In 2022, APM reviewers continue to make outstanding contributions to the peer review process. They demonstrated professional effort and enthusiasm in their reviews and provided comments that genuinely help the authors to enhance their work.
Hereby, we would like to highlight some of our outstanding reviewers, with a brief interview of their thoughts and insights as a reviewer. Allow us to express our heartfelt gratitude for their tremendous effort and valuable contributions to the scientific process.
Prateek Lohia, Wayne State University, USA
Kelley Newcomer, The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, USA
Masakazu Notsu, Shimane University, Japan
Marios Papadakis, University of Witten-Herdecke, Germany
Kwok Ying Chan, Grantham Hospital, Hong Kong
Yakubu Salifu, Lancaster University, UK
Narut Prasitlumkum, University of California Riverside, USA
Megan C. Best, University of Sydney, Australia
Eva Katharina Masel, Medical University of Vienna, Austria
Trista Reid, University of North Carolina, USA
Mateusz Spałek, Maria Skłodowska-Curie National Research Institute, Poland
Travis H Turner, Medical University of South Carolina, USA
Yusuke Hiratsuka, Tohoku University, Japan
Henri Salle, University Hospital of Limoges, France
Marco Ruiz, Baptist Health South Florida, USA
Koji Ishii, Nagasaki University Hospital, Japan
Dr. Prateek Lohia, MD, MHA is an Associate Professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at Wayne State University, USA. His primary role is a clinician-educator, teaching and supervising medical students and internal medicine residents. His major research interests besides medical education, are infectious diseases including COVID-19 and Hepatitis C. Since the dawn of the global pandemic, he has been particularly interested in exploring the predictors of clinical outcomes in COVID-19 patients.
Peer review is an integral part of the scientific publication system. To Dr. Lohia, it is considered to be a very necessary evil. Even though as an author, one might see it as a delay in the publication of the findings. It is a vital step that allows the research work to be objectively analyzed and reviewed by other experts in the field. Independent assessment of the research methodology and the scientific validity of the results is pivotal. He views the peer review process as a final chance to improve the manuscript before sharing it with the entire scientific community.
Dr. Lohia believes that reviewers should see peer reviewing as a huge responsibility entrusted to them by the editors and do their best to provide unbiased opinions on the merits and limitations of the study. Reviewers should thoroughly analyze the paper before making any conclusion or judgment of the study and provide accurate and scientific feedback to the authors. Rather than just critiquing the work, the reviewers should emphasize providing constructive feedback on how the manuscript can be improved. In addition, if any part of the research methodology or the manuscript is beyond the scope of the reviewer, the reviewer should share this with the editor, so that a complete assessment can be made at the editorial stage.
The use of reporting guidelines, such as PRISMA and STROBE, is prevalent in scientific writing over the past few years. In Dr. Lohia’s opinion, it is very important for authors to follow these guidelines since these lay the foundation of a good study design. The use of these guidelines also ensures transparency, better understanding, and replication of the study results.
“I see peer review as my way of giving back to the scientific community. Over the years, I have learned a lot from the reviews of other experts. Some of them, immensely helped me not only to improve upon my work but also gave me ideas for future projects. So, if my review can help someone improve the quality of their manuscript, I consider it a job well done. Besides, it gives me an opportunity to stay abreast with the new and upcoming research in my field of interest,” says Dr. Lohia.
Kelley Finch Newcomer
Dr. Kelley Newcomer works as an Assistant Professor at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in the Department of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, USA. She is board certified in both General Internal Medicine, and Hospice and Palliative Medicine. She also serves as Medical Director for both the Adult and Pediatric Programs at VNA Hospice of Texas. Her research interests include topical opioid pain therapies, palliating advanced cancer, and increasing access to hospice and palliative care for cardiac patients on advanced therapies. She has also spoken, written, and collaborated on projects involving patients in the Minimally Conscious State. She has worked in Hospice and Palliative Medicine for the past 14 years.
A constructive review, to Dr. Newcomer, helps authors to improve their paper through clarification of difficult ideas that may not have been fully explained. She explains, “When you are working on a paper, you have so much knowledge that distilling down to what is really necessary can be a challenge. As an outside reader, you can help the authors cut unnecessary material, and expand on things that are more important. The review process assists in maintaining the integrity of original research.”
