Peer Review Management - An Interview with Dr Mario Malicki

Posted on : November 5th 2021

This interview is part of a series of interviews bringing together stakeholder perspectives on what an efficient peer review process looks like

Dr Malicki is co-Editor-in-Chief of Research Integrity and Peer Review, an OA journal published by Springer Nature, and a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford University School of Medicine. He has been a member of Cochrane Croatia, and of the New Frontiers of Peer Review (PEERE) EU COST Action. His main research interest is meta-science, with the focus on peer review, research integrity, authorship and transparency in reporting.

Academics tend to view peer review differently depending on whether they’re speaking as an author, reviewer, or editor. How has your editorial role at RIPR affected your view of publishing?

It made me realize that there is a huge difference in responsibility of being an editor and approving a study for publication and every sentence listed there, vs being a reviewer when that responsibility is not mine. It has also prompted me to work on peer review templates so that reviewers would all cast their vote on the same essential aspects of the study - as well as reporting of changes that occur due to peer review process (read more at: blogs.biomedcentral.com/on-medicine/2020/09/18/building-trust-in-peer-review-a-qa-with-dr-mario-malicki/)

You are an MD with a Masters in Literature and Medicine and a PhD in Medical Ethics. What spurred your interest in peer review?

I had two very strong researchers/medical writers/editors as my PhD mentors, and the first 15-20 papers I co-authored, were always more thoroughly reviewed by them, then by any peer reviewers invited by journals where my papers ended up being published. I naively thought, as a young researcher that that is the same for all PhD/early career researchers - and so I got unpleasantly surprised when I saw that many of my colleagues were not so lucky with their mentors, and that many lower quality studies ended up being published. It made me intrigued to understand what a good peer review is - and what makes one a sufficient expert to evaluate others work.

Publishers put a lot of effort into speeding up the review process. To your mind, what does an efficient, high-quality review process look like?

Here I have to mention 2 aspects of the review process. First is checking that authors follow reporting guidelines, that the paper is screened for plagiarism or image manipulation, and that authors mention information on: ethics approval, data availability, COI, authors contribution, reporting guidelines adherence, study (protocol) registration, sample size calculation, and presentation of the (preliminary) research at conferences. Second aspect is on the question of peer review itself, i.e. Does the literature section needs expanding?; Do hypothesis/goals need to be stated (more clearly)?; Did the authors used the best analysis and was their interpretation of results appropriate?; Do they need to list (additional) study limitations? And so on. And it is this set of ‘essential’ questions that I am working on for development of the MATCH taxonomy.

Peer reviewing is a time-consuming activity for researchers, and too often editors return to the same people for multiple articles. What support could publishers give you as an editor to help spread the burden more evenly?

Personally, I would wish I could more easily obtain email addresses of all co-authors of published papers. This way I could approach those I think should be consulted to review papers on a specific topic.

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

No, with 40,000 journals out there and preprint servers, one type of solution is not needed and innovations, like crowd review or public journal club reviews, PubPeer and similar are very welcome. As an editor, however, of a small specific field - I feel it is my duty to review all papers submitted to us - as that enables me to be more confident in the decisions I make and appraisal of reviewer suggestions.

You proposed the MAnuscripT CHanges (MATCH) taxonomy, which aims to describe the changes taking place during peer review, as a means to introduce transparency and build trust in peer review. Can you tell us more about MATCH?

It is my goal to provide a template on how to describe the most significant changes that occur due to peer review, regardless of if the journal utilizes open or (double) blind peer review. I have applied for funding for this project, and the call utilized open submission – so soon I hope to be able to share full details with you on my full idea. See also parts of the answer in my reply to the 3rd question.

Do you have an opinion on openness in peer review?

I believe all reviews need to be open, reviewers named and reports published. And I hope one day, all papers will also be accompanied with peer review statement (using MATCH-taxonomy or other template) to provide a summary of changes that occurred through peer review, so that authors do not have to dig through the review reports - but can have a summary of them in a more accessible and concise format.

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