How many researchers are going to publish a paper? An early-career psychologist tells the story of an Indonesian prisoner’s experience in peer review
Onie says the peer-review system needs a redesign to fight delays. People need to be incentivized to do something.
Pandemic burnout seems to have exacerbated the problem. The results of a poll of Nature readers will be reported later this month. found that about one-third had reduced their reviewing activity since March 2020. Senior and mid-career researchers, who perform the bulk of peer reviews, were most likely to cut back.
Some reviewers might decline to review in low-income countries because of their lack of confidence. In Indonesia, they have professors who have never published a paper. A handful of programmes now offer training, and even certification, in peer review for early-career or inexperienced researchers.
Cash payments are suggested as a solution to the problem, but others think it would be unethical and unsustainable. A better solution might be to share the load more widely — with early-career scientists, for instance, or those in less well resourced countries, who are not yet heavily involved — or even to let computer algorithms bear some of the burden.
During the COVID-19 Pandemic, preprints helped to spread scientific findings quickly. But they don’t replace the publications that scientists need to populate their CVs. The publication process is getting slower, according to a plant geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Biology. He doesn’t expect a response for six weeks at the earliest, and 40 years ago he received reviews in about three weeks.
Studies that were months or even years old can have serious policy implications, says a psychology researcher who works at the Black Dog Institute. He cites a study he is submitting on suicide rates in Indonesia. The president of the Indonesian Association for Suicide Prevention tells us that we should get this information out to help shape policy.
Some researchers leave academia if peer review is too fast, says a researcher at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa. Students need to publish a paper to take the master’s degree programme. Students head off to work in industry after delays, but some never come back. Kumar has lost a number of students, all women. “Publication delayed is publication denied,” he says.
Reviewers don’t want to be left behind: Enabling research talent in lower-income nations by offering free subscriptions to Nature Research
The reviewers are paid by some journals or they waive their subscription costs. For example, submitting three or more reviews per year for a Nature Research journal entitles reviewers to a free, online subscription to the journal they choose from Nature Research’s offerings. Springer Nature’s reviewers appreciate having their names added to the published papers as a result of these subscriptions, according to a Springer Nature spokesman.
Pablo Manavella, a plant molecular biologist at the Coastal Agrobiotechnology Institute in Santa Fe, Argentina, worries that journals would just pass the extra costs of reviewer fees onto authors — something that those in lower-income nations could ill afford. Extra fees, in the form of article-processing charges, would come out of Manavella’s scant government grants and be funnelled to reviewers, who are more likely to reside in wealthier nations. He says that he doesn’t think it’s right.
What most reviewers desire is not a cheque. The authors of the report on grant peer review asked scientists what motivated them to take on reviews. Cash was behind incentives such as more-explicit recognition by employers and online records of review efforts.
Reducing the amount of reviewing may be a solution. According to Josh Dahl, Senior Director of product management at Clarivate, some journals are rejecting papers or asking for improvements before inviting reviewers to weigh in. Other researchers say that some types of paper, such as those introducing databases or ideas without new data, could go through with less extensive review.
One simpler solution is to enlarge the pool of reviewers, seeking out a more diverse group. “We don’t have enough early-career researchers” says the head of science at EMBO Press, and former chief editor of Nature Cell Biology. Too many men and too many white people are being used. EMBO is tracking reviewers by gender and country and inviting more early-career researchers, Pulverer says.
Computers could help, too. Journals have a system for identifying plagiarism or altered images. Even though artificial intelligence is not going to take over peer review just yet, software can check statistical analyses or run a check on basic methods even if human reviewers do not perform well.
Journals could also recycle reviews, so that not every resubmission would require three new reviewers. This would save 28 million reviewer-hours per year. Scientists whose studies are rejected by one journal can submit their work to other journals in the same family, with the same reviews attached. The journal eLife implemented a model where all peer-reviewed papers are published on it’s platform as “reviewed preprints.” There is an option for authors to respond and either revise the publication with eLife or send the study and reviews to another publication.
Before an author commits to a journal, other organizations offer reviews. After peer review, authors can publish in any of the organization’s partner journals or submit a study with accompanying reviews to other publications. Another programme, Review Commons, provides authors with reviews, which they can then include in submissions to several affiliate journals, including those from EMBO Press. The programme is working well, according to Pulverer. “The information is sufficient for editors to make informed decisions.” Reviewers are eager to participate, because they’re able to focus on the science in the study, rather than its suitability for a specific journal.
Serge Horbach believes that science is moving towards a model called apublish–review–curate. The version of records and index papers in databases would be Archived by journals at the end. “The journal gives it a stamp of approval and says, now we accept this as certified knowledge,” Horbach explains.
He Jiankui refused to answer questions about his ethically questionable work at a bioethics event. Plus, drought doomed the ancient Hittite empire and how researchers are stopping the peer-review treadmill.
Three years of severe drought could have contributed to the mysterious collapse of the ancient Anatolian empire of the Hittites 3,000 years ago. It was found by examining the tree rings that there was little precipitation from 1198 to 1198 bc which could have forced the Hittites to abandon their capital. Some researchers agree with this assessment, but others think it misses the fact that 1190 bc was the beginning of a 200-year mega-drought that extended from Spain to India.
Bioethics and genomics: The displeasure of Jiankui at an international cancer-genetics conference in Los Alamos
Biophysicist He Jiankui, who had spent three years in prison for using CRISPR to edit the genes of three children in 2018, refused to answer questions about the work at a bioethics event. He briefly describes plans to develop a drug for people with diseases caused by faulty genes. He’s attendance was called a publicity stunt by researchers. His presentation and failure to engage with scientists shows he has not considered the social and ethical implications of his research, which suggests that he is not ready to work on genome editing, said sociologist Joy Zhang, one of the event organizers.
A number of highly cited cancer-genetics papers have apparent errors in their nucleotide targeting reagents. There were over 7,800 nucleotides reported in 368 papers that contained errors. The reagents can be used to study genes in a disease. Even if there aren’t any errors, they could affect a study’s conclusions. It is not clear if the errors were an accident, or if they were an indication of wrongdoing.
The majority of people who are affected by neglected tropical diseases live in impoverished communities. Despite this, the conditions are largely overlooked by global health agendas.
Why does climate change affect sea levels? An analysis of the astronauts’ record-breaking space programme and underwater photometry of the southeast coast of Australia
More than half of 54 US coastal communities are underestimating how much climate change might increase sea levels. A first of its kind analysis looked at nearly 400 projections in the sea level-rise assessments. Many didn’t consider worst-case scenarios — which are unlikely but could be particularly damaging to infrastructure and put people at risk. Sea levels have risen 20 centimetres in the past century. Future increases will be strongly dependent on climate actions, which makes them hard to predict.
A new type of astronauts were chosen by NASA to be part of the Space Shuttle in 1978. The US space programme saw the first entry of women, people of colour and scientists in its ranks in this barrier-breaking time, which was written by Meredith Bagby.
A weedy seadragon has bright pink eggs under its tail. These unusual-looking fish are related to seahorses. The males carry and care for the eggs before they hatch, usually for about a month. A snapshot taken on the southeast coast of Australia has won the Compact Behaviour category at the Ocean Art underwater-photography competition.