Interview with an Obstetrician

Professor Susan Bewley is a Consultant Obstetrician and Honorary Senior Lecturer at Kings College London. She has published many papers ad hence been through the peer review process many times, on both sides. Heres what she had to say on the subject:

What did the peer review process add to your work?

I’m pretty positive about the process [barring one experience from when I was a peer reviewer, which I think has had a shocking impact on my own specialty of obstetrics – you’ll see below].

Most of the time, peer review has added value to my work and helped it see the light of day even if not in my first choice of journal – there will be reinforcement that the work was good, or honest appraisal of the weaknesses. Most of the time I’ve agreed with the suggestions about how to improve the work, add analyses or data, correct errors, polish the interpretation etc.

Have you ever encountered problems with the process?

Occasionally, peer reviewers ‘miss the point’ or are reviewing out of their depth, but one can go back politely to the editor.  I have even successfully appealed against rejections based on poor reviews.  There are certain ‘rules to the game’ – which include always politely thanking the reviewers and agreeing with as many points of substance and detail as possible. If there is a howler, or you disagree, then just point it out.  I don’t think it helps the scientific process for authors to be too arrogant, blindly wedded to their research such that they don’t accept weaknesses or take it too personally.  As a peer reviewer myself, I’ve always tried to be positive and helpful even if papers are seriously flawed.

Was it a time consuming process? 

Yes, it’s a time consuming process, and its amazing the system has lasted as long as it has for free.  But nothing really worthwhile is rushed. Getting overheated and overexcited isn’t generally a good idea.

I have in fact published one letter about peer review in the Lancet as I was involved in reviewing the Term Breech Trial –  a paper I recommended was published but NOT fast-tracked. I was surprised by the rude tone (and non-engagement) of the authors’ rebuttal which appeared to be a recurrent problem over time. The trial still has major problematic repercussions.

Did it go back and forth many times?

I’ve had papers go back several times – mostly with good improvement

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