Today is the first day of peer review week. One of the issues that many people bring up about the current system of peer review is that there is very little formal training. There are guidance documents available (including the BES Guide to Peer Review), workshops on peer review can be found at some conferences and some senior academics teach their PhD students or post-docs about the process. In general though, peer review training is fairly hard to come by.
This is something that people have told us (the BES publications team) at conferences and through surveys, so we’re doing something about it. From October 2017 until April 2018 Methods in Ecology and Evolution is going to be partnering with the BES Quantitative Ecology Special Interest Group to run a trial Peer Review Mentoring Scheme.
The trial scheme is going to focus on statistical ecology (as we receive a lot of statistical papers at Methods in Ecology and Evolution), but if it goes well, we’ll be looking at other areas of expertise too.
Applications for Mentor and Mentee positions are now open. If you’re an experienced statistical ecologist or evolutionary biologist or an Early Career Researcher in those fields, we’d love to receive an application from you. Continue reading →
This week is Peer Review Week, the slightly more popular academic celebration than pier review week. Peer review is an essential part of scientific publication and is – like Churchill’s democracy – the worst system to do it. Except for all of the others. The reason it’s imperfect is mainly that it’s done by people, so there is a natural desire to try to improve it.
One suggestion for improvement is to us double blind reviews. At the moment most journals (including Methods in Ecology and Evolution) use single blind reviewing, where the author isn’t told the identity of the reviewers. The obvious question is whether double blind reviewing does actually improve reviews: does it reduce bias, or improve quality? There have been several studies in several disciplines which have looked at this and related questions. After having looked at them, my summary is that double blind reviewing is fairly popular, but makes little or no difference to the quality of the reviews, and reviewers can often identify the authors of the papers.
Subject area experts are asked to review a lot of papers!
The primary challenge Associate Editors face is finding Reviewers for manuscripts. When times get desperate, it may feel like anyone with a pulse will do! But of course the reality is that Reviewers need some relevant expertise. They also need to be able to carve out time from busy schedules. These two requirements are remarkably efficient at eliminating every name on a list of candidate Reviewers.
This Reviewer drought slows down the publishing process, and frustrates and stresses all involved. It also runs the risk of affecting quality – busy experts have no time to contribute to reviews of papers in their area, so manuscripts end up being reviewed hastily or by people in adjacent fields. However, so much effort goes into writing a manuscript (even a bad one), and so much in science depends fundamentally on the peer review process, that finding the right Reviewers is an important academic – and even ethical – obligation as Editors. Continue reading →
For many academics, especially Early Career Researchers, writing a review can seem like quite a daunting task. Direct training is often hard to come by and not all senior academics have the time to act as mentors. As this week is Peer Review Week, we wanted to provide some advice on what makes a good review and what makes a bad review. This advice has been kindly provided by the Methods in Ecology and Evolution Associate Editors – all of whom are authors and reviewers as well.
The BES Guide to Peer Review in Ecology and Evolution
Before we dive into the tips from our Editors though, we want to highlight one of the best resources for anyone looking for peer review guidance – the BES Guide to Peer Review in Ecology and Evolution. This booklet is intended as a guide for Early Career Researchers, who have little or no experience of reviewing journal articles but are interested in learning more about what is involved. It provides a succinct overview of the many aspects of reviewing, from hands-on practical advice about the actual review process to explaining less tangible aspects, such as reviewer ethics. You can get the PDF version of the guide (and the other BES guides) for free on the BES website. Continue reading →
As many of you will already know, this week is Peer Review Week (19-25 September). Peer Review Week is a global event celebrating the vital work that is done by reviewers in all disciplines. To mark the week, we will be having a series of blog posts about peer review.
The theme for this year’s Peer Review Week is recognition for review and we’re starting our celebrations by thanking everyone who has reviewed for us this year. Without the hard work and expertise of the people who voluntarily review papers for us, Methods in Ecology and Evolution would not be the successful journal that it is today. We are incredibly grateful for all of the time and effort that reviewers put into reading and commenting on the manuscripts that we send to them.
A huge THANK YOU to everyone who has reviewed for Methods in Ecology and Evolution – whether you’ve worked on one paper or twenty – we really appreciate your time and effort.
In recent years, there has been an increasing focus on encouraging women to join STEM fields, but there is still work that needs to be done. We asked our female Associate Editors what the biggest problems facing the push towards gender equality within STEM fields today are. Here are their answers:
Jana McPherson: My impression is that entering is not the issue. Certainly in my fields of conservation and ecology, there seem to be lots of women undergraduates and graduates and still a very decent proportion of female postdocs. I think it is beyond that level that women start to become increasingly rare. At least in part this likely reflects the fact that it is around post-doc time that biological clocks start ticking, and that it is neither easy nor necessarily desirable to combine starting and raising a family with a prolific production of publications, a heavy teaching load and the need to magic up a bustling research lab out of the blue. To reduce that hurdle, I think universities and academics have to become more accepting and accommodating of part-time effort. And I mean institutionally as well as individually. I have conducted research on a part-time basis for years now, and have seen many colleagues and collaborators in academia positively flummoxed by the concept that NOTHING (work-wise) gets done between when I leave the office on a Thursday at 2pm and when I return to work Monday morning. And yes, my life outside the office involves minutes and the odd hour here and there where I’m not directly interacting with my kids or looking after the household during which I could theoretically get the odd bit of work done. But I have tried that approach and found it rather stressful, sleep-depriving and frustrating for family members competing for my attention with whatever ‘quick’ piece of work I was trying to finish. So now I leave work at the office and whatever does not get done within office hours just has to wait until I’m next at work, no matter how urgent.
