Why we need a journal on research integrity and peer review

To kick off the celebrations for the first Peer Review Week, the Editors-in-Chief of our new journal, Research Integrity and Peer Review, discuss why we need the journal and what they are aiming to achieve.

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Research affects our lives. It is the basis for medical decisions and it affects everything from the food we eat to the device on which you are reading this blog. In order to benefit society, research needs to be reliably performed and reliably reported.

The most widely-used system to optimize the reporting of research is peer review. Yet the traditional system of prepublication peer review has many flaws and detractors. In the standard model of peer review, reviewers comment on an article presenting selected analysed data. This system, even when conscientiously carried out, is ineffective at detecting incomplete or falsified findings; and when poorly implemented, peer review may be biased and delay publication.

What is research integrity?

The term ‘research integrity’ has been coined to describe the ideal system in which research meets rigorous standards and therefore produces trustworthy and useful, results. Research integrity encompasses the entire process from the planning and design of experiments, the protection of participants, rigorous conduct, and to the reporting of results.

Responsibility for ensuring integrity is borne by many different people and organizations, starting with individual researchers but including research supervisors and funders, institutional leaders, peer reviewers and journal editors. The analogy of a ‘research environment’ is an apt one — this is a complex ecosystem, and therefore attention must be given not only to individual behaviour, such as research misconduct, but also to the systems that affect it, such as academic rewards, incentives and pressures.

The need for more research

Although much is written in journals and blogs about misconduct and peer review, there is a lack of rigorous research that can answer the many questions posed.

This complex ecosystem of research has, until recently, been remarkably little studied. We know surprisingly little about how to ensure research funds are not wasted, how to prevent and detect fraud, or how to ensure research reports are usable. Although much is written in journals and blogs about misconduct and peer review, there is a lack of rigorous research that can answer the many questions posed. We welcome Peer Review Week as an initiative to draw attention to this important topic.

However, we need more than opinion and discussion. We are launching this new journal, Research Integrity and Peer Review, to provide a forum for publishing research on these important topics. The journal is now open for submissions and considers manuscripts on research and publication ethics, research reporting, and peer review. These topics will be handled by the four co-Editors-in-Chief, Maria Kowalczuk, Stephanie Harriman, Iveta Simera and Elizabeth Wager, respectively.

Research Integrity and Peer Review

By launching this journal, we aim to stimulate interdisciplinary discussion and ensure research findings are available to those who might benefit from them. The journal will therefore use the gold open access model, with all content made freely available immediately it is published online. We hope, ultimately, to stimulate funders to focus attention on ‘research on research’, which we feel has been neglected for too long.

We also encourage editors and publishers to do research into peer review and other editorial processes implemented in their journals and aimed at enhancing the quality and usability of published research.

We also encourage editors and publishers to do research into peer review and other editorial processes implemented in their journals and aimed at enhancing the quality and usability of published research. It is important to share these findings to identify best practices, learn from each other and thus raise standards across the whole spectrum of research.

Irony but opportunity

We recognize the potential irony (and expected scrutiny) in the idea of a peer-reviewed journal about peer review and research reporting but, for all its flaws, the current system seems the best place to start. To ensure transparency we will be using an open peer review model, whereby the reviewers’ names are known to the authors (and vice versa) and the reports will be published together with the articles so the readers will have insight into the peer review process. Rest assured that we will be open to experiment and new possibilities.


 

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4 Comments

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Debra Dwyer

This is long overdue. I teach responsible conduct for research and research integrity and have given a lot of thought to why the system we have keeps the pie of knowledge productivity smaller than it should be. When the incentive structure for individual researchers is such that the greater good counts for little, we will see perverse incentives like rejecting articles that have something to offer because it threatens our own well-being as a researcher. The editors job ought to be a more important one than it has become. If we are going to keep the tenure system and reward mechanisms what they are, we need to compensate editors to be the advocates for society’s well-being.

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Editor
Stephanie Harriman

Thank you for your question. In launching Research Integrity and Peer Review, our main aim, as with any other peer reviewed scientific journal, is to provide a venue for publication of research to answer the many unanswered questions in the field. Our particular focus is on research that is well designed and well reported that offers potential solutions to current problems and limitations with existing processes.

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