In 2023, 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.
Masaki Sano, Hamamatsu University School of Medicine, Japan
Fermin García-Muñoz Rodrigo, Complejo Hospitalario Universitario Insular Materno-Infantil, Spain
Carolyn E Schwartz, Tufts University School of Medicine, USA
Fermin García-Muñoz Rodrigo
Dr. Fermín García-Muñoz Rodrigo was born and educated mainly in Spain. He attained the qualification of Specialist in Pediatrics (MIR) in Madrid in 1989 and achieved his Master degree in Bioethics in 2005, then completed his PhD with the doctoral thesis entitled: "Morbidity and mortality in infants with gestational age less than or equal to 26 weeks: Study of the limits of viability in our area.” in 2014. He is a Permanent Consultant Neonatologist in the Complejo Hospitalario Universitario Insular Materno-Infantil of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria since 1992, a member of the Spanish Official College of Physicians since 1983 and the Director of Neonatal Division since 2000. During his course of career, he has published extensively and have got the valuable experience of staying at the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit at the Royal Brompton Hospital and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust, London, in 2014, for a three-month observational program. His fields of interest include bioethics, epidemiology, limits of viability, maternal and infant health, morbidity and mortality of the newborn, pulmonary disease of the newborn and mechanical ventilation.
APM: What do you regard as a healthy peer-review system?
Dr. García-Muñoz Rodrigo: The review of academic-scientific articles, an activity also known as peer review or expert review, is essential to maintain the quality of scientific communication and, therefore, of science itself. It is an evaluation process that should be carried out by people with skills, at least, similar to those of the authors of the evaluated papers. A "healthy" peer-review system should have reviewers and editorial teams with appropriate technical skills and with responsible, impartial, and ethical professional conduct. Reviewers must also be experts in the subject of the research or in the methodology used and, where appropriate, acknowledge their limitations or lack of competence in specific cases, as well as their potential conflicts of interest with the research in question. The peer-review process judges the validity, significance, and originality of the research, but it should not judge the professionals who conducted it. In order for the peer-review system to run smoothly, editors are responsible for finding the right reviewers. Meanwhile, reviewers must be honest and diligent in their response to accept or reject the review. Peer-review practices differ substantially between journals and disciplines. It is essential that reviewers are aware of the publication standards of the journal for which they are reviewing, both in terms of guidelines for authors and for the reviewers themselves. Other important issues to keep in mind for reviewers to contribute to a healthy review system are being practical and ethical. Reviewers should request all the clarifications they need if there is any part of the communication or the editor's guidelines that they do not understand. They should NOT communicate with the authors directly. From an ethical point of view, reviewers must maintain the confidentiality of the reviewed papers. These should not be shared without permission from the publishers.
APM: What are the limitations of the existing peer-review system? What can be done to improve it?
Dr. García-Muñoz Rodrigo: There are two main types of limitations of the current peer-review process. The first has to do with the availability and quality of reviewers. Perhaps the most prestigious journals have a greater number of reviewers and reviewers with greater competencies. However, some lower quality journals might be interested in publishing more or faster and this might make the review system less demanding. A good review requires a significant investment of time and effort from both of the reviewer and the editorial team, and these are not always adequately compensated beyond personal intellectual satisfaction or increased academic merit. To improve the availability and quality of reviewers, different strategies have been proposed, and some of which are already underway. For example, various consortia, professional societies, and publishers offer free training courses for reviewers and establish guidelines and ethical codes for review. Publishers could contribute to the professionalization of reviewers and the creation of a specialized pool of them. The second limitation has to do with the review methodology itself, with the potential risks of bias, fraud, and lack of transparency. In order to improve the peer-review methodology, it should be subject to continuous scrutiny and evaluation. In general, a transparent review processes should be promoted, for example, with the additional publication of the review process file, with the timeline and all relevant communications of the review process, anonymous reviewer comments, decision letters, and author responses. Collaborative peer review, in which two or more reviewers work together to review a manuscript and submit a unified report, is also gaining some interest.
APM: Is it important for authors to disclose Conflict of Interest (COI)? To what extent would a COI influence a research?
