April 8, 2015

Shervin Assari, MD, MPH describes the peer review process following recent high ranking at Publons

Dr. Shervin Assari was recently recognized by Publons for his contribution as a peer reviewer. He was ranked 5th out of nearly 30,000 peer reviewers. We sat down with him to discuss the importance of peer review in the journal submission process.

What is Publons?

The mission of Publons is “to speed up science by making peer review faster, more efficient, and more effective.” Publons works with reviewers, publishers, universities, and funding agencies to turn peer review into a measurable research output. Publons collects peer-reviewed information from reviewers and from publishers, and produces comprehensive reviewer profiles with publisher-verified peer review contributions that researchers can add to their CV. Publons helps scholars advance their careers by building a portfolio of article critiques and, in turn, helps journals find quality reviewers.

How did you get registered at Publons?

Publons sends invitations to peer reviewers and invites them to register, as they are interested to have a database of reviewers. I accepted the invitation because Publons was recognizing my peer review “services,” a major incentive for me as a scientist.

Please tell me about the ranking process at Publons.

Publons ranks reviewers according to number of peer reviews they have conducted. Reviewers gain credits that accumulate in the system (each verified peer review gives you 3 credits). I have peer-reviewed over 130 manuscripts over the past 10 years.

How important is the peer review?

The peer review is the key evaluative process before papers can get published in peer review journals. So, peer review is the main obstacle between non-published and published materials. Many editors rely heavily on their reviewers. Most papers are reviewed by three external reviewers. Each reviewer independently appraises the work, and this process determines whether the paper will be accepted, rejected, or given a chance to revise and resubmit.

How do you evaluate papers?

As a reviewer, I evaluate papers from multiple perspectives. The three mains aspects for me are the methods, substantive area, and the structure/style (presentation). For many papers that I review, most of my feedback is dedicated to the methods and results section. Other parts of the papers (introduction and discussion) can always be enhanced, but these sections less commonly have fatal errors that should result in rejection. I always ask authors to do a better job of discussing the limitations and implications, and relating their findings to the theoretical and empirical evidence. I seldom reject a paper because of weakness in the introduction or discussion sections.

How long does peer review take on average?

As a reviewer I spend several hours on each paper. For a small proportion of papers, I may only need 15 minutes to suggest rejection (these may contain errors which are not correctable). The most demanding papers to review are the poorly written papers with a potential. Some papers are very important and you do not want to flatly reject them just because they need more work, so you may decide to help the author by encouraging them to rewrite their manuscript. Sometimes it is required to review a paper twice.

Who selects the peer reviewers?

Mostly associate editors decide who is going to do the peer review. They select reviewer based on substantive area expertise or expertise in a certain methodological or statistical approach.

Here is a step by step example of getting a paper published in a medical journal:

  1. Author(s) submits his or her manuscript after months or years of work
  2. The journal completes a technical evaluation (may adjust formal, tables etc.)
  3. The editor-in-chief (EIC) reviews very quickly, usually just the title and abstract
  4. The EIC then assigns an associate editor (AE) to handle the paper (selects the reviewers based on expertise)
  5. Brief appraisal by AE
  6. AE identifies external peer reviewers and usually invites several potential reviewers since some potential reviewers may be busy and this process can be time-consuming
  7. Reviewer accepts (or declines) peer review based on time and expertise
  8. The peer review takes place
  9. The author then receives the reviewers suggestions, and revises and resubmits if necessary (decision can be rejection, minor revision, major revision, or acceptance)
  10. All comments must be satisfied before the submission is finally accepted for publications

Dr. Assari graduated as a primary health care physician in 2002 from Iran. From 2002 till 2009, he was a part of multiple mental health studies in Iran. In 2011, he completed a Masters in Public Health and also a two year postdoctoral research fellowship at the University of Michigan (U-M) School of Public Health. He is currently a research investigator at the U-M Department of Psychiatry and works with the Prechter Bipolar Research Group. In 2014, he published 20 peer-review manuscripts. Dr. Assari sits on the Board of Directors of American College of Epidemiology and is an Associate Editor for Frontiers in Psychiatry, Frontiers in Public Health, and Trauma Monthly, all peer reviewed journals being archived in Pubmed. One of his academic goals is to become editor in chief of a top psychiatry journal. Dr. Assari has not had any financial relation with Publons until the time of this interview. As a strategy, Publons gives financial incentives to the top three reviewers. For more questions about this process contact him at assari@umich.edu.