This coming week (19-25 September) is Peer Review Week 2016, an international initiative that celebrates the essential and often undervalued activity of academic peer review. Launched last year by Sense about Science, ORCID, ScienceOpen and Wiley, Peer Review Week follows in the wake of two open letters from the academic community on the issue of peer review recognition. The first was from early career researchers in the UK to the Higher Education Funding Council for England in July, and the second from Australian academics to the Australian Research Council two years later.
Now in its second year, Peer Review Week is focusing on the issue of Peer Review recognition, its current coordinating committee including additional organisations such as AAAS, COPE, eLife, and the Royal Society and the Federation of European Microbiological Societies (FEMS). This focus stems from the fact that while perceived as important, peer review is often regarded as a secondary activity to publication by decision makers across the Higher Education and funding sectors. This is something that David Colquhoun, Professor of Pharmacology at the UK’s University College London, firmly attributed to the ‘publish or perish’ culture imposed by “research funders and senior people in universities” some years ago.
It’s a view echoed in the preliminary findings of one of two new surveys on peer review, the first released by FEMS as part of this week’s activities, which reveals that, at least among the global microbiology community, authors subject to peer review perceive greater professional development benefits from the process than do the people carrying out the reviews. And what lies at the heart of this – and is clear from Colquhoun’s comments – is the influence of Eugene Garfield’s infamous journal “Impact Factor”. For in practice it is not so much publications, as citations, that are held in such high regard. Indeed without citations, says Nature blog’s Richard van Noorden, a publication may be regarded as “practically useless”.