Nevertheless, the peer review process is not without biases. To minimize the biases, Dr. Newcomer suggests that the reviewers should be blinded to the authors of the paper whenever possible to avoid any type of bias. If that is not possible, the authors should recuse themselves if a personal relationship exists.
Speaking of the need for original research to apply for institutional review board (IRB) approval, Dr. Newcomer reckons that even though IRB can be a very cumbersome process, protecting the integrity of research and safety to patients is paramount, which helps build trust in participants. If the IRB process were to be omitted, the safety of patients could not be guaranteed, and participation in research would decrease, lessening scientific advances in the future.
“Contributions in the form of reviewing scientific papers and abstracts are critical to maintaining integrity in academic research, and should be rewarded as part of the advancement/promotional process,” says Dr. Newcomer.
Dr. Masakazu Notsu, MD, PhD, currently serves as an Assistant Professor at the Department of Internal Medicine, Shimane University Faculty of Medicine, Japan. His areas of research include Calcium & Bone Metabolism in Endocrine Disorders, and Endocrine-related Cancers. Dr. Notsu aims to contribute to the development of endocrinology from the viewpoint of calcium and bone metabolism, and to contribute to the development of treatment options for endocrine-related cancers, which are often rare or intractable. For more information about Dr. Notsu, please visit his homepage or Instagram.
A healthy peer review, according to Dr. Notsu, is one that is performed by paying attention to whether or not it is beneficial to the reader and the development of science, not the subjectivity of the reviewer. It also requires the need for reviewers to have scientific and statistical knowledge when reviewing content. He adds, “Reviewers should be aware that peer review is the final check of submitted content before it is released to the public.”
There are, however, some limitations of the existing peer review system. In Dr. Notsu’s opinion, the problems include: 1) The most appropriate reviewers are not always available. 2) Appropriate reviewers are limited in the case of outstanding research results. 3) Poor access to adequate training in peer review techniques. Nonetheless, to improve these problems, Dr. Notsu believes we can give higher incentives and social recognition to peer review. On the other hand, a mechanism for objectively assessing the competence of reviewers would be beneficial.
From a reviewer’s perspective, Dr. Notsu supports authors to follow reporting guidelines (e.g. STROBE and CONSORT). Following these guidelines will increase the value of manuscripts and improve the quality of the reported research. By checking the guideline again before submitting, it gives authors an opportunity to see what perspectives they miss.
“Peer reviewing is often anonymous and non-profitable, but it gives me the opportunity to update my own knowledge,” says Dr. Notsu.
Dr. Marios Papadakis is a qualified specialist in General Surgery and Plastic Surgery, currently affiliated to the University of Witten-Herdecke, Germany. He holds an MD and a PhD from the University of Crete, Greece, as well as an MBA in health care management from the University of Nürnberg, Germany. He works in the private practice and is also a certified editor in the life sciences. His main research interests include microsurgery, skin cancer, medical image processing, wound healing, health care management and scientific writing, with a focus on authorship proliferation.
Peer review is needed, according to Dr. Papadakis, to maintain scientific integrity and to ensure that publications are of the highest scientific standard and advance our knowledge in a meaningful way. Peer-reviewing, as a quality control tool, has many weaknesses, especially regarding how it is generally practiced, but it is still the best that we have.
To Dr. Papadakis, a constructive review ensures that the manuscript meets the high scientific standards of the journal and that it is within the journal's scope. Every manuscript should deliver a clear message. Therefore, he considers constructive comments the ones that focus on the message and its delivery: clarity, innovation and clinical significance. Constructive reviews often require extensive background reading and identify the major strengths and weaknesses of the study. On the contrary, the major problem of destructive reviews is that they lack empathy and, as such, they most often tend to devalue the authors' efforts, rather than making constructive criticism. They almost always contain irrelevant, insulting and unjustified comments that do not focus on the merit of the content, e.g. there is an increasing number of native speakers that get insulting comments about their manuscript's language, just because the reviewer wants to list 2-3 bullets before recommending rejection. Such problems occur when manuscript reviews are rushed or when reviewers are forced to review.
