Every day, thousands of scientists around the world donate their spare hours as peer reviewers to help colleagues (and competitors!) improve their work. But unkindness does exist too (as you can see from the emergence of Facebook groups such as Reviewer 2 Must Be Stopped…) and we all have a role to play in making it a kinder, more-productive process. As an editor, I have seen the full gamut of reviews, from unhelpful one-liners, through useful assessment of the work that highlights deficits and provides solutions to help the authors transform their paper, to unrealistic demands that go far beyond the scope of the paper under scrutiny.
There is a lot of comment out there on what makes a good scientific review, but what basic tenets of peer review could we agree to sign up to if we all wanted to make science a kinder place? Importantly, all parties involved in peer review need to remember that there are people behind the science. A publication is the outcome of hard work and time away from loved ones or much-loved leisure pursuits; for some, there are hopes, dreams and grants at stake. Fair, fast, thorough and impartial assessment is needed to ensure the wheels of research keep spinning.
Firstly, what can editors do? We can be transparent in our processes and keep authors informed. We can ensure we contact the best people to review a paper, and we can endeavour to provide a fast, fair decision, with guidance regarding the peer review reports and how authors might address the comments. We should ensure that we invite reviewers who represent the full spectrum of researchers. We should look for ways to support authors and referees in a continuously changing publishing landscape and to improve the peer review process by trialling new approaches that could help speed up peer review.