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News Feature: Ghost-written Peer Reviews

August 1, 2023, #48

On 26 July 2023, Laura Feetham wrote a guest post in the Scholarly Kitchen with the title: “Ghost-Writing Peer Reviews Should Be a Thing of the Past”¹. As she notes, a ghost-written peer review “potentially misrepresents the expertise of the individuals involved”¹. Such ghost-writing involves the ethical issue of giving credit to all contributors: “...according to a survey², ‘70% of co-reviewers report the experience of making significant contributions to a peer review report without knowingly receiving credit’”¹. Feetham suggests a formal co-reviewing status could be one of the solutions. Another argument for acknowledged co-reviewing is not just to make the authorship of a review more transparent, but to give early career researchers a chance to learn reviewing from more experienced colleagues. She argues that “[w]ith peer review pressure on experienced researchers mounting due to the growing volume of manuscripts, co-review can also help to address the shortage of reviewers in the scientific community.”¹ A question that Feetham’s post does not address is whether the quality of ghost-written reviews is comparable to those of named reviewers. McDowell et al. (2019) write: “A lack of ‘training the trainers’ was cited as a main reason for why pairing experts with new peer reviewers failed to improve review quality in one of the few randomized controlled trials of this practice³.”² This result seems to imply that the quality of the reviews was not noticeably worse than what the named reviewer would normally provide – perhaps because the reviews appeared under that person’s name. Serious ethical questions remain about why the co-author of a review should not receive appropriate credit for doing a review. The general lack of recognition for reviewing could serve as a justification on the principle that recognition has no real value, and in the case of negative reviews, leaving off the names of early career co-authors could count as an attempt to protect them from retribution. Excuses are easy to find. In a fair world, however, a co-reviewer should at least have the option of inclusion.


AUTHORSHIP NOTE. Given the topic of this News Feature, it seems appropriate to note that this author (Michael Seadle) had editorial support from Katharina Gudat.

 

1: Laura Feetham, ‘Guest Post — Ghost-Writing Peer Reviews Should Be a Thing of the Past’, The Scholarly Kitchen, 26 July 2023, https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2023/07/26/guest-post-ghost-writing-peer-reviews-should-be-a-thing-of-the-past/.

2: Gary S McDowell et al., ‘Co-Reviewing and Ghostwriting by Early-Career Researchers in the Peer Review of Manuscripts’, ed. Peter Rodgers et al., ELife 8 (31 October 2019): e48425, https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.48425.

3: Houry DGreen SCallaham M (2012) Does mentoring new peer reviewers improve review quality? A randomized trial BMC Medical Education 12:83. https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6920-12-83.

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