Tuesday, March 17, 2015

What is scientific peer review and how do I write one?

Scientists have to be skeptics. 

Even, and especially, when it comes to our own work. Scientific results must be robust enough to endure a gauntlet of testing, redesigns, reruns, internal and external reproduction, before it can be published. We generally don't share a result (even if it is exciting!) until it has been extensively reviewed by ourselves, our colleagues and experts, because we don't want incorrect information to get out. Our work is reviewed many times before it is published. This process can take months to years. This is "Peer Review." We are proud of it. 

I mention this significant point because this rigorous process is different from other information distribution. For example, this blog. While it is useful, it is not a scientific result. Did I have to submit an application to be published here on this blog? No. Has my writing been reviewed and edited by experts? No. Is it possible that I have no idea what I am talking about and that I may not be a professor or even a physicist? Yes. All I can give you is my word. I am Dr. Hay, Associate Professor of Physics, at Pacific Lutheran University. Peer review is more reliable. It allows other researchers to move forward confidently from the point where the published work left off. 

How to do a Peer Review

[Cited resource: In creating this template, I used information from the American Geophysical Union (July 2011) "A Quick Guide to Writing a Solid Peer Review." Eos, Vol. 92, No. 28, 12.] 

·      Peer-Reviewers do not decide whether they like the results of an article. Rather, they decide if the experimental process is robust and if the work is relevant and communicated well.
·      Be respectful and accurate. Don't get personal. 

----Example Template of Scientific Article Peer-Review----

Title of reviewed manuscript
Date of review

1. Summarize the article
About 1-2 paragraphs summarizing your understanding of the article, perhaps answering these questions:
·      What is the main question addressed by the research?
·      Is this question pertinent to the field of study?
·      Do the results of the research contribute substantively to the question?

2. Publishable, not publishable or publishable with revisions? Major or minor revisions?
State your thoughts about the article. Evaluate it for publishability, addressing these issues:
1.     Practical significance
2.     Appropriateness for this journal
3.     Adequacy of literature review (did the author consult enough other original published works on the topic?)
4.     Adequacy of background information (and is all this information cited?)
5.     Adequacy of analysis of issues
6.     Clarity of presentation
7.     Organization
8.     Does the article require copy-editing? (Reviewer should NOT have to correct typos and grammar! That is up to the author. If there are errors, simply state, “The paper contains typos/grammatical errors.”)

3. Evaluation
Briefly mention strengths of the article and provide a detailed list of shortcomings of the article, possibly answering these:
·      Does the manuscript present enough background information for the reader to understand the value and results of the work? Include your recommendations as to how the author(s) can augment this area of the manuscript.
·      List and describe any information, which appears to be missing. Provide suggestions as to what information should be added.
·      Is the main research question presented clearly?
·      Is the experimental process (or theoretical study) designed well, robust and reproducible? If not, what is missing?
·      Is the content presented accurately? Good organization?
·      Do the figures represent the data well? Are plots useful, labeled properly? Are equations correct, explained and cited when necessary?
·      Do the results and uncertainties answer the main research question?
·      Are the claims backed up with compelling evidence?
·      Does the interpretation of the results explore a range of explanations and thoroughly interpret the results of the experiment/theory presented?
·      Is the article written for the targeted audience (you)?
·      Offer your constructive assessment and list suggestions for improvement and/or enhancement. (The author may reject some of the reviewer’s suggestions if, for example, the suggestion is beyond the scope of the paper or if the requested information/experiment is not available/feasible.)

4. Additional Comments to the Author(s)
Provide any additional constructive comments to the author(s) for improving and revising the article. And remember, the author can read your entire review.

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