Dr. Papadakis further pointed out that he has reviewed hundreds of manuscripts for more than 50 biomedical journals. Of these, one third had wrong statistics, 50% had wrongly presented statistics, while 80% contained data that allowed more statistics to be done than presented (e.g. logistic regression analysis). Data sharing makes the results reproducible, and it verifies correctness, prevents errors and, most importantly, discourages dishonesty. Bad science should be exposed and data sharing is the first step towards this direction.
“Reviewers should treat authors as they would wish to be treated themselves, i.e. with civility, professionalism, transparency and sense of justice. Being a reviewer comes with a responsibility you have to embrace. It is not about accepting all manuscripts, it is about providing helpful comments for all manuscripts,” says Dr. Papadakis.
Kwok Ying Chan
Dr. Kwok Ying Chan, MD is a chief of the Palliative Medical Unit in Grantham Hospital, Hong Kong. His field of research interest includes early integrated, haematology and renal palliative care. He has published more than 30 research studies in some renowned journals including Lancet haematology. He has pioneered the Integrated Hematology Palliative Care program and has been awarded the Best Oral Presentation at the 2021 HA convention. Currently, he is working on an early palliative care program for noncancer patients. Dr. Chan’s research profile can be viewed here.
A healthy peer review system, in Dr. Chan’s opinion, should be open, effective and have timely action. There should also be a pool of experienced reviewers. He believes that most authors would like to have useful comments and relatively shorter turnaround time under this system.
Under this healthy system, reviewers should possess certain qualities. To Dr. Chan, a good reviewer should be an expertise with good analytical skills and excellent communication, who can write an honest and helpful peer review report.
From a reviewer’s point of view, Dr. Chan stresses the need for authors to follow reporting guidelines, such as PRISMA and ARRIVE, during preparation of their manuscripts. Following these guidelines that are standardized internationally could have the quality control for each article. He personally feels more comfortable after using these guidelines.
“Usually, I will draft certain bullet points during my rest time and then start to write the review few days later when it is ready. First start with general comments, and then major points according to each parts. I think it won’t take much time to write a peer review report as far as you are familiar with the area that you have to report,” says Dr. Chan.
Dr. Yakubu Salifu is a nurse and educationist, who currently serves as a Lecturer in Palliative Care at the International Observatory on End of Life Care, Division of Health Research, Faculty of Health and Medicine, Lancaster University, UK. He completed his PhD from the University of Nottingham, UK, and Master of Philosophy from the University of Ghana, during which he undertook an exchange program at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada. His research interests include patients and caregivers experience of living with or caring for palliative and end-of-life conditions, experience of poverty at end of life, the use of compassionate communities to deliver quality, accessible and culturally-appropriate palliative and end-of-life care. He is a qualitative methodologist with experience in the use of broad range of interviewing skills (individual, dyad, and focus group interviews). He is involved in the dissemination of a European Union funded-project, MyPal where he is leading on writing a report on recommendation and best practices for integrating advanced patients reported outcome systems in palliative cancer care. Dr. Salifu is a strong advocate for the link between research, teaching and practice. Currently, he serves as the joint CEO of Compassionate Palliative Services (COMPASS Ghana), a two-arm charity (registered in the UK and Ghana) created from his PhD. For more information about Dr. Salifu, you may follow him on Twitter @Salid32Salifu, LinkedIn, ResearchGate and visit his homepage here.
A healthy peer-review system, according to Dr. Salifu, is one that is supportive, constructive and very critical to ensure the integrity and ethical standards of published work. The review must be done in a timely and effective way with the aim of informing and advancing knowledge and skills of readers.
Speaking of the current peer-review system, Dr. Salifu thinks there are three issues that are worth noting. First, the review process needs to be timely, so that articles do not take several months and most times over a year to get published. Nevertheless, he appreciates that editors struggle sometimes to get reviewers. Second, there is a need to motivate and dedicate reviewers to ensure that articles are published on time. He explains, “Here I may want to talk about the elephant in the room. Reviewers may need to be ‘motivated’ for their time and effort they spend on reviewing countless number of articles each year. There must, however, be a balance between motivation/reward and the ethical duty of producing a robust and impartial review.” And third, most journals assume that reviewers “already know what to do”, which may be an incorrect assumption. Hence, there is a need for reviewers to access adequate training if needed, as different journals have slightly different style.
