Peer Review Process - An Interview with Miguel Pera

VB MPVittoria Bellato (VB): Dear Miguel, first of all thank you for agreeing to participate in this project on peer review process. The first curiosity I feel like asking you is, do you remember the first time you were asked to do a peer review? Did you feel ready? Have you had any doubts?

Miguel Pera (MP): The first time I reviewed an article was shortly after finishing my residency in General Surgery, for the journal Cirugia Española, the journal of the Spanish Association of Surgeons. I don't remember exactly the article but yes, of course, I had doubts. I had some experience reviewing articles in journal clubs.

VB: The peer review process is generally not very standardised, there are courses (the one available on Publons comes to mind) and guides, while some journals include a checklist to ensure a more comprehensive review, but none of these are mandatory. How do doctors learn to be a good peer reviewer?

MP: In our residency program at Hospital del Mar we have included a monthly journal club in which residents must prepare a standardised review which is evaluated by one or more of the attendings. I believe that's a very good way to start. Furthermore, attending courses organised by some journals such as Colorectal Disease or Br J Surg can also provide the necessary knowledge for a good review. Lastly, it is very important to get on the reviewer’s list of some journals. We the editors appreciate it. It allows you to improve the quality of reviews through practice and learning from other peer reviews.

VB: What do you think is the most effective peer review process? Single / double blind, open peer, or transparent peer?

MP: That's a difficult question. In the past I've had doubts about the bias of single blind vs. double blind peer review. However, I have been working with the single blind model for many years and I must say that, in my opinion, it works adequately. As for full transparency, it is an option that we probably need to evolve to. When asked if I could reveal my name as a reviewer, I have not had any problems.

VB: Could you explain to us how the peer review request by a journal is delivered to the single reviewer? Is the decision the editorial team’s only, or are programs that assign the task randomly to experts used as well?

MP: In the journals where I have been on the editorial team, the reviewers are selected by the editor. There are tools that, based on a series of keywords, make suggestions to the editor about possible reviewers. But in the end, the decision is up to the editor.

VB: Do you think that with the switch to open access articles, the peer review process will also undergo important changes?

MP: There are already some experiences of peer review in which the critical analysis of the article is open. That system is especially complex and raises certain uncertainties, so I don't think the current review process will be substantially modified. Another issue is that of reviewer compensation. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find them and, although some forms of compensation have been proposed, they must be improved.

VB: Can you tell us what the characteristics of a good peer review are?

MP: First, you have to spend the necessary time. It is not possible to carry out a review in a few hours no matter how much practice we have. The effort made by the authors deserves our dedication. There are, of course, some works that after an initial reading by the editorial team are not worth reviewing. The time of our reviewers is very important.

Second, the review must be standardised and structured. A critical but constructive analysis must be carried out, highlighting the strengths and the limitations of the study and all those modifications that could improve it, even if our decision is to reject it. These suggestions, and it has happened to me on many occasions as an author, can be very useful when the work is sent to another journal.

VB: As for journals that do not have statistical reviewers, how can the problem of statistical revision be solved?

MP: In that case, only a reviewer with the necessary statistical skills should accept the review. I think that nowadays any journal should have. I use it more and more frequently.

VB: How do you expect journals’ verification of data will change in the future?

MP: That is a particularly tricky issue. In other disciplines, the raw data must be posted in a cloud where it can be used by other researchers to replicate the analyses. In the case of surgical practice, it is increasingly common to have single or multicentric registries. However, it is not as common for those records to be audited. This is a practice that should be extended in the future when it comes to analysis of results.