Peer review part two: Editors be very careful…

Image

We place great faith in peer review as a control over what is published and what is not. I have been extensively involved in the whole peer-review experience as an author, as a reviewer and more latterly as an editor. Being an editor opens a window on the process that very few get to see. The way in which reviewers are selected is perhaps something to be shared and analysed, as there are some important points for all editors, associate editors, regional editors, local editors, etc to consider.

 

 Some scenarios spring to mind:

 

 Professor Ed Itornchief has been emailed by the online manuscript processing system to alert him to some new paper submissions. Poor Ed, his journal covers a very diverse range of subject material. Some of it is very familiar to him, but other elements are way outside his comfort zone. Let’s peer into the Professor’s mighty mind to follow his thought processes.

 

 

 

So, shall I make another coffee, do some exam marking, or look at these journal submissions. Suppose the journal better come first today. Ah, so what have we got here? Four papers submitted, that’s good news as it has been a bit quiet for the journal over the last week or two. What’s the first one?

 

Effect of vermistat on body weight in young adult men. Ah good, I know something about this. Who would be a good reviewer? Well there is John Smith in my own university. This is in John’s area and I know he will turn it around quickly for me. Who else? Nina Negative at KFC or Terry Tardy at Queens. Terry probably knows more about this, but he is so slow. Let’s go with Nina, though I expect she will probably recommend rejection. She always does!

 

 OK, so the Prof was happy with this paper and made referee selections without too much trouble. Clearly he wasn’t fair and equitable though and made decisions based upon speedy turnaround of the paper, rather than giving the authors a decent chance of publication. Still, at least he selected people with established expertise in the area. Back to the Prof and his thoughts.

 

 “What’s next then. Ugh, qualitative research. I just don’t understand this at all and don’t know who to approach. Time to do a search using the journal database. Keywords; qualitative. children, meat. What do I get? Oh, not very many here, just three in fact. Still, at least there was something there, I hate it when it comes up with nothing. Who to choose, Paul Brown, Mike Jones or Hermione Granger? Ha! Hermione Granger! That’s funny- got to choose her! I bet she is a wizard reviewer.

 

Oh dear Prof! He has gone for a classic editorial bias here and omitted to make some basic checks. All three potential reviewers on his database came up on the search because he entered particular search terms. The Prof forgot to make any checks on whether they are really experts in this field. They could be anybody. In the end he made one selection just because the name was entertaining. Two papers to go. Can the Prof do a better job with the next one?

 

 “Getting bored now. I wonder if there is any cake going in the coffee room. No, come on Ed, be focused. Hmmm…. This looks like a tricky one to find reviewers for. Adipose tissue DHA reserves in adolescent males of the Cheyenne. I could just reject it and save myself the bother. No, that wouldn’t be fair, this must be of interest to our readers. Try the data base I think. Adipose tissue; DHA; First Nations. Oh no! No hits. How about First Nations? Still nothing. Stupid database. This is a pain, but I can get round it by doing a PubMed search to see if there is anything similar out there. Bear with. Bear with… Yes! There are a good number of similar works. But… most of them are by the authors of the submitted manuscript… There are some others though. I will invite those authors to review as they must be experts in this field. Sorted!

 

 I quite like what the Prof is doing here. He has gone to some effort to find appropriate reviewers based on previous publications. That is a good approach. What he doesn’t have time to do though is establish whether the papers published by his authors 1) are any good, or 2) whether there may be a chance that these related groups of researchers are collaborators (conflict of interest) or bitter rivals. One last paper for Prof. Ed to look at.

 

 “So, what is this last one about? A community based weight loss initiative. This should be easy to find reviewers for. We get so many of these submissions. Ask the database… Weight loss; intervention study. Yes, as I thought, I have 87 possible referees here, across 9 pages of search. Just choose the first two, Arial Aaronson, Abby Abrahams. There! Job done and back to my paid work.

 

 

 

Dear oh dear. The Prof has fallen straight down the other obvious hole. When searching for reviewers on a journal database it is really important to make informed choices. Find out more about the reviewers listed. Who are they? What is their track-record? Are they really experts? Could they be closely linked to the authors? Moreover, don’t just choose the first two on the list- go through the whole list and choose the most appropriate. I find myself wondering how often researchers whose surname begins with the letters A-D get invited to review, relative to those whose begins with the letters V-Z (funny names excepted, of course).

 

These are every day possibilities for all journals. All have the capacity to undermine the utility and integrity of the peer-review process. How many editors take the time and care to avoid these potential pitfalls? How many don’t? And how does this impact on the quality of scientific publishing?

 

Peer Review part one- open or blind?

Since becoming Editor of JHND I have been quite surprised by the amount of correspondence I get from authors (usually, “why did you reject my manuscript; if I revise it will you reconsider?”) and reviewers. The latter often want to pass on additional comment about the paper they have been reviewing, or to give some feedback on how the process was for them. Yesterday though I had an exchange with a reviewer who wanted to comment on the way JHND runs peer review.

Image

Now, peer review is of course a vital process which is intended to guarantee the quality of science publication. It has some flaws and many detractors, but I will save a discussion of that for another day. What my correspondent wanted to discuss was the issue of blind vs standard vs open peer review.

