Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Peer reviewers: time for publicity?

The Journal of Intellectual Property Law & Practice (JIPLP) is a refereed journal: every article which it publishes has been through the hands of a peer reviewer who has examined it in terms of content, structure and relevance before the draft is allowed to go into production. As many authors can testify, it is sometimes necessary to amend or rewrite an article two or three times before it is accepted. Some authors appreciate this process; a few have even footnoted expressions of gratitude for comments made by peers.  Others, particularly those whose hitherto successful writing experience has been with non-peered journals, are often less appreciative.

The contribution of the peer reviewers is an essential part of the publication process and, on the whole, this process has worked well. Many weak articles have been rejected at an early stage; others have been reconstructed and strengthened. Some very good articles have been turned down too, on account of their lack of obvious relevance to the journal's IP core, their extreme length or their lack of currency in fields of law and practice which move fast. On occasion, questions of lack of originality and even plagiarism have been raised. For all of this, JIPLP is extremely grateful.

JIPLP's computerised system for processing
peer reviews is more sophisticated than the
red-card/yellow-card system used by some
other legal journals ...
Like contributors, peer reviewers receive no remuneration for their efforts and tend to regard their work as a general contribution to the well-being of the IP community. Authors, however, enjoy the publicity and occasionally the celebrity or notoriety that comes from being associated with the polished product that appears in the journal, while peer reviewers remain anonymous, far from the public gaze and equidistant from both praise and blame.  Incidentally, some reviewers make a point of revealing their identities to authors and invite them to engage in discussion concerning their comments, but others feel more comfortable when they know that they can be honest in their appraisal of an article without having to face an author's wrath or indignation.

Following a recent discussion of the JIPLP production team, I would like to hear from peer reviewers, authors and readers as to whether they think it would be a good idea for each published article to give the name and details not only of the author but also of the peer reviewer (or occasionally reviewers) who approved it. This would give peer reviewers the opportunity to receive some public credit for their work -- and would also keep them on their toes in so far as poor articles would reflect as badly on the reviewers who recommended them as on the authors themselves.

Do please post your thoughts below or email them to me here.

4 comments:

  1. As to the publication of names of peer reviewers, I am not sure this works or is a good idea; although I acknowledge the problem.

    What if there are two peer review -- one positive and one negative. You could not associate the negative peer reviewer with the article (as it might suggest they said it was fit to publish) and not mentioning it shows one was against (so it was a lesser article). Also, what about if a reviewer recommends acceptance with changes -- do they then have to approve the changes? If not, they may be associated with something they did not actually think should be published.

    This does not provide an answer to the peer reviewer problem I know, but I think it is a question of finding better reviewers not trying to reinvent the peer review wheel.

    I would not be willing to act if my name was published. I might approve an article thinking it was publishable but disagree with everything in it.

    Most readers would be able to accept that distinction but some would not - particularly those who do not come from a similar peer review culture. Too many would see the reviewer as an endorser of the ideas.

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  2. As transparency seems to be the must-have accessory everywhere this season, to me it sounds like a good idea. I don't think that saying that an article is worthy of publication, necessarily means that the peer-reviewer agrees with or endorses the findings of the author.
    In any case, I would start by making this feature optional and see how it goes. In other words, the peer-reviewer should have the possibility to decide whether to disclose his/her to authors and readers alike.

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  3. I see two issues with publicity for peer reviewers:

    a if examples are given from a law with which one is not familiar and/or cannot check one would not want one's name mentioned - at least not without qualification - but one may be able to comment usefully on the article as a whole. - that was so in the article on arbitration clauses - I couldn't verify the Swiss law examples but the article as a whole made sense, subject to some comments I made.

    b if opinions are expressed that are justifiable but with which the peer reviewer does not agree - say for example on an aspect of the EU Unitary Patent court and desirability of the CJEU being the final court of appeal - then a peer reviewer may not wish to be associated with that view - or again - not without qualification - but it does not necessarily mean that person is not suitable to review the article - and how would you/Sarah know in advance what the potential reviewer thought?

    So would a solution be to offer peer reviewers the opportunity to add 10 lines of comment?

    Making publicity optional rather defeats the purpose perhaps although it may make reviewers sit up and take notice if they have to tick a box on the review form to this effect - one would have to ask oneself why one did not want to be named.

    I am afraid one comes back to quis custodiet ipsos custodes.

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  4. I agree with Eleonora in that if it is to be done, it should be at the review's option. However, I would not go so far as to the allow the reviewer to make specific comments but instead have a standard disclaimer that the views expressed in the article are not necessarily that of the reviewer's etc.
    Thankfully, it appears that where the reviewer rejects an article entirely, their identity remains anonymous!

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