The University Press in the post-truth era: Why it’s more important than ever to publicly recognize our peer review community and their role in maintaining the integrity of scholarly publishing

November 5, 2019

“The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction…and the distinction between true and false… no longer exist.”—Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

In the populist era of Donald Trump, this idea is more pertinent than ever. Scholarly research must maintain the sanctity of truth versus falsehood, integrity versus dishonesty. As a publisher, University of Toronto Press recognizes peer review’s critical value in navigating these extremes and providing that underlying rigour which supports scholarly publishing as a whole. But what do we actually mean by “recognizing” our reviewers? Is it enough simply to broadcast our appreciation in blogs such as these, annual conferences, and our template “thank you” emails to reviewers? We didn’t think so, so last year UTP partnered with Publons, the peer review recognition platform, to try a more tangible means of recognizing our reviewers. Here is what we found out….

Pursuing our peer review goals

When we first partnered with Publons, our goal was to take a concrete, measurable step towards improving the peer review process and experience for our publications, by providing greater recognition to our reviewers. We assessed the costs and benefits, and Publons was a natural fit with these goals. Their Reviewer Recognition Service offered a way to meet these needs without complicating our peer review process, integrating directly into our workflow.

We wanted to address a few increasingly important and complex questions related to peer review:

  • How can we support journal editors and drive innovation in peer review while maintaining an ethical distance from the process?
  • How do we recognize the work of reviewers when peer review is largely unrewarded?
  • As with any new practice we introduce, how do we avoid introducing barriers and additional work for researchers who are already heavily tasked?

Reviewer and editor response to our partnership with Publons

We are continuing to analyze how reviewers have responded and seek feedback on uptake. The Reviewer Satisfaction report is an indicator that we’re off to a good start from the reviewer’s perspective, with an average 8/10 satisfaction score*. We’ve also seen higher satisfaction scores amongst specific journal reviewers, with Physiotherapy Canada reporting a 9.4/10 reviewer satisfaction score. We’ve also been monitoring free-text comments from our reviewers and we’re delighted to see their positive engagement so far (please see below). We look further to further participation to give us further understanding of reviewer response.

“It’s good to be able to bring together all the reviews we’ve written and get recognition for them. Thanks for the initiative!”—David Meyerholz, Professor of Pathology, University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine

*Publons surveys reviewers who have reviewed for partner publishers on how likely on a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high) they would be to recommend Publons to a colleague. This acts as a proxy for measuring how the reviewers perceive the integration.

Responses from editors have been mixed, with several editors embracing the system enthusiastically and promoting it to editorial board members, whilst others are more reticent. We are actively promoting the service with hopes to further engage editors in time, answering any questions and concerns as we receive them.

Positive effects in providing greater recognition to our reviewers

Providing greater recognition to our reviewers, particularly on an opt-in basis, has had the most obvious effect of introducing the option of public acknowledgement or keeping it private, where previously only the latter was available. In the first 12 months of our partnership with Publons, we saw a four-fold increase in reviewers claiming reviews (as opposed to the preceding period without a direct partnership). 20% of our reviewers currently take up the Publons Reviewer Recognition option, and this has been with minimal resources required at our end, with editors able to remain focused on other critical aspects of their work. These statistics reassure us that we are providing something of value to our reviewers, and we hope to see improved engagement with them as a result—whether as repeat reviewers, or future authors and readers.

Next steps

We have already noticed peer reviewers reaching out to specific UTP journals on Publons to express their interest in providing peer review services. We would like to take advantage of this, as we all know the difficulty of finding the right reviewers in the right fields, with consideration to availability and scheduling constraints. Our hope is the Publons reviewer community will continue to expand and see higher uptake from reviewers so we can identify engaged reviewers that are interested in reviewing for our journals. We know that Publons has developed some specific reviewer finder tools as well, and we would like to explore those.

University Press Week Blog Tour

This post is part of AUPress’s University Press Week Blog Tour (November 4-8) under the Day 2 theme “How to speak up and speak out.” In solidarity with the overarching “Read. Think. Act.” theme, we invite you to check out these posts from other university presses related to today’s theme:

Check out our next post on Thursday for the “How to build community” theme where we’ll be talking about building a community for the Journal of Scholarly Publishing as part of its fiftieth anniversary.

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University Press Week 2019 Tuesday Blog Tour: How to Speak Up and Speak Out – University of Wisconsin Press Blog
November 5, 2019 at 9:31 AM

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