Peer Review Week 2020 at Communications Biology

For Peer Review Week this year, the theme is trust. We at Communications Biology got in touch with some of our reviewers to find out what they thought about trust peer review, and we also dug into our reviewer diversity metrics with the aim of building trust in our publishing process.
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Peer Review Week 2020 at Communications Biology

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This week is, you guessed it, Peer Review Week! It’s all about recognising the contribution of peer reviewers to high quality scientific publishing. This year, the event theme is trust. The building of trust in peer reviewers, in the publishing process, in the results that you read on the Communications Biology website when we publish a new article, and elsewhere!

This year, we wanted to engage with our reviewer base and find out a bit more about opinions on peer review and trust from those best to give opinions. We interviewed some of our most exceptional peer reviewers from around the globe, those whose reviews went above and beyond the ordinary and contributed greatly to editorial decisions and improving manuscripts. Their answers and opinions can be found in this video that we’ve produced. Please take a few minutes to watch and hear what they had to say.

We had some really interesting opinions on ways to improve peer review, which was extremely encouraging but couldn’t be squeezed into a three-and-a-half minute video. 40 reviewers were contacted, and we have managed to include every respondent. The drive for rigorous peer review burns bright in our reviewers. We are extremely proud of their contribution to the scientific rigour of our journal, and trust their thorough assessments.

Another opportunity that Peer Review Week provides is the chance to reflect on how we perform as a journal in sourcing peer reviewers. Since February 2019, we have been collecting data from our reviewers on a voluntary basis about gender identity, career stage and country. Since then, we have received in excess of 4600 peer reviews, a number that climbs by the day. We’re going to briefly and transparently reflect on our current metrics, and openly set some targets to review this time next year, when Peer Review Week next rolls around. 

We, as editorial board members and in-house editors across Communications Biology, should be considering these diversity metrics as we source reviewers. Let’s get into the data.

Regarding gender diversity, our reviewer base to date has been predominantly male. Of 4607 total reviews, 3160 of them identify as male, which constitutes 68.6% of our sample. 25.3% identify as female, with the remainder identifying as non-binary or prefer not to say. These numbers for 2020-to-date are slightly improved, with males making up 67.5% of our reviewers. We have a lot of work to do to improve gender balance over the coming year. An achievable target for the next year would be to reduce our male reviewer base down to 60% or less of the total. With this target, we hope to increase female and non-binary involvement in peer review, without objectively applying more pressure to these gender identities that are typically represented at lower levels in the academic system. If you identify as an underrepresented gender and wish to volunteer as a reviewer for Communications Biology, we have a volunteer reviewer sign-up sheet here.

Self reported gender identity for Communications Biology peer reviewers, binned by year. 

If we turn our eyes to global distribution of reviewers, Communications Biology clearly has a global reviewer base. The majority of our reviewers are from the United States of America (38.3%), followed by the United Kingdom (8.0%) and then China (6.1%). Whilst the majority of reviewers are from three countries, we manage to achieve a fairly wide reaching sample of individuals, with reviewers from over 74 countries contributing the peer review for Communications Biology. Setting country based targets is more challenging, as some reviewers report their place of residence, whereas some report nationality. We will aim to make improvements to our surveying in this area to enable setting of better targets. We will make a conscious effort to find reviewers from labs that aren’t based in these three countries, whilst maintaining our usual standards of relevant experience and a good publication record. 

Global distribution of Communications Biology peer reviewers based on self-reported country. Darker colour indicates more reviewers reporting that country.

Finally, we believe we have excellent career stage distribution. 46.6% of our reviewers are professors. Anecdotally, we have greater early career researcher (ECR) involvement than is recorded in this data. Reviewers in senior positions often request involving graduate students or post-docs in the review process, something we actively encourage. We will continue encouraging ECR involvement in the review process, particularly when reaching out to academics who may have relevant members in their labs. This can be assessed on a case-by-case basis, based on our familiarity with the field and researchers in different groups. 

Career stage of Communications Biology peer reviewers. 

By openly reviewing these data, we become accountable for our contributions to an inclusive academic publishing environment. We hope that by highlighting these metrics and targets in public space, we demonstrate tangible improvements to our reviewer diversity over the next year. We hope that this transparency builds trust across our journal and editorial team, including our Editorial Board Members. Thank you for taking the time to read this post, and please comment below any thoughts you have!

The Communications journals will be having discussion sessions throughout the week on Twitter, all about trust in peer review. Please come find us @CommsBio on Thursday 25th at 0900-1100 EST/1400-1600 BST to chat some more. Enjoy the rest of Peer Review Week!

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Go to the profile of Andrea Imle
almost 4 years ago

Regarding the gender imbalance, I think it would be interesting to compare with the gender numbers from the authors or researchers in general. Are 25% female reviewers an over- or underrepresentation of the research community in the given field?

Go to the profile of Luke R. Grinham
almost 4 years ago

Hi Andrea! We did think about this - it's in part why we haven't set a target of boosting the participation of, for example, female reviewers. In some fields, this could result in disproportionate distribution of workload where a small number of female researchers receive many review requests. I'll see what kind of data we can collect over the next twelve months and maybe have something that looks at these questions in more detail next year!

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