From a reviewer’s perspective, Dr. Salifu strongly recommends researchers to share their research data. There is no point conducting research if the findings are not shared with others, and more importantly put into use. This, in some situations, constitutes an unethical behavior. Making one’s work and oneself known to the academic community offers fantastic opportunity for collaboration. For example, COMPASS Ghana was created through a collaboration with other researchers who read Dr. Salifu’s paper titled: ‘My wife is my doctor at home’: A qualitative study exploring the challenges of home-based palliative care in a resource-poor setting. Therefore, he reckons that data sharing is important for the nexus between research and practice. And he takes great inspiration from Lawrence W. Green’s quote: “If we want more evidence-based practice, we need more practice-based evidence”.
“There is no financial reward for peer-reviewing a journal, but the benefits could be enormous. It is a great opportunity to read about what people write in my discipline and research area. So, essentially, it is also a great learning experience and an opportunity to get to know the review process myself and what is required of me if I decide to publish in that particular journal. As a lecturer/research supervisor, the review process provides useful resource for me to guide and encourage my students to publish,” says Dr. Salifu.
Dr. Narut Prasitlumkum, MD, is currently a third-year cardiology fellow at University of California Riverside, USA. His clinical and research areas of interest include clinical epidemiology, general cardiology and electrophysiology. He finds several important factors remain understudied, for example, the implication of advanced stage kidney disease and arrhythmias. Given this reason, he has worked and collaborated with his colleagues and mentors in nephrology field to determine the impact of chronic kidney disease in cardiovascular entity. This, however, does not limit his interest to only certain niche and he is widely open to any uncovered scientific matters. You may connect with Dr. Prasitlumkum through Twitter @prasitlumkum.
No matter how a research paper is meticulously conducted or well written, inputs from only one single author group may be biased toward the initial hypothesis. Therefore, Dr. Prasitlumkum believes that the peer-review process serves a significant role in bias mitigation and improving scientific transparency. Further, feedbacks by an experienced expert corresponding to the topic substantially season and better fine-tune the overall qualities of any scientific works.
In Dr. Prasitlumkum’s opinion, a constructive review means any thoughts on our positive inputs from peer reviewers which are meant to improve the quality of a scientific work without humiliating or destructive comments. Well-regarded reviewers may point out an existing, but quietly hidden, critical point on authors’ works, which can be used as a hypothesis generating statement or a continuum of the current work. Furthermore, he would like to emphasize the clear queries from the reviewers themselves. He explains, “From my direct experience as the author, an unnecessary step may be accounted for unclear messages from reviewers which the authors may take an extra step to reckon and re-communicate with the reviewers again to clarify.”
From a reviewer’s point of view, Dr. Prasitlumkum supports the idea of Conflict of Interest (COI) disclosure. To him, COI disclosure statement is an integral part of any scientific work as a rule of thumb. Sponsors or funds from any industries are understandably paramount to enrich research resources but, for a fair game, at least readers should be informed about should there be any influences or potential biases from the involvement from third persons.
“Analogously, superstars in soccer games cannot shine and play well without their coaches and supporters. Likewise, a seasoned and succinct research work cannot be outed without meaningful and well-thought comments from us, the reviewers who critically serve a key role in contributing a progress in their fields,” says Dr. Prasitlumkum.
Megan C. Best
Dr. Megan C. Best is a Research Associate and Associate Professor of Bioethics at the Institute for Ethics and Society at the University of Notre Dame Australia and Honorary Associate Professor at the University of Sydney medical school, Australia. She has over 30-year experience as a palliative care doctor, medical ethicist and researcher. She has published extensively in the areas of spirituality in healthcare, bioethics and psycho-oncology, including two books on medical ethics, and over 100 academic publications. She holds a top ranking for the impact of her research in spirituality in healthcare and collaborates internationally. Her work in spiritual care education has influenced training programs internationally and she is passionate about using education as a means of improving spiritual care in palliative care. For more information about Dr. Best, please visit here.