Tamara Münkemüller: I guess that the main problems are related to family planning. On the one hand, in many countries it takes long to get a permanent position and it feels like taking a risk to have children before this. On the other hand, one seemingly frequent constellation are couples of two scientists where the man is a bit older. In this situation it often happens that the older person gets a permanent position first and the younger follows and tries to adapt. Then there is the more subtle problem of different communication styles of men and women and numerous selection processes that tend to prefer a communication style that is thought to be more typical for men.
Satu Ramula: I think that one of the current challenges is to keep women in the system. Many female scientists leave academia at some point, which makes the sex ratio skewed as there are not enough qualified women to compete for academic positions at upper levels. Continue reading →
Last month we published a blog post with some tips on selecting preferred reviewers for your manuscript. It was hugely popular (if you haven’t read it yet you can do so here), so we have decided to follow it up with some advice on identifying NON-preferred reviewers (or Author Opposed Reviewers as they are now known on ScholarOne).
Unlike preferred reviewers, you are not required to identify non-preferred reviewers when you submit your paper to Methods. However, in certain cases this option is can be very useful for your manuscript. It is important not to overuse or misuse this feature of the submission system though and the below tips will help you to avoid doing this.
The Golden Rule: Always Explain Why!
It can often be difficult to decide whether to identify someone as an author opposed reviewer. While there are some guidelines that journals can (and do) offer, a lot of the time authors find themselves in the grey area between these. We understand that it is unlikely that every question you have will be answered by our guidance (although we hope that we can address at least a few of them), but there is a way around this: explain why you have made a person a non-preferred reviewer. Continue reading →
Like many journals, Methods in Ecology and Evolution asks authors to submit a list of preferred reviewers along with their manuscript. This can be a difficult task and is often one that is overlooked or rushed when submitting. However, this list can be very important in the peer review process.
There are a number of reasons that we ask authors to provide preferred reviewers. These suggestions can be extremely useful in a number of situations. For example, if the Associate Editor is struggling to find referees for a paper, the preferred reviewers become a very valuable resource. Not only are they potential reviewers, but if they are unable to review the paper they can suggest other people who might be able to.
As Methods is a generalist journal, sometimes papers are submitted that do not fit perfectly into the areas of expertise of our Associate Editors. In cases such as these, the preferred reviewers can be a wonderful starting point for the reviewer search. Providing the Editors with a good list of experts in the subject (who they may not know off the top of their head) can make the peer review process quicker and easier for everyone involved.
While Editors are by no means required or obliged to choose the reviewers that authors suggest, the list can often be a source of inspiration. If the Editor chooses not to invite any of the preferred reviewers, they may use the suggestions to try to find people with similar expertise.
Providing a good list of preferred reviewers can speed up the peer review process and make it a much less stressful experience. So, what makes a preferred reviewer list good or bad? The DOs and DON’Ts below should help you to suggest the right reviewers for your paper. Continue reading →
Mark is a statistician with Biomathematics & Statistics Scotland, based in Aberdeen. His main statistical research interests are Species Distribution Modelling, Compositional Data Analysis, Bayesian Mixture Modelling and Bayesian Ordinal Regression. Mark was one of the presenters at the UK half of the Methods in Ecology and Evolution 5th Anniversary Symposium in April. You can watch his talk, ‘Model Selection and the Cult of AIC’ here.
The level of statistical analysis in ecology journals is far higher than in most other disciplines. Ecological journals lead the way in the development of statistical methodology, necessitated by challenging practical problems involving complex data sets. As a statistician, publishing also in hydrology, soil science, social science and forensic science journals, I’ve found papers in those areas are much more likely to only use well-established methods than papers in ecology.
Here’s the big question though: why then do I have the most difficulty with ecological journals when it comes to statistical analyses? Let’s be clear here: when I say “difficulty”, I mean I receive reviews which are just plain wrong. Most statisticians I’ve spoken to who work in ecology have anecdotes from reviews which demonstrate a lack of understanding by the non-statistician reviewer (including the all-too-frequent “perhaps you should consult a statistician”). So, why the apparent disconnect?
The difference seems to be in how non-statisticians in different disciplines treat the statistics in a paper. In many subject areas, reviewers are almost deferential to the statistical analysis; in ecology, reviewers can be forthright in their condemnation, often without justification. Reviewers have every right to question the statistical analysis in a paper, but the authors have the exact same right to expect a high quality review from a genuine expert in the field. Has ecology become blasé about statistics? Continue reading →
2014 was a wonderful year for Methods in Ecology and Evolution. We had a record number of submissions and we published some fantastic articles (if we do say so ourselves). None of this would have been possible though without the work of the people who generously provide reviews for the journal.
Whether you reviewed one paper or twenty, we really appreciate your time and effort. Without the expertise and commitment of our reviewers, Methods would not be the successful journal that it is.
The full list of of 2014 reviewers can be found here.