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Celebrating and cultivating excellent peer review at JBC

Open AccessPublished:September 13, 2019DOI:https://doi.org/10.1074/jbc.E119.010822
      We are living through a transformational time in scientific publishing, with lively and healthy discussions of mechanisms for improved transparency in review, increased emphasis on pre- and post-publication consultation about papers, and high pressure for rigor and rapidity in publishing. We are surrounded by a myriad of devices, apps, and tools to facilitate these exchanges. And yet, at least for now, scientists still primarily communicate their results through scholarly publications that have been rigorously evaluated by their colleagues in a tried and true peer review system that we revere and defend. Indeed, peer review is the cornerstone of the trust we place in each other, enabling us to be inspired by and build on the literature to achieve ever greater advances and insights. Impressively, peer review relies on selfless dedication of time and effort by the scientific community, primarily based on the shared belief that peer review is an essential service to the community to maintain quality in the published literature. There are also additional benefits: Peer review provides a mechanism for feedback and mentorship and an opportunity to use one's critical mind to digest and assess new science. But the bottom line is that scientists generously give of their time to enable our scientific structure to stand on a firm foundation. We take this opportunity to heartily thank all of our reviewers for the time they have donated to JBC to allow us to proceed with confidence that our published papers will engage the community and stand the test of time.
      Obviously, we are not the only ones who are grateful to peer reviewers; thanks to the yearly “Peer Review Week,” occurring this year from September 16 to 20, the entire scientific community gets to celebrate these contributions together (). The theme for this year's Peer Review Week is “Quality in peer review,” which we love. Our continual aspiration for high-quality review is one of the central reasons we maintain a standing editorial board, as we are able to work with these top-notch researchers in an ongoing way, providing journal-specific training, discussing goals and priorities, and learning from their feedback to improve the peer review process and our mechanisms of handling submitted manuscripts. These open lines of communication, in turn, are the reason we are able to provide authors with high-quality, prompt feedback, so they can get their papers published without delay. We especially thank these scientists for their commitment to JBC and to rigor in science publishing.
      But where do these fantastic reviewers come from? Obviously, our internal training can help to set journal-specific expectations, encourage more transparent communication, and reinforce our policies. However, JBC's editorial board members and the “outside” reviewers who expand the expertise and availability of our board have typically already been practicing their reviewing skills before joining the board, whether as a new primary investigator or by working with an advisor during their training. Where do scientists who haven't yet had those opportunities get their practice?
      In March, we told you that we were piloting an early career reviewer system (
      • Gierasch L.M.
      • DeMartino G.
      Celebrating science's next generation.
      ), and we are now absolutely delighted to officially announce the launch of JBC's Early Career Reviewer (ECR) Board, including postdoctoral researchers and early career independent scientists. Establishment of an ECR Board has several goals: 1) to more deeply engage ECRs in all aspects of the science publishing process, beyond their primary experience as authors and readers; 2) to provide mentoring opportunities for early career investigators in the critical assessment of others' data quality and interpretation; 3) to familiarize early career investigators with the expectations and norms of peer review; 4) to nurture the guardians of science in years to come; and 5) to learn from those who are still close to the bench about their views on evolving scientific standards and the future of scientific research. The ECR Board appointments and policies will be coordinated by the ECR Committee of the JBC Associate Editor Board, with George DeMartino as Chair.
      How will the system work? At JBC, as you may know, manuscripts are assigned to Associate Editors who in turn invite reviewers, and the ECRs will be selected in just the same way as “normal” reviewers—both editorial board members and outside reviewers—based on their specific topical and methodological expertise. However, when reviewing the comments from ECRs, Associate Editors will not only use those comments to inform their decision on the manuscript, but will provide feedback on the quality of the review to the ECR. For example, did they communicate their thinking clearly? Do any requested experiments seem unreasonable? Are their expectations appropriate? Did they miss any critical details? Of course, each ECR comes in with a different background and skillset, so their interactions with our editors will also be unique. For example, pre-tenure faculty and industrial scientists are likely to have more experience than postdoctoral fellows, so the mentoring and training approaches used with ECRs will be tailored accordingly.
      A concern raised in previous deliberations about ECRs is that engaging scientists who have less training in peer review could lead to a decrease in quality in the resultant reports. Our pilot program—as well as our personal interactions with postdocs and early career faculty in our labs and departments—assuaged this concern as the quality of their reviews was excellent. However, it would also be unfair to expect perfection from a group that is still learning to navigate the process! As such, ECRs will be used in addition to the normal reviewers and will receive fewer assignments, allowing them to take the time they need to complete their assessment. Furthermore, if Associate Editors spot unusual or inappropriate comments in a report, they will be able to work with the ECR to clarify the remarks or can choose not to send the report in full to the authors if clarity cannot be achieved in a timely manner.
      One might ask, “What's in it for the ECRs?” Well, we could ask this about all of peer review. With few exceptions, there is no compensation for reviewing. We do it because it is part of the fabric of science, and we all want our papers to be subjected to fair and careful peer review. ECRs, however, will benefit in several additional ways. First, they will get a peek behind the curtain of peer review, learning not only how to serve as an outstanding reviewer but also what author behaviors can cultivate success in scientific publishing. Similarly, by getting feedback on the clarity of their written reports and being exposed to the phrasing used by more senior scientists, the ECRs will gain valuable information about how to linguistically negotiate the publishing process. Second, we will provide these reviewers with tangible evidence of the role played in the review process, helping them build a record of valuable community service that can be included in job and grant applications. Furthermore, Associate Editors will be in a position to provide letters of reference for ECRs who have completed multiple JBC reviews. Third, we anticipate that some of our ECRs will go on to serve as full editorial board members, further establishing their credentials as experts in the field.
      We are deeply grateful for our continued interactions with JBC's thoughtful and articulate reviewers and are thrilled to be working with the future leaders of our fields and journals as our new ECRs. If you would like more information about the ECR program, please visit our editorial policies page at http://www.jbc.org/site/misc/edpolicy.xhtml. If you would like to be considered as an Early Career Reviewer, would like to nominate someone, or have any questions or concerns, please contact the journal at [email protected]
      And do not forget to thank a peer reviewer, including yourself, for the time and energy invested in quality control of the published scientific record!

      References

      1. https://peerreviewweek.wordpress.com/peer-review-2019/

        • Gierasch L.M.
        • DeMartino G.
        Celebrating science's next generation.
        J. Biol. Chem. 2019; 294 (30824573): 3323-3324