Healthy peer review, according to Dr. Best, occurs when independent reviewers who are familiar with the topic critique papers against accepted standards of research and the current state of the field. However, she observes a current peer review phenomenon. She explains, “I think a lot of people are exhausted from the COVID-19 pandemic, and may not spend as much time as they would previously on reviewing papers, or perhaps because of a shortage of reviewers, those selected are not familiar with the field of research. Perhaps we need to provide training to increase the pool of reviewers, as I know some of my colleagues do not feel confident to take on the role.”
From a reviewer’s perspective, Dr. Best emphasizes that authors should disclose any potential conflict of interest. Undoubtedly, we need to be able to trust authors that their work is unbiased, and that there are no hidden agenda that may influence their reporting.
“It is important that we have high-quality research in palliative care to help us grow as a specialty and provide the best possible care for our patients and their families. That’s why I review for APM,” says Dr. Best.
Eva Katharina Masel
Dr. Eva Katharina Masel, MD, PhD, MSc, is head of the Clinical Division of Palliative Medicine at the Vienna General Hospital of the Medical University of Vienna, Austria and full professor of Palliative Medicine. She is specialized in Internal Medicine and completed a Master’s Degree in Palliative Care, a PhD program in Mental Health and Behavioral Medicine and qualified as a university lecturer in Palliative Medicine. She is research group leader of the Research Group Palliative Care at the Medical University of Vienna. Her research focuses on the palliative care of patients and families facing serious illnesses, on symptom management, on the treatment of psychiatric comorbidities and psychosocial aspects, and on medical humanities. She has published numerous publications and is a board member of the Austrian Association of Palliative Care and a member of national and international specialist societies. For more information about Dr. Masel, please take a look at her profile here.
Peer review, in Dr. Masel’s opinion, is a valuable tool and at the same time a service, in which an external person reviews a scientific manuscript according to certain rigorous criteria. This guarantees scientific soundness and quality assurance.
There are a couple of things that Dr. Masel believes reviewers should bear in mind while reviewing papers. They include: Evaluating the adequacy of the selection of participants and the clinical setting; assessing the adequacy of statistical analysis and having methodological expertise; evaluating the risk of bias and assessing the reliability and validity of the outcome measures; and determining whether the manuscript’s conclusions are consistent with the results and whether the results are interpretated correctly.
As an author and a reviewer, Dr. Masel further lays emphasis on the importance of research data sharing. She reckons that the publication of research data makes research transparent and comprehensible. The first step in scientific work is to see what research already exists on a particular topic. In this respect, it is very valuable to have access to existing data. She adds, “I also welcome the fact that negative results are published. Science is not truth, it is the search for truth.”
“Peer reviewing is time-consuming. Yet, I personally see it as a process of give and take. Based on the reviews I have received for my manuscripts, I have been able to make improvements. Peer review is a part of the scientific world and a valuable tool. It is a kind of ‘free mentorship’ and every review you do teaches you critical thinking,” says Dr. Masel.
Dr. Trista Reid, MD, MPH, is a trauma and critical care surgeon on faculty at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, USA and is the Associate Program Director for the General Surgery Residency Program. Her research areas include global surgery, health disparities, and health outcomes in Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) and trauma. She has served as a mentor in both the UNC School of Medicine and the UNC Gillings School of Public Health for students interested in Quality Improvement, with most of the projects focusing on palliative care in surgical populations, improving communication in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit, and disparities in palliative care delivery based on racial/ethnic and language barriers. Connect with Dr. Reid on Twitter.
Peer review is integral, in Dr. Reid’s view, for accountability and ensures that the research is as robust as possible. Peer reviewers can help identify ways to strengthen papers and make sure that the conclusions are sound and the information is clinically relevant.
For Dr. Reid, a constructive review identifies major flaws in data analysis, better highlights strengths of a paper, and provides guidance towards addressing and minimizing the weaknesses of a paper. On contrary, a destructive review points out all the flaws without offering appropriate point-by-point feedback on ways to fix those flaws. Destructive reviews can also get caught up in the minutia and insignificant details, which can sometimes lead to more time spent by the authors addressing each concern without actually strengthening the paper.
