Reviewer’s Role

Peer review performs two roles:

  1. Assisting editors in selecting manuscripts for publication
  2. Assisting authors in improving their manuscripts before they are published

Peer review is not perfect and it is based on trust that the authors, editors, and reviewers and all acting in good-faith. Peer reviewers are not expected to catch every single error or identify fabricated or falsified data without any assistance. We expect that peer reviewers will:

  1. Accept or decline invitations as quickly as possible
  2. Only accept invitations to review where they have sufficient expertise to evaluate the paper
  3. Take due care in reading and assessing the manuscript provided
  4. Provide a review that is as constructive and helpful to the editors and authors as possible
  5. Maintain the confidentiality and integrity of the peer review process
  6. Declare any conflicts of interest, including collaboration or competition with the paper’s authors within the last 3 years

In most cases, we expect peer reviewers to spend around 3-5 hours reviewing a manuscript and that review length will be something in the order of 3-500 words. The amount of time spent and length of review will naturally vary based on the manuscript at hand.

Peer Review Format

Peer reviews for empirical research articles and review articles have a five components:

  1. A public review summary
  2. Scoring various aspects of the manuscript
  3. Written comments for the authors and editors
  4. Confidential comments to the editors
  5. Recommendation and Optional Signing

1. Public Review Summary

The public review summary will be published with the paper if it is accepted in its current state or with only minor revisions. This paragraph should provide a short summary of the reviewer’s opinion with the aim of assisting a reader of the paper in understanding the paper’s strengths and weaknesses. This paragraph generally should not include line-by-line criticisms of the manuscript, but instead describe the key issues with the manuscript, such as strengths or weaknesses of the methods used, how well its findings sit with previous studies, or other contextual information that would be helpful for a reader to know.

If the reviewer chooses to sign their review, their name and affiliation will be listed with their review summary in the published paper.

The public review summary takes the place of the typical introductory paragraph in most review reports.

2. Scoring

Reviewers are asked to rate various aspects of the manuscript, such as the paper’s contribution to the field, methodological soundness, and their overall impression.

An excellent contribution to the field might provide strong evidence that challenges or supports a current theory, explores new mechanisms, or raises new and interesting questions.

For the highest rating of methodological soundness authors must use at least one reproducibility-enhancing practice (open data, preregistration, or provide details of their data auditing).

Scores are advisory only and in all cases the editor will use their discretion when making their decision.

3. Written Comments

Reviewers then provide written comments as ‘major concerns’ and/or ‘minor concerns’. Major concerns are the kinds of issues that a reviewer thinks should definitely be addressed and, potentially, subject to another round of peer review. Major concerns might involve significant textual revisions, changes to analyses, or additional experiments that are required to ensure that robust conclusions can be drawn from the results. Due to the costs and time involved empirical behavioural neuroscience studies, additional experiments that might yield interesting data, but are not necessary controls, should be listed as suggestions in minor comments.

Minor concerns are smaller improvements that should be made, but do not require additional peer review such as describing caveats or alternative explanations that should be included in the discussion. In this section, reviewers may also make minor typographical corrections, but are not required to do so.

Reviewers may suggest additional citations, but where they are an author or have a conflict of interest with respect to any additional citations, they must disclose this fact to the editor in the confidential comments section or disclose it to both the author and editor in the written comments.

4. Confidential Comments to the Editors

Reviewers are not required to complete confidential comment questions.

For research articles, reviewers are asked if they detect any evidence of questionable research practices. While reviewers are not asked to specifically look for these issues, if they notice them, they may report them and give more detail confidentially to the editor in this section. If they do so, the paper will be examined in more detail by an editor or another expert and may be rejected.

For review articles, reviewers can also describe any plagiarism or other integrity issues in a confidential comments box.

These responses are confidential to the editors and will not be published or shared with the author.

5. Recommendation and Optional Signing

Reviewers should make a recommendation based on the scientific quality and integrity of the article, keeping in mind that the editor may make a decision that differs from their recommendation.

Signing the review is optional.

Confidentiality and Retention of Review Materials

Reviewers are asked to maintain strict confidentiality of the material. Reviewers should not, intentionally or unintentionally, distribute or share the manuscript with anyone except as required to complete their review or to protect the integrity of the scientific record by disclosing information to editors or research integrity officers.

Reviewers may collaborate on specific components of their review with colleagues from within their department or laboratory, provided that their colleagues only have limited access to the manuscript and also agree to maintain its security and confidentiality. Reviewers may involve a student in their laboratory in the whole review without permission from the editor, but should advise the editor so an acknowledgment can be sent. Reviewers who wish to collaborate on their review with colleagues from their department or elsewhere should seek permission from the editor first because it may be more appropriate for a separate invitation to be sent, such as an invitation for a specialist statistical or technical review.

Reviewers should retain their review materials and notes until a final decision is made (i.e. the paper is accepted or rejected). Furthermore, they may retain their review materials and notes for up to 10 years after this final decision provided that they take reasonable steps to ensure the security and confidentiality of review materials and notes, such as keeping any written documents in a locked cabinet in their office or encrypting electronic documents. However, reviewers are not required to retain documents and can destroy all materials and notes immediately.

Conflicts of Interest and Reviewer Conduct

Reviewers are asked to ensure that they are free of any professional, personal, or financial conflicts of interest, or that any of these conflicts of interest have been properly disclosed to an editor.

As discussed above (section 3), reviewers should not coerce authors into citing their work or the work of their collaborators. Reviewers may suggest citation of their own work but must disclose this conflict of interest.

Reviewers who violate norms of professional reviewer conduct by:

  1. Plagiarising a reviewed manuscript,
  2. Deliberately delaying their review in order to publish a competing manuscript, or
  3. Breaching confidentiality

may be barred from publishing, reviewing, or editing any Episteme Health journal.

Resources for Reviewers

There are numerous resources available for reviewers who wish to better understand peer review and improve their skills as reviewers. However, reviewers should be aware that peer reviewer training programs have limited evidence of efficacy.

  1. Open peer review reports: Several journals provide open peer review, including some journals from BioMedCentral and the European Journal of Neuroscience. These examples can help reviewers to improve their skills.
  2. Society for Neuroscience Reviewer Mentoring Program
  3. Public Library of Science Reviewer Toolbox
  4. American Chemical Society Reviewer Lab
  5. Publons (Clarivate Analytics): Reviewer acknowledgment and training
  6. Nature Masterclasses: Focus on Peer Review
  7. Forensics Friday by Retraction Watch and the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

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