Peer Review Management - An Interview with Dr. Franco Zappettini

Posted on : September 2nd 2021

Dr. Zappettini is a Lecturer in the Department of Communication and Media at the University of Liverpool (where he is also the current Director of the PhD Programme). He previously held the post of Adjunct Professor of English at the Faculty of Education, University of Genoa, Italy and was a Honorary Researcher Associate at Royal Holloway, University of London. He is the Book Review Editor at the Journal of Language and Politics edited by John Benjamins Publishing.

As someone who has written books and journal articles, have you found the process of peer review to be different for the different forms?

There are obvious differences due to the different genres, audiences and markets that books and journal articles conform to/address. But in many respects, both in my experience of a reviewer and a reviewee I think there are some common general expectations of the reviewing process, that is vetting one’s work for quality and adherence to the publisher’s standards and journal/book series aims.

Peer reviewing is a time-consuming activity for researchers, and too often editors return to the same people for multiple articles. What changes would you like to see publishers making to ease the pressure on that small pool of researchers?

The issue is that sometimes only a few reviewers can provide enough niche expertise to improve papers but it is true that it can result in a close membership club. In my area I think there has been enough variety of peer reviewers to sustain a healthy turnaround.

Does peer review need to include an editor plus two peer reviewers, or should other structures be considered?

I don’t think there are hard and fast rules on the reviewing process structures. The 1+2 practice is common in my area and is there to ensure more than one-side evaluation is taken into account and that the editor is able to make a final decision when the two peer reviewers disagree. It works most of the times but it has obvious trade-offs (e.g. slow timescale).

The pressure on researchers to publish, combined with the desire among some journals to attract media attention for articles making big claims, has led to some genuine issues around research integrity over the years. How would you like to see publishers address questions of research integrity during peer review or after publication?

In my opinion the issue lies more generally with the higher education system model. Pressure on academics to publish comes down from employers (i.e. universities) which are run along the market model and need to compete to attract home and international students as well as government funding. Claims around research ‘excellence’ and ‘impact’ have thus become big drivers and in my view they are the symptoms of these pressures. So is the emergence of predatory or less reputable publishers. Any solution would have to look at the bigger picture above.

Do you have an opinion on openness in peer review?

I would support journals adding some transparency to how a paper ended up being published in its final version (e.g. report summary) as this might help increase confidence in readers but I’m not sure about disclosing more sensitive details (e.g. reviewer’s name).

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