Seeing the prevalence of research data sharing in recent decade, Dr. Reid indicates that it is important for authors to share their data for accountability and transparency. She believes it is a proof that the science is solid and can help catch mistakes.
“I very much appreciate all the reviewers who dedicate their time trying to make our science better! Reviewers often do not get recognition for their time spent, and the literature would be much less robust without their input. I also very much appreciate APM highlighting reviewers for their work; it certainly makes us feel appreciated,” says Dr. Reid.
Mateusz Jacek Spałek
Dr. Mateusz Spałek is a radiation oncologist and a clinical scientist. He currently serves as an Assistant Professor and the Deputy Head of Department of Radiotherapy I in Maria Skłodowska-Curie National Research Institute, Warsaw, Poland. He is also a consultant at the Department of Soft Tissue/Bone Sarcoma and Melanoma. His research focuses on soft tissue sarcomas, skin cancers, and bone metastases interactions between radiotherapy and immunotherapy, hypofractionation. You may take a look at Dr. Spałek’s pages to learn more about him: ResearchGate, Twitter and ORCID.
In Dr. Spałek’s view, the peer-reviewed system is not perfect. Reviewers are commonly well-known experts in their fields. That automatically translates into running out of time. However, the authors and editors want to receive the assessments as soon as possible. Thus, being afraid of this, some experts refuse to participate in the process whereas other makes reviews under the pressure of “pushing” with gentle reminders that may bias the judgement. Moreover, a lot of time is lost searching for reviewers that can be suitable to assess the manuscript. One of the possible solutions is the development of AI-based algorithms that precisely match the potential reviewers with the topics, estimate time required for accurate peer-review, help in reviewing by marking common errors, and automatically check statistics, etc.
Speaking of the definition of constructive review, Dr. Spałek believes that most reviews should be considered constructive if they contain important recommendations for authors. Any comment, even critical, provides added value and allows keeping science a true science. He adds, “Honestly, I have never seen any ‘destructive’ reviews. Nevertheless, I can imagine that this word could be used for reviews which do not contain any rationale for the recommended decision or present abusive language.”
On the other hand, it is obligatory, according to Dr. Spałek, to exclude any potential conflict of interest (COI) during peer review to avoid significant biases. The assessment of the manuscript must be free of any financial, familial or any other competing interests. All authors should disclose their COIs when writing a manuscript even if there is no COI to declare.
“Peer reviewing could be exhausting and time-consuming. However, I can’t agree with the sentence that ‘peer reviewing is non-profitable’. Profits do not automatically mean money or other financial benefits! First, it’s deeply educational. You may learn a lot performing reviews of various work. Second, it stimulates to perform our own research. Finally, it’s meaningful because it’s an inseparable part of doing science. As Carl Sagan said, ‘We can do science, and with it, we can improve our lives’,” says Dr. Spałek.
Travis H Turner
Dr. Travis H Turner is an assistant professor in Neurology and director of the Neuropsychology Division at the Medical University of South Carolina, USA. His clinical and research efforts are focused on Parkinson’s disease and related disorders. Current efforts include an investigator-initiated trial of istradefylline for apathy in Parkinson’s, eye-tracking methodology, and non-motor fluctuations associated with Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) surgery. He also serves as a consultant for WCG Clinical Endpoint Solutions where he provides guidance on study design, rater training, and data quality assurance for Phase 2 and 3 clinical trials in movement disorders.
APM: What do you regard as a constructive review?
Dr. Turner: At its core, a constructive review demonstrates respect for the authors’ efforts and facilitates the dissemination of faithful reporting of the investigation. As an author, I am most appreciative of reviews that identify gaps in the logical connections between results and interpretations. Whether this necessitates clearer articulation or fundamental reconsideration of the rationale, the result is a vastly improved product. While it is frustrating to have alternative approaches to statistical analysis suggested, there have been times when I overlooked properties of the data or performed tests that were not appropriate, leading to incorrect conclusions. In other cases, the reviewer’s questioning of my analysis highlights something that I neglected to clarify in the methods or results. Directions to relevant literature to better structure the context of my paper are also welcome. Finally, while there are numerous other qualities that make a review constructive, comments related to limitations and extensions are very helpful.