A standard peer review process is adopted by the vast majority of science and medical journals and involves manuscripts being sent out for review by experts in the field (or are they…). The reviewers see who the authors are and where they are based, but submit their review anonymously. This system is wide open to abuse, bias and nastiness due to the dark side of human nature. We all have rivals. Some rivalry is fair and broad-minded. Some rivalry is mean and contemptible. I, for example, know that there are people out there who would rather bathe in their own excrement than agree to anything of mine being published.

An alternative, as used by JHND, is blind peer review. Here, the manuscript has any features that may identify the authors redacted before it goes out for review. Hence neither the author or the reviewer is identifiable. The advantage of this is that the reviewer has to make a judgement based purely on the quality of the work. My correspondent didn’t like this as he felt that being able to see what else the authors had published in the area was important. I don’t quite follow this logic- if the manuscript is good (appropriate design, correct analysis, well-written) it should be published no matter what. Again, I have been on the bad end of this way of thinking, having once had a study on atopic wheeze rejected because neither myself nor my coauthor had ever published in an immunological journal before.

The other way of conducting peer review is the one I favour most, but which very few journals use; open review. Here the authors AND the reviewers are plainly identifiable. The advantage of this system is that nobody can make unnecessarily aggressive, dismissive or unpleasant comments without having to face some kind of comeback from those on the end of those comments. It forces reviewers to be fair. My correspondent thought that this would kill off the process of peer review as nobody would volunteer to do review if they were identifiable.

I wonder what anyone else thinks?

Early View- Living with coeliac disease: a grounded theory study

Living with coeliac disease: a grounded theory study

C. Rose and 

  • R. Howard

ImageBackground

Coeliac disease can be controlled only through adherence to a gluten-free diet. This diet is highly restrictive and can be challenging to maintain. It has been linked with elevated levels of psychological distress, including depression, anxiety and social phobia.

Methods

Narratives on living with coeliac disease were written by 130 adult members of Coeliac UK (mean age 52.7 years; mean time since diagnosis 10.2 years; 67% sample female; 28% male). Qualitative analysis using grounded theory methods identified five key categories: living with widespread ignorance; social invisibility; creating a coeliac community; a changed identity; grief – and accepting the trade-off.

Results

A psychosocial model of living with coeliac disease was constructed from the findings, the central category of which was the changed identity of those diagnosed with the condition. Grief was experienced in relation to a loss of the former diet, changed personal and social identities, loss of social confidence and loss of social activities. Grief was generally mitigated over time as adjustments were made to changes in identity and lifestyle. Creating (or becoming part of) a coeliac community was a strategy enabling those with coeliac disease to re-establish their identities and increase social recognition and acceptance of the condition.

Conclusions

Gluten-free living entails a substantial restriction of food choice. The losses and changes entailed impact on the personal and social identities of those living with coeliac disease, and on the behaviour of others towards them. Psychosocial interventions focussed on facilitating coping and adjustment may benefit those experiencing difficulties.

Early View- Merging dietary assessment with the adolescent lifestyle

Merging dietary assessment with the adolescent lifestyle

T. E. Schap, F. Zhu, E. J. Delp, C. J. Boushey

Image

The use of image-based dietary assessment methods shows promise for improving dietary
self-report among children. The Technology Assisted Dietary Assessment (TADA) food record application is a self-administered food record specifically designed to address the burden and human error associated with conventional methods of dietary assessment. Users would take images of foods and beverages at all eating occasions using a mobile telephone or mobile device with an integrated camera [e.g. Apple iPhone, Apple iPod Touch (Apple Inc., Cupertino, CA, USA); Nexus One (Google, Mountain View, CA, USA)]. Once the images are taken, the images are transferred to a back-end server for automated analysis. The first step in this process is image analysis (i.e. segmentation, feature extraction and classification), which allows for automated food identification. Portion size estimation is also automated via segmentation and geometric shape template modeling. The results of the automated food identification and volume estimation can be indexed with the Food and Nutrient Database for Dietary Studies to provide a detailed diet analysis for use in epidemiological or intervention studies. Data collected during controlled feeding studies in a camp-like setting have allowed for formative evaluation and validation of the TADA food record application. This review summarises the system design and the evidence-based development of image-based methods for dietary assessment among children.

 

 

 

Early View- Health professionals’, expert patients’ and dieters’ beliefs and attitudes about obesity

Health professionals’, expert patients’ and dieters’ beliefs and attitudes about obesity

A. McConnon, R. Gribble, 

  • M. M. Raats, 
  • J. Stubbs, 
  • R Shepherd

Background

Research has suggested that patients and treatment providers hold different beliefs and models of obesity. This could impact upon the consistency and quality of interventions for weight management. The present study investigated the attitudes and beliefs of health professionals, commercial weight management advisors (expert patients) and overweight and obese dieters, towards obesity.

Methods

Data were collected using a self-administered questionnaire from 287 health professionals, 85 expert patients and 116 dieters. Respondents gave their views on obesity causation and consequences, and the most efficacious means to manage obesity. Demographic data and self-reported height and weight were also collected. Factor analysis, analysis of variance and t-tests were used to analyse the data.

Results

Health professionals, expert patients and dieters held similar models of obesity, identifying the same causes (lifestyle causes), consequences (medical consequences) and treatments (current recommended options) of obesity/overweight.

Conclusions

The findings of the present study indicate a broader similarity between beliefs and attitudes of those involved in obesity treatment and those that they aim to treat than was previously assumed. The concordance of beliefs between patients and treatment providers is an encouraging finding and may have important implications for public health strategies in this area.

Image