Peer Review Survey 2019

Over the past 10 years, much has changed. Technological advances are transforming not only how research – and peer review – is conducted, but the article formats and channels used to communicate those findings.

10 years on from the influential 2009 Peer Review Survey we have partnered with Elsevier to find out how far we have come. 3000 researchers were surveyed to understand how researcher attitudes have changed. Read the full report,  Quality, trust & peer review: researchers’ perspectives 10 years on.

Researchers responded from a wide array of disciplines, career stages and locations. We repeated some of the questions asked in 2009, but importantly expanded our scope to capture feedback on trustworthiness, what constitutes peer review, and which metrics best signal quality and aid evaluation. We also wanted to understand how researchers view public confidence in research. In addition to the survey, we interviewed a number of researchers to explore the issues raised.

Key findings – what we discovered

  • Since our 2009 study, researcher satisfaction with peer review has increased. Researchers don’t want to replace the process; they just want to improve it.
  • With the number of information channels rising and the volume of research outputs increasing too, researchers are concerned about quality. Cross checks are becoming the norm, creating inefficiencies in the research ecosystem.
  • For many, finding a way to shift the focus from quantity of research outputs to quality will be key to increasing trust.
  • Along with improvements to guidelines and training, reviewers want to be recognized for the work they do, particularly by their employers.
  • Few researchers believe the public understand the concept of peer review. For many, the solution to increasing understanding of research findings lies in providing context and easy-to-understand explanations.

Commenting on the survey, Sense about Science director Tracey Brown said, “What this survey shows is that our inroads into getting wider understanding of peer review are now not enough for research publishing in the 2020s or for people to understand what quality checks have been done. We urgently need to see a common language and greater transparency about what has been reviewed. Does it include data? What criteria were used? Is it even a published study? Remember many research users are arriving at information via search engines, not academic portals.”

Areas for urgent action

  1. Amid the rising volume of research outputs and information platforms, researchers want improved signals, and to be able to cross-check work easily.
  2. Better training, information, and more career-based recognition is raised by researchers in this and other studies. Finding a way to remove the current inconsistencies in reviewer instructions is paramount.
  3. Agreement about the role of technology in peer review, e.g. using it to manage the rising volume of submissions and alleviate the burden on reviewers, without losing the benefits of human judgement? Without discussion, the use of AI may further disrupt people’s ability to trust content.
  4. Ensure that research is put in context: articles include easy-to understand explanations of research and a common language is used to communicate to both researchers and public alike what has been reviewed and the type of review done.

Adrian Mulligan, Research Director for Customer Insights, Elsevier, said, “This study highlights the growing pressure being  placed on research communication and importantly the value of peer review. Maintaining the integrity of the system is paramount so its important various stakeholders work together to ensure reviewers receive recognition, have clear guidance and quality tools to support them in their role.”

Published: 16 September 2019