APM: What are the qualities a reviewer should possess?
Dr. Turner: The most important quality is a genuine recognition that the peer-review process is crucial to maintaining the integrity of the scientific literature. From this, conscientiousness, kindness, timely returns, and all the other desirable qualities follow.
APM: Peer reviewing is often anonymous and non-profitable, what motivates you to do so?
Dr. Turner: Prior to accepting the responsibility, I carefully read the abstract to ensure that I have the relevant background and expertise to provide an informed review. I would like to say that from here I am motivated by my sense of duty as a scientist and agree to serve, but the truth is my curiosity must also be piqued enough to want to read the entire article and spend my time carefully examining the details of the methods and results. I also enjoy the collaborative effort with the other reviewers and investigators to get the best possible version of the paper published.
APM: Data sharing is prevalent in scientific writing in recent years. Do you think it is crucial for authors to share their research data?
Dr. Turner: I have mixed feelings on this topic. In cases where fraud or misrepresentation is suspected (e.g., Andrew Wakefield), I think making the data available for secondary review is necessary. I can, however, envision many situations where an outside group that did not fully understand how the data were collected, the nuances of the sample, or the limitations of the measures might conduct inappropriate analyses. I also question whether having a statement to the effect of, “The authors agree to make the data used in this study available upon reasonable request” may give a false sense of integrity and accuracy of the reporting. In this case, a suspicious reader could assume that if anything was amiss, another reviewer would have already called for the data. While I have responded to some very critical reviews over the years, nobody has ever requested my data. I have also never requested data from anyone else.
Here is a case in point: I recently came across an article in Nature Partner Journal – Parkinson’s disease (NPJ-PD) that had clear inconsistencies in reporting results that brought the main conclusion and title of the article into question. I first wrote the authors and asked for clarification, as I was part of a team writing up a paper in the same area and needed to reconcile our findings with theirs. The response we received was very delayed and so evasive that I wrote a formal letter to the editors outlining my concerns. They suggested I request the data, which must be made available for all accepted papers in that journal. I declined, as I did not expect the authors to provide a clear data dictionary or a database with audit trails that would allow someone outside the investigative group to revisit the findings and analyze them with confidence. Ultimately, the journal editors retracted the paper. This outcome helped restore my faith in the literature and review process but also highlighted a limitation of the data-sharing mandate – even a very interested and motivated reader (myself) did not want to bother with someone else’s data. I would be very curious to see how often data are actually requested, and how often secondary analysis leads to changes or retractions.
Dr. Yusuke Hiratsuka currently serves at the Department of Palliative Medicine, Takeda General Hospital; and Department of Palliative Medicine, Tohoku University School of Medicine, Japan. His research area is prognostication, and he is recently working on a multicenter cross-cultural prospective cohort study in East Asia on functional prognostication, prognostic discussion, and prognostic awareness. You may connect with Dr. Hiratsuka through Facebook.
Peer review determines the scientific value of a paper. Dr. Hiratsuka reviews each section keeping in mind the following:
Introduction: Background and hypothesis that inspired the study.
Methods: Variable selection and analysis method.
Results: Whether the presentation is clear and easy for the reader to understand.
Discussion: Whether there are sufficient logical description and limitation.
Proper peer review is necessary to refine a paper. Therefore, Dr. Hiratsuka believes it is important to conduct critical review to refine the paper. Subjective reviews should be avoided. A review should be conducted objectively.
Data sharing is prevalent in scientific writing in recent years. From a reviewer’s point of view, Dr. Hiratsuka highlights that it is crucial for researchers to share their research data because it can ensure the transparency of the research. Data sharing may also allow researchers to take a step forward in new research with researchers interested in the same topic.
“I have received valuable comments from many reviewers in the course of submitting my paper so far. I am sure the reviewers have also devoted a lot of their time for peer review for my paper. Therefore, as a way of returning the favor, I try to make time for peer review without making excuses for my busyness,” says Dr. Hiratsuka.
