Professor Alison Smith is the Head of the Plant Metabolism Group at Cambridge University. I spoke to her about her thoughts on the current peer review process.
What do you think of the peer review process? Do you think it helps or hinders research?
I certainly don’t think it hinders research if done properly. In my experience the majority of academics are objective and fair in their assessments of papers and grant applications. The work is judged on the science and then this ensures that experiments are done correctly and interpreted appropriately, with due reference made to other work in the literature. The current trend of journals using editorial office to sift papers before sending to review and only choosing those that are ‘fashionable’ or high profile is not likely to help research generally.
Are there certain journals that you would prefer to be published in?
Yes. Despite my comment above, it is good for my research to be published in as high a profile journal as possible, and the highest ones are those that do the fashion sift!
Does the peer review process differ between journals?
Yes – for example I think the majority of journals send a paper to review (when they do so) to at least 2 and often 3 experts in the field. In contrast, other journals have editorial advisers who do the reviewing and therefore a paper is not reviewed by experts in the field rather people who can judge if the experiments have been done appropriately, not the appropriateness of the conclusions. Still others have one or two reviewers but then ignore what they say if the editor doesn’t agree with them.
Do you have any specific examples of times when you think the peer review process has not worked?
I have several times reviewed papers that are inadequate, and yet they then appear almost unaltered in the journal. These are often from big names, but this is a tiny fraction of the total.
Do you think there should be more open access papers?
No – it confuses the literature to have papers that have not gone through a stringent assessment.