Birkbeck to investigate the peer review process in new research project

Birkbeck is set to investigate the workings of the academic peer review process, thanks to a $99,000 research grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Peer review, the process designed to determine the validity, quality and originality of research for publication, aims to uphold the integrity of published academic work and to ensure poor quality or inaccurate works do not reach publication.

“Every academic in the world is familiar with peer review,” says Martin Eve, Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, who will lead the research team.

“We all participate in this system. However, surprisingly little is known about what peer review looks like at scale. Using a set of cross-disciplinary methodologies, we will study the writing patterns of reviewers and look for trends that can give us insight into how reviewers respond to requests for evaluation.”

The project, entitled ‘Reading Peer Review,’ will analyse the role of peer review in the research cycle to develop better ways of using expert opinion to assess and improve the literature available. It will investigate the peer review database at PLOS ONE, the largest scientific journal in the world. The reports, which will be strictly anonymized and treated as confidential, will be examined using a range of close-reading, distant-reading, and stylometric approaches.

Alongside Eve, the team comprises of Dr Cameron Neylon (Curtin University, Australia), Professor Daniel O’Donnell (University of Lethbridge), Dr Jennifer Lin (Director of Product Management at Crossref), Dr Damian Pattinson (Vice-President of Publishing Innovation at Research Square), Samuel Moore (King’s College London) and Dr Veronique Kiermer (Executive Editor, Public Library of Science (PLOS)).

They hope to understand the shape of peer-review at scale, leading to a better understanding of the oft-hidden process.

“Working with the Birkbeck group allowed us to find ways to leverage our large dataset of reviews while maintaining confidentiality,” says Kiermer. “This is a great opportunity for PLOS to partner with experts to gain insights and promote evidence-based approaches to peer review.”

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