Dr. Henri Salle, MD, PhD, is a neurosurgeon at the University Hospital of Limoges, France. His areas of clinical expertise are cranial neurosurgery with an interest in skull base surgery and endonasal endoscopy. He has a particular area of expertise in percutaneous spine surgery where his team has mastered the techniques for many years. Concerning basic research, he works on skull base tumors especially chordoma and meningioma. His clinical research concerns mainly traumatic spine and especially all percutaneous techniques. Dr. Salle has already published a decisional algorithm to help in decision making. He has a comparative prospective project that aims to validate percutaneous techniques for non-neurological post-traumatic dorsolumbar fractures of type A4 and/or B2 Aospine.
The role of peer review is fundamental, in Dr. Salle’s opinion, as it is a guaranty of scientific accuracy and the methodological quality of the article. It allows an objectivity in the scientific evaluation by assessing the pertinence of the results. He adds, “Indeed, there is no good science with no criticism because every paper is perfectible. Therefore, a free and independent peer review is always mandatory.”
There are two key things that Dr. Salle reckons reviewers have to bear in mind while reviewing papers. First, they must attempt to be objective and honest in all circumstances, without conflicts of interest. Second, they must serve science.
The burden of being a doctor, researcher, and reviewer is heavy. To make the best of his time, Dr. Salle only accepts peer review of articles that match his area of expertise and/or interest. He believes peer reviewing can also help himself progress.
Data sharing is prevalent in scientific writing in recent years. Dr. Salle believes that it is fundamental for researchers to share their data. He explains, “The aim of science is collective progress, not individual. All researchers have to help each other. Once again, the most important thing is to collectively improve science and not the egos of any individual researcher.”
Dr. Marco Ruiz is a Hematology/Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplant physician working in a Bone Marrow Transplant unit at Miami Cancer Institute at Baptist Health South Florida, USA. For more than ten years, he has been treating patients with cancer, specifically hematologic malignancies and bone marrow transplant patients. His experience with malignancies comes from clinical exposure and several research projects. His research efforts have focused on hematologic malignancy issues in HIV-infected patients and the role of geriatrics in bone marrow transplant patients. His research expertise also includes malignancies in senior populations and the suitability of senior patients for chemotherapy treatments. Dr. Ruiz also works in the field of palliative care and hospice. Over the last few years, he has been developing platforms to early incorporate palliative care intervention for Bone Marrow Transplant patients.
To Dr. Ruiz, peer review should be unbiased, effective, and efficient. These three aspects make a healthy peer-review system. There are a few things that he thinks reviewers should bear in mind during review. They should consider the scope of the journal, the key research aspects that a manuscript attempts to deliver, as well as the quality of the paper.
From a reviewer’s perspective, Dr. Ruiz stresses that it is extremely important that authors follow reporting guidelines, e.g., STROBE, TREND, during the preparation of their manuscripts. He believes such a step would guarantee the paper’s structure and order and enable a platform to compare articles in the same field.
“One of my motivations to review is to open my mind to new developments within my field of expertise and collaborate with other scientists to bring science forward,” says Dr. Ruiz.
Dr. Koji Ishii, MD, PhD, currently serves as an Associate Professor at Anesthesiology and Palliative Care Center at Nagasaki University Hospital, Japan. His research area is cancer pain control, especially malignant psoas syndrome (MPS). Although MPS is considered to be a single disease state, the intensity of pain presenting individuality. He would like to focus on the location of the responsible lesion and create a new criterion to support MPS pain control. His recent project is to provide support to the areas where there is limited resource of palliative care, especially islands. We are building the network of palliative care staff between the city and islands to provide the support as needed. Learn more about Dr. Ishii here.
Dr. Ishii believes that peer review plays an important role in ensuring the quality of science, and he is extremely honored to be able to play a part in it. Even though peer reviewing is often anonymous and non-profitable, he finishes the work with joy. By having the opportunity to serve as a reviewer, reviewers will be able to quickly learn about the latest research from researchers around the world and gain new perspectives. In particular, being able to learn about the latest knowledge in a field related to one's own research field is more meaningful than the economic benefits.
In Dr. Ishii’s mind, in order to ensure the quality of research, seeking institutional review board (IRB) approval is important not only through the efforts of researchers, but also from the perspective of protecting the rights of research subjects while ensuring the quality of research as an institution.
(By Lareina Lim, Brad Li)