy peer review provides objective judgment of the merit of research results and therefore is essential to the upholding of high standards of communication within scientific disciplines, resulting in noteworthy advances in knowledge. It is an undertaking that should be performed with the same conscientious examination that all scientists, as authors or coauthors, would want their own submission to receive. However, when requested to serve as a peer reviewer, many individuals decline or do not even respond, commonly due to time constraints, viewing the request as unrewarding and/or low priority relative to planning and performance of research, preparation of grant proposals, publication of research, and/or management of existing research projects. Additionally, negative responses may lie in response to ascribing little or no credit for engagement in peer review as a professional service by some academic departments and higher administration, federal/state agencies, or companies as part of annual performance evaluations and promotion decisions. This existing type of mindset is detrimental to the urgent need to increase the pool of worthy individuals who will accept an invitation to be a reviewer, particularly young scientists who offer new perspectives and are well trained in new research skills. Moreover, it contrasts with researchers' underlying belief that serving as a peer reviewer improves peer and institutional recognition and career advancement.
For some individuals, refusal to serve as a reviewer for a journal is rooted in retaliation arising from a previous rejection by the same journal to publish their submitted manuscript(s). This reaction is particularly untenable when they are recognized as eminent reviewers who can offer significant input. Nonetheless, they expect their submissions to be promptly reviewed with professional integrity and comprehensive examination by notable contemporaries in their research discipline. The opportunity to serve as a peer reviewer must not be dismissed with selfish, unprofessional reprisal or excuses.
With respectful acknowledgment that rigorous and trustworthy peer review has professional and ethical connotations, and contributes to the maintenance of high standards for publication, journals, professional associations and societies, and companies have addressed the need for recognition in different ways. Recognition by journals may include annually published lists of peer reviewers who have completed prompt and comprehensive reviews. Some journal editors now send e-mail communications to individual peer reviewers emphasizing the importance of peer reviews and thanking them for their participation. A recent effort to recognize the importance and essential need for high-quality peer review is Peer Review Evaluation fostered through the published journals of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS 2016). This endeavor provides authors and readers with detailed information about the process of peer reviews of individual articles, thereby offering an important benchmark in evaluating the comparative value/relevance of the published research. Another approach to establishing esteemed recognition of peer review is through the company Publons that serves both peer reviewers and publishers through the production and maintenance of individual profiles and records of activity.
Financial compensation for time devoted to service as a peer reviewer has been adopted by some journals and this practice of recognition remains a subject of debate (Matthews 2016). Payments are generally derived from publication fees charged to the author(s). Although it may be argued that financial incentive may increase the likelihood of a positive response to review, it seems to be inconsistent with the essence of the selfless fulfillment of a professional duty. A better approach to a monetary-based compensation might lie in offering an option of contributing the amount of each incentive payment to a fund that would support the research of graduate students who represent the peer reviewers of the future.
Beyond the argument of ethical/professional obligations and the issue of incentives, service as a peer reviewer can reap important personal benefits that can ultimately enhance an individual's career as a research scientist. Foremost, serving as a peer reviewer is an exercise in critical thinking. Critical thinking as defined by the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking (1987) is the “intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.” Critical thinking is a dynamic skill, commonly improved and honed through guidance and use over time. Conduct of research according to the scientific method is in itself an analogue of the application of critical thinking. Thus, critical thinking skills are essential to the performance of high-quality scientific investigation and are obviously necessary for and strengthened by service as a peer reviewer. The ongoing improvement of a researcher's critical thinking skill set, regardless of where an individual might be in his/her research career, has enduring benefits that can be applied to planning experimental design and methodology in future research investigations. Notably, judged from examination of the results of a recent Wiley survey of researchers (Warne 2016), an enthusiastic desire to receive training in peer review is apparent. For graduate students and early investigators, hopefully, the grooming of critical thinking skills may ultimately take on increased significance via the domain of professional training offered through academic programs, major professors, journal guidelines, and/or professional societies. Complementing the benefits of critical thinking enhancement, service as a peer reviewer provides the opportunity to remain well informed of recent trends and progress in research within a researcher's discipline. Also, peer review of articles submitted for publication by other researchers offers the potential benefit of improving personal writing, organizational, and presentation skills through exposure to both poor and exemplary styles.
Meticulous and prompt peer review is essential to sustained recognition of JWAS as a scholarly and eminent publication. JWAS affirms the importance and value of peer review through the recognition of the Outstanding JWAS Reviewer for each yearly quarter. In addition, Executive Editor Carole Engle annually provides each associate editor with data that address an array of performance criteria that can be compared to a composite mean of each of the same criteria of all associate editors. This informative practice, designed to sustain excellence, promotes comparative-based self-evaluation. JWAS has a distinctive quality because it is a journal of a scientific society, the World Aquaculture Society (WAS). If you are contacted to serve as a peer reviewer, strongly consider the professional responsibility to accept, a decision that also reflects your choice to be an active and contributing member of the WAS. Your participation as a peer reviewer supports WAS and is complemented by a contribution to progress in your scientific discipline and the opportunity for personal enrichment. For most manuscripts, the time commonly needed to complete a cogent peer review ranges from a half-day to an entire day. Therefore, if five reviews were performed each year, about one every 2.5 mo, the total time required would range between 2.5 and 5 d/yr. This time investment is nominal when contrasted with the enduring and priceless benefits gained.
AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science). 2016. AAAS launches PRE (Peer Review Evaluation) across Science family of journals. Accessed January 19, 2017. at http://www.pre-val.org/2016/03/09/peer-review-news-article-1/
D'Abramo, L. R. 2016. The rising trend of open access publishing: reaping benefits and confronting threats. Journal of the World Aquaculture Society 47(6):757–758.
Wiley Online Library | Web of Science®
Engle, C. R. 2016. Beyond impact factors: research that contributes to the growth and development of aquaculture. Journal of the World Aquaculture Society 47(5):603–604.
Wiley Online Library | Web of Science® Times Cited: 1
Matthews, D. 2016. Should academics be paid for peer review? Accessed December 20, 2016. at www.timeshighereducation.com/news/should-academics-be-paid-for-peer-review
National Council for Excellence in 1987 8th Annual Conference on Critical Thinking and Education Reform Accessed January 2 2016 at www.criticalthinking.org/pages/defining-critical-thinking/766
Warne, V. 2016. Rewarding reviewers – sense or sensibility? A Wiley study explained. Learned Publishing 29:41–50.
Wiley Online Library | Web of Science® Times Cited: 3