Sense about Science offer invaluable resources for early career researchers (ECRs), and we’ve been supporting their work on peer review for some time, sponsoring and attending their workshops. We've also been generally helping to spread the word about the excellent resources they create, taking their guide on ‘The nuts and bolts of peer review’ to our author workshops in locations around the world.
In this virtual Q&A, get to know Sense about Science. What do they get asked the most about peer review? How do they think journal editors can benefit from involving early career researchers in the peer review process? And what are the challenges for ECRs getting involved? Joanne Thomas and Emily Jesper from Sense about Science discuss all this and more.
Q&A with Sense about Science
Can you tell me about Sense about Science and outline some of your current campaign work?
Sense about Science is an independent campaigning charity that promotes understanding and use of scientific evidence and challenges its misrepresentation. We work with scientists to address gaps in the public discussion about science, and equip people with the tools they need to make sense of science and evidence. We explain how science works, what questions people can ask to weigh up the quality of evidence behind claims, and of course how the essential process of peer review works.
Our AllTrials campaign is calling for all clinical trials to be registered and their results reported. The campaign has support from 90,000 individuals and over 650 organizations representing millions of patients and healthcare professionals. The campaign has had great success in Europe with changes to clinical trial regulation, and is now expanding internationally and pushing for commitments across academia and industry.
Can you give us a snapshot of what happens at a Sense about Science peer review workshop?
Each workshop begins with group work, where participants are asked to consider the benefits of peer review, its limitations, and what an alternative system might look like. This feeds into a panel session where the ECRs hear from experienced editors and academics on how the peer review process works, how editors select reviewers and make decisions, what motivates reviewers, how to avoid bias and conflicts, and what the future of peer review might look like. The workshop concludes with smaller group discussions on the benefits of peer review for the public, and a small drinks reception for networking and to continue the day's discussion.
What are the benefits of getting involved in peer review for early career researchers?
Getting involved in peer review benefits ECRs in terms of their own research – applying scrutiny to other scientists’ work can in turn improve their own paper writing and research – as well as benefiting the scientific community as a whole by ensuring the quality and reliability of published scientific results through scrutiny from others in the field.
But even further, being able to share the process of peer review can allow early career researchers to engage directly with the public and help them to weigh up claims about science. We want to encourage researchers to share the question ‘is it peer reviewed?’ with the public to help assess the status of scientific claims in the media.
How do you think journal editors can benefit from having input from early career researchers in the peer review process?
Early career researchers have a lot to offer. They are closely involved in the research and the latest developments, they are enthusiastic, have a fresh viewpoint, and they’re keen to get experience of reviewing – it’s great for editors to have a bigger pool of scientists to draw from for reviewing. And it is vital the next generation of researchers are engaged in peer review to ensure we can maintain it.
What do you think the challenges are for early career researchers getting involved?
At our Standing up for Science media workshops, ECRs came to us with lots of questions and concerns about peer review, and how to get involved. They felt there was a real lack of training on the process, and high profile examples of bias, fraud and controversies had made them concerned that the peer review process was broken: should they be getting involved at all? With little chance to discuss these issues, one of the major challenges for ECRs is knowing where to start and how to get involved. This is why we started running Peer Review: the nuts & bolts workshops to draw out this discussion, and to support ECRs in engaging in this crucial process.
What’s your most frequently asked question you get about peer review from early-career researchers?
“How can I get recognition for reviewing?”
“What do you [editors] do when there are conflicting reviews?”
“Should reviewers be rewarded?”
“What are the different models of peer review?”
We hear these a lot from ECRs at our workshops.
How do you think journal editors and publishers can help support reviewers during the peer review process?
Ensuring there is a system in place to formally recognize reviewers is particularly important for scientists early in their careers. VoYS (Voice of Young Science) members called on the Higher Education Funding Council of England for reviewing to be recognized in the UK Research Excellence Framework (REF) – you can read about that campaign on our website. Journal editors and publishers can also provide support by sharing relevant resources, guidance and advice specifically for ECRs and how they can get involved in the process, for example Sense about Science’s guide written by and for early career researchers: Peer Review: the nuts & bolts.
What’s next for Sense about Science?
Ensuring the next generation of scientists are equipped with the confidence and training in public engagement and peer review is essential for improving public trust in science. We will continue to support early career researchers through workshops, talks and campaigns, and encourage them to stand up for science and take an active role in public debates about science.
In June 2016, we established Sense about Science EU, with an office in Brussels. It will encourage researchers and citizens to scrutinize evidence in European policymaking. We plan to hold workshops and share insights about how the Brussels system works and how to get your voice heard.
Our Ask for Evidence campaign encourages the public to hold policy makers, journalists and companies to account for the claims they make. Next year Ask for Evidence will be publicly warning public figures and authorities about the importance of using the best available evidence. We are in the early stages of developing a global evidence centre, which will bring together the best interactive, multi-media resources on understanding evidence and peer review for people to go with questions relating to evidence.
Sharing the value of peer review with the public will remain a central part of our work in helping people make sense of science and evidence.