Dr. García-Muñoz Rodrigo: Yes, I think so. In short, a COI is considered any financial (tangible) or non-financial (intangible) relationship that could compromise the professional objectivity of the researcher in terms of the design, development, interpretation or disclosure of the results of an investigation. Although they do not always and in all cases constitute a lack of ethics, being in fact on many occasions unavoidable, they must be declared for the sake of research transparency and out of respect for the scientific community and the public in general. Both the actual existence of COI and the mere perception of their existence can erode trust in science and cause researchers to lose prestige. Research recipients themselves, readers and society, can judge whether an author's relationships and activities are relevant to the research content.
Masaki Sano, MD, PhD, currently serves at the Department of Surgery, Lymphatic Center, Hamamatsu University School of Medicine, Hamamatsu, Japan. His work predominantly covers lymphedema, Transforming Growth Factor-β (TGF-β), vasa vasorum, atherosclerosis, and aortic aneurysms. His current projects are based on developing an innovative treatment plan for secondary lymphedema whilst examining atherosclerosis and aortic aneurysm pathophysiology. Furthermore, Sano has a particular interest in the interrelationship between vasa vasorum and vascular diseases. Dr. Sano’s profile can be found here.
Dr. Sano believes peer review should be performed instantly and appropriately. He indicates that while the determined period for a peer review is often about 1 ~ 2 weeks, it often takes about 1 ~ 2 months to return the review to the authors. In view of this, Dr. Sano suggests that the journal office improve the time-lag between “under review” and “in editing”.
Being asked why he chooses to review manuscripts for APM, Dr. Sano reveals that the content of the manuscript that he reviewed was related to lymphedema, which caught his attention.
In addition, Dr. Sano goes on to give us some writing tips in making a good review. He points out one important thing to do is to point out all problems during initial peer review. He believes that pointing out problems during the second review goes against fair play. “It’s like cheating at rock-paper-scissors,” he says. He prefers to reject manuscripts that have severe issues that cannot be resolved in revised versions. Examples of severe issues include mistaken animal models used in basic studies, incorrect grouping in clinical research, and discrepancy between methods and conclusion.
Dr. Sano’s insights provide valuable perspective on the peer-review process and his work will continue to have a meaningful impact on the field of palliative medicine.
(by Karina Yang, Brad Li)
Carolyn E Schwartz
Dr. Carolyn Schwartz is President & Chief Scientist at the not-for-profit DeltaQuest Foundation; and Adjunct Research Professor of Medicine and Orthopedic Surgery at the Tufts University School of Medicine, USA. As the 2016 recipient of the International Society for Quality of Life Research (ISOQOL) President's Award and ISOQOL Honorary Member since 2018, her interdisciplinary and methodological research focuses on understanding what patients can do to have an impact on the course of their disease and their well-being. In addition to development of theory and methods for response-shift research in quality of life, her work has spanned a number of diseases and conditions, and she has developed over 20 patient-reported outcome measures. She has published more than 225 peer-reviewed articles and served as editor for about 20 books or special sections of journals. Dr. Schwartz earned a bachelor's degree Magna Cum Laude in Psychology from UCLA, a master's degree in Clinical Psychology at the University of Connecticut, and a Doctor of Science degree (Sc.D.) from the Harvard Chan School of Public Health with an emphasis on Behavioral Sciences, Biostatistics, and Immunology/Cancer Biology. She did her postdoctoral training in multiple sclerosis at the Center for Neurologic Diseases of the Brigham and Women's Hospital of Harvard Medical School.
Dr. Schwartz thinks that a healthy peer-review system enables the improvement of scientific work by dint of the respectful, candid feedback of anonymous reviewers. In her opinion, it requires a foundation of trust that the reviewers will not use their anonymity to steal others’ work or to be rude or otherwise disrespectful.
Dr. Schwartz generally only accepts to review papers that she finds of interest and whose abstract suggests sufficient scientific merit to be worthy of consideration, because she feels it is a meaningful way to contribute to scientific research. She explains, “Sometimes this is because the research question is novel, and other times it is because the research question is far from novel or is founded on methods that are not rigorous.” Additionally, she may accept to review and be willing to learn something useful to her work, such as new statistical methods or novel research questions in a (sub)field in which she is active.
Finally, from a reviewer’s point of view, Dr. Schwartz stresses that it is important for authors to disclose Conflicts of Interest (COI) only if their conflict would lead to a biased perspective or emphasis in presenting their empirical results. She explains, “I am often struck by the invasiveness of COI forms, asking about roles and funding sources that are wholly unrelated to the manuscript at hand. I feel that this extensive disclosure is unnecessary and violates the authors’ right to privacy.”
(By Lareina Lim, Brad Li)