Publication of research in a carefully peer-reviewed journal is a foundation of modern science and is beneficial to the public, clinicians and scientists in practical and altruistic ways. Those benefits include: (i) the building of a collective knowledge base that improves clinical treatments and gives direction to further studies, (ii) validating the research as ‘meaningful’ or technically ‘sound’ which brings value and priority to the vast flood of information we all interact with both professionally and in our private lives, (iii) the building of scientific communities and collaborations that facilitate advancements and (iv) the practical aspect of distribution of rewards, such as career advancement (Solomon, 2007). Together, these benefits have motivated researchers through the complex, time consuming and sometimes frustrating experience of peer-reviewed research. Often overlooked in this process is the essential service of quality peer review. In this brief commentary we highlight the value of reviewers to Andrology, our expectations of reviewers and the need for meaningful change in the benefits of providing quality peer review.
A first step in understanding the peer-review process is delineating the expectations placed on reviewers. The first expectation we place on reviewers is to provide an impartial and unbiased critique of the study design, the statistical analysis and the resulting manuscript. Acceptance of the invitation to review a manuscript implies that there is no conflict of interest in the reviewer's motivations and actions. While the reviewer may have overlapping interests and be engaged in similar lines of study, which can in fact be beneficial, the reviewer promises integrity in the fulfilment of his responsibilities as a reviewer. Second, the reviewer is expected to provide thoughtful analysis and validation of the study design, the statistical analysis of the data and the reported conclusions. In this regard, the reviewer lends credence and validity to the study. Third, the reviewer is often in the best position to detect previously published or manipulated data, and to alert the editors of possible scientific misconduct. Forth, the reviewer should act as a ‘peer’ in providing ideas for further studies, possible concepts and applications not addressed in the manuscript, contrary arguments and other valuable input that may improve the quality of the manuscript. In actuality, the reviewer can be considered to be acting simultaneously as a collaborator and as an ombudsman to both fellow researchers and the public. Fifth, the reviewer provides valuable editorial input in assessing the quality and importance of the manuscript, the necessity accuracy of the figures and tables and the quality of the grammar, then ultimately makes a recommendation on the course the editors should take with the manuscript. Lastly, the reviewer agrees to perform all the above responsibilities within a short time frame.
Given the responsibilities described above, one may wonder why any of us would agree to perform reviews, especially given the many other responsibilities we all have, the seemingly rapidly expanding number of invitations we receive from the growing list of journals and the usual ‘thankless’ nature of the work. Perhaps it is valuable to consider the motivations and benefits of performing high-quality reviews in terms of the benefits described above for authoring manuscripts; increasing the collective knowledge base, validating research, building scientific communities and collaborations and the distribution of rewards. Quality peer review is an altruistic endeavour in many respects (Rosenbaum, 2005). If performed as described above, peer review is integral in improving the quality of information reported and provides meaningful validation of the study. Such validation provides the author with more than a line to be added to his or her curriculum vitae. Serious and well-meaning researchers submit their research to the ‘highest quality’ journals in their field not just because of the benefits of publishing in a journal with a high impact factor but also because they understand that their work will benefit from suggestions and validation by their peers. In poetic terms, they are willing to ‘take the road less traveled’ because they understand that their efforts will be more useful and trusted by their peers and the public. This process is essential for meaningful science to occur and be of benefit, and for this we owe gratitude not only to the serious researchers but also to the diligent reviewers that are essential to maintaining this process. Thoughtful peer review is critical in raising the quality of science.
What about the non-altruistic benefits of providing quality peer review? Do the efforts of reviewers result in the building of scientific communities and collaborations that benefit the reviewers? Are there direct and indirect benefits that advance the career of the reviewer? We propose that although the benefits are not as great as they should be, participation in peer review does provide benefits to the reviewer through exposure to novel ideas and concepts, introductions to potential new collaborations and the use of critical analysis of other studies in helping to see one's own research in a new light. However, we strongly recognize the need for more emphasis on considering and implementing novel methods to recognize the efforts of reviewers. One current strategy employed by some journals includes direct identification of the reviewers involved with the review of a published manuscript, which has been proposed as not only a means to improve the quality of the review but also as a means of facilitating inclusion of review efforts within a scholar's curriculum vitae and recognizing the reviewers’ efforts within the research community (Walsh et al., 2000). Even a step further, some journals have explored the possibility of inclusion of reviewers’ comments in online versions of the manuscript (Poschl, 2010). While we acknowledge the limitations and potential liabilities of these efforts, we applaud the effort to foster and recognize the service peer review.
The Chief Editors and the Publishing Oversight Committee of Andrology recognize the importance of the peer-review process. In fact, the members of the current Editorial Board were selected primarily on the basis of their performance as reviewers for International Journal of Andrology and Journal of Andrology. Although their scientific excellence also mattered, it was a secondary criterion. To provide a more objective assessment of the review quality, we have implemented a reviewer quality scoring system used by the Associate and Chief Editors. We remark with pleasure that the majority of reviewers who served during the first year of existence of Andrology scored well. However, we are actively exploring further ways to highlight the valuable service provided by our reviewers. One such example was the recent spotlighting of the most active reviewers at the recent business meetings of the annual meeting of the American Society of Andrology and the general assembly of the European Academy of Andrology. Andrology will periodically acknowledge the efforts of reviewers by name within the journal, and we intend to highlight the best ones in the last issue of each volume of our journal. But in the spirit of this editorial we take the opportunity to acknowledge with thanks and appreciation the invaluable contribution of our top referees, who reviewed the greatest numbers of studies within the first year of the journal's life: Kenneth Aston, Michael Eisenberg, Dimitrios Goulis, Con Mallidis, Monica Muratori, Stefan Schlatt, Lars Björndahl, Carlos T. Da Ros, Sheena Lewis, Mona Bungum, Peter Liu, Ilpo Huhtaniemi, William Brant, Ahmed El-Sakka, Alberto Ferlin, Nancy Brackett, Christian Jung, Wolfgang Weidner, Carol Podlasek and Francesco Lotti.
The value of Andrology is dependent on the integrity of high-quality reviews. We encourage your careful consideration of this valuable service and welcome further ideas and discussion. We support and promote the concept that quality peer review needs to be acknowledged and rewarded in the process of career advancement, recognition and other practical measures.