Text interview with food policy professor Martin Caraher

by @abbybeall

The following is a text interview conducted with Professor Martin Caraher, professor in food and health policy at City University, London about his experience with the peer review process, what he considers its strengths and weaknesses and the future of peer review.

What experience do you have with peer review?

I review for about 20 journals regularly. I peer review research bids for a number of funding bodies. The PhD Process is based on peer review as is much of our masters development.

What do you think of the peer review process in general, does it work well?

Yes generally, I think that sometimes when you see the comments of other reviewers it is good to see that you are on the same track. I think sometimes it can be burdensome; for example, we had a paper recently with 6 reviewers, not all saying the same thing. The other issue is that it is a small world and even when material is blind you can sometimes guess or narrow it down to who it is. I think this also happens the other way, we had a paper reviewed and we narrowed it down to 2 people on the basis of the feedback.

While not perfect, it does offer a process which is transparent.

Where it does not work well is when reviewers get personal and say things about the researchers, there should be a set of guides or a standard.

Do you think more journals should be open access?

That depends, we are moving that way and open access does not preclude peer review, there needs to be a quality check. At the moment there are a number of open access journal with no editorial committees. This is one way of judging quality. There will be a shakedown of the area and the finances will partially determine this.

Do you think Impact Factor is a good measure of the quality of journals?

Reasonable, it does not give an indication of individual articles. It is a first stop off point as many of us are measured on this, like it or not. There is a tendency to aim at those with reasonable Ifs, but we should also bethinking of placing our articles where they might be read by the relevant practitioner audiences. Personally I do one practitioner one for each peer reviewed one

Do you think the public have a good understanding of the peer review process?

No, and even academics do not. There is no training for the process so you learn by doing and having articles published and becoming known in your area of expertise, the assumption is that this makes you a good reviewer. In fact it can lead to what os called pedagogy of the oppressed, so if you have had bad experiences you are likely to replicate this in your reviews on the basis that “I suffered and therefore others should.” Many of the better publishers now offer some online training, but this is optional.

Recent scandals over peer review have highlighted some of the flaws of peer review.

What do you think there is in store for the future of peer review?

I think we will see more use of plagiarism tracking tools and publishers offering to filter out articles. Elsevier, for example, are offering a journal finder.

“we have developed a new tool, called Journal Finder. This is designed to:

  • help less experienced researchers to select suitable journals for their papers
  • enable researchers working across multidisciplinary fields to identify appropriate journals
  • highlight journals that offer open access options and provide information on publication speeds and impact factors”

How does the tool work?

You enter the paper title, abstract and/or keywords and the tool creates a list of Elsevier journals which match the topic of the article. You can then order the results based on their priorities, such as highest Impact Factor or shortest editorial time. The selection contains links to each journals homepage and Elsevier Editorial Submission (EES) page.

This will allow some self review before deciding where to publish. So we will see editors filtering out some of the papers which should not be reviewed at an early stage.

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