The WEAK case against double-blind peer review – highlighting why we need it!! #science @NatureNews

NATURE this week feature a correspondence from Thomas E. DeCoursey reasoning against double-blind peer review. In my humble opinion his reasoning is flawed…. not unlike the current peer-review structure. To air out my laundry, I support a completely open or double-blind system for manuscript peer review. All of the peer review models have some flaws, but these two seem infinitely better than the current system where authors are blinded to reviewers but not vice-versa.

DeCoursey makes the somewhat legitimate point that it may be possible for reviewers to ascertain who the authors of a manuscript are based on citations. However, there would always be some element of doubt for the reviewer about who the authors are, and there are many cases where this circumstance would not occur.

Then DeCoursey reasons that reviewers need to know who the authors are in order to judge them on their past work…. or something…. wha???

To function in our increasingly competitive research culture, in which misconduct is on the rise, researchers need to be aware of which labs can be trusted and which have a record of irreproducibility. If a highly regarded lab and one with a questionable reputation each submit reports of similar investigations, a good reviewer would be extra vigilant in assessing the less-reliable lab’s study, even though the same evaluation standards would be upheld for both.

Yes, misconduct is on the rise, but this point seems wrong to me on every level. Reviewer’s should be vigilant of misconduct and scientific quality on every paper, regardless of what lab the paper comes from. Plenty of ‘good’ labs have had to retract papers for many reasons, and labs with a history of misconduct have reformed and redeemed themselves with quality papers. In fact, less vigilant reviewers may be to blame when flawed papers from highly regarded labs make it through the review process with glaring mistakes. Any reviewer that is more or less vigilant reviewing a manuscript based on the author’s names is not an impartial reviewer. PARTIALITY is bad when reviewing papers and grants…  Ethics 101 – Conflict of Interest. For the same reason, most journals won’t allow scientists to review a manuscript from within the same institution.

There is a reason double-blind experimental design is the gold standard for experiments and human clinical trials. Just like a reviewer might think he knows who the authors are, a doctor might think he knows whether a patient is receiving placebo, but neither can ever really be sure. Why wouldn’t we want the same type of controls for peer review?

Double-blind peer review removes this crucial quality-control option, opening the way for mediocre and bad labs to clutter the literature with sub-standard science.

#FacePalm…

Maybe I’m jaded, but good reviewers should be screening out sub-standard science regardless of whether they know what lab a manuscript is from or not. This closing statement makes it sound like DeCoursey thinks only the best labs, with the biggest names, and the highest impact factor publications should be publishing… which I hope is not the case (maybe I read into it too much). If it is the case, then that only argues stronger for a double-blind peer review system.

And in closing, a double-blind peer review system would help avoid racist, sexist, or other embarrassing situations like this one, where a reviewer commented that the two female author’s should add a male author in order to strengthen the manuscript. Double-blind peer review erases sexism, racism, nationalism, institutionalism (?), and other discrimination from the peer review process, which is definitely huge plus!

Science teamwork and collaboration mandates a shift from Nobel Prizes to a scientific Academy Awards #science #TogetherWeStand

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The nature of science is becoming more and more collaborative. In multiple fields it is now commonplace for research studies to have upwards of a hundred authors (particle physics, genetics, etc). While teamwork and collaboration between groups of scientists with different specializations is becoming more and more valuable in science, scientists are still judged completely on an individual basis. In some cases, it can be bad for an aspiring scientist’s career to work and publish with other scientists. A new article in Nature Physics, ‘Together We Stand,’ highlights this disconnect within science. Phys.org has a great news summary of the article.

The authors argue that whereas research and science have become more of a team effort,  – the main host of scientific operations – remains largely the same in the way it operates. They point out that academic career advancement is based on individual recognition, grants are most often entrusted to a single faculty member as the principal investigator (PI) and students navigate the curriculum independently. They say this causes a misalignment of academic policies and norms with the increasingly collaborative nature of science and calls for imaginative solutions.

The article has some great data and figures on the increasing amount of team science, worth a look if you have access. The authors, Ioannis Pavlidis, Alexander Petersen, and Ioanna Semendeferi, also don’t just complain about the problem.

After analyzing these challenges, the team of researchers proposes a set of intriguing policies to address them. Their key recommendation is for academia to adapt models from other creative communities. In particular, they look to the movie industry, which has embraced a team structure and used it to its advantage. Unlike in academic projects, they say, each contribution in a film is recognized and rewarded.

“A good example is in the role of film editor,” Pavlidis said. “There are clear avenues for independent recognition with an Oscar in film editing, for instance, and the work is not simply a step along the path to directorship. The same applies for scriptwriters and sound engineers, as well as almost every role in the filmmaking process.”

YES!!! The individual winner-takes-all approach to science is inefficient and ignores many basic tenets and values of science. Many have suggested that this approach is hurting science and research, while others value the competitive environment it supports. What the authors suggest is basically modifying the winner-takes-all approach, by adding more winners and more awards! This would be much more supportive of collaborative science. The authors suggest other changes as well including, “restructuring of the grant overhead to fund more tenure-track positions, which in turn would unclog the postdoctoral lines.”

Teamwork in science should be commended, and more and more science is going to be done in teams moving forward. Why not work together and utilize each others specialties? The scientific and academic communities should take note of Hollywood… and reward and value all levels of contribution to scientific endeavors.