Written by Dr Ozer Ural Cakici | Yenimahalle Education and Research Hospital, Ankara, Turkey | @ozeruralcakici
Dr Ozer Ural Cakici is a consultant urologist and PhD candidate in physiology. His main fields of interest are functional urology, paediatric urology, and renal disease. He is married to Eda Demirok Cakici, a biologist-ecologist, with one son, Hiram Ural Cakici.
Why is peer review an important aspect of the publication process?
Firstly, I want to draw attention to the position of the peer review process in scientific publishing: between a proposed manuscript and a published paper. Thus, peer review is the most important part of the whole process. Rather than a simple assessment of the author guideline requirements, the reviewer should evaluate the main idea of the manuscript, appropriateness of the referred knowledge with the proposed references, validity of the study protocol, and accuracy of the given results, as well as the suitability of the manuscript. While fulfilling these duties, the reviewer shapes the scientific frame of the journal and, therefore, the contemporary literature itself.
This is important to journals in several aspects. Fast and constructive decisions are very well received by authors and result in a higher number of submissions to the journal. The evidential power of submitted manuscripts also becomes higher with better reviewing of the papers. Well-evaluated manuscripts result in well-prepared papers that are prestigious for the journal. A thorough evaluation of manuscripts prevents small errors, like misspellings, and also averts ethical problems, such as duplications of the manuscript or fabrication of data.
It is also important for authors. A good review should point to the shortcomings of a manuscript objectively. The goal of the peer review process should always be to create a better manuscript, not only to advise the journal regarding rejection or acceptance. In this way, the author should benefit from the process by either having the proposed manuscript accepted for publication in the submitted journal or through being directed to a more suitable journal with an objective critique in hand. Peer review is not only criticising a manuscript, even if it is inferior to most standards. The most important aspect of the peer review process is figuring out the manuscript’s shortfalls, possible improvements, and assisting the author in constructing a valuable paper. A rejection therefore does not mean leaving a manuscript in the lurch; in most cases it leads to a better prepared paper that can be submitted to a more suitable journal. At the end of the process, authors successfully make a contribution to the contemporary literature with the support of reviewers.
In addition, peer review is valuable for the reviewer; the process serves to educate the reviewer in scientific writing in several ways. One should be aware of the main expectations of journals and the requirements of scientific publishing when reviewing a manuscript. Thus, reviewing a paper provides the reviewer with a better understanding of scientific publishing and makes them a better writer.
Finally, peer review holds importance for humankind itself. Many smart and ethical people spend their valuable labour creating a paper and submitting it to journals. A high-quality review leads to an accumulation of quality scientific knowledge. Good medical practice originates from this knowledge and brings benefit for humankind.
Has peer review impacted on your medical career? If so, how?
Without any doubt, peer review has affected my career and daily life. Considering my busy schedule and parenting duties, I think being a regular reviewer has forced me to manage my time better. My understanding of scientific writing and preparation of a manuscript have evolved with participating in peer review panels. I can figure out my weaknesses as a writer more effectively regarding study protocols, misinterpretation of data, and errors during conveying my data throughout the paper. Certainly, getting involved in reviewing scientific papers has increased my obsessiveness about my writing. I hope it may also lead me to become a better researcher. During the review process of proposed manuscripts, I may also go through several referenced papers, which has expanded my horizons and introduced me to hundreds of successful authors around the globe.
Have any articles left a lasting impression on you or inspired you to try different approaches to medicine?
I appreciate case reports and personal opinions, which are mostly classified to have a low level of evidence in the contemporary literature, in many ways. Firstly, they are not affected by statistical analysis; the results are raw, solid, and clear. Secondly, I respect the people who can publish their results honestly, either good or bad. If we look at the rise of modern medicine as a scientific branch, one can clearly see that the genuine roots are the case reports, not the huge database analyses. Thus, case reports usually make me aware of some special circumstances.
An honourable compilation of historical papers was published by a respectable urology journal as a supplement to the 100th year since the journal’s founding. The compilation included the very first descriptions of prostatectomy, pyeloplasty, and hypospadias repair, as well as the definition of the prostate specific antigen and androgen-dependent course of prostate cancer cells. The whole contemporary urological practice can be attributed to the booklet, more or less. At the end of the day, I have to commemorate the late Prof Frank Hinman Jr., who left a great legacy behind and has become my greatest inspiration with his wonderful textbooks.
Do you think guidelines or requirements for peer reviewers should be more strict?
We know that reviewer checklists, when used, greatly enhance a review and, therefore, a reviewer guideline should include a checklist for the requirements. The most important requirements in the process are evaluation of the originality of the paper and the study, and compatibility of the text with the tables and figures. The manuscript must undergo a strict evaluation to avoid duplication, plagiarism, fabrication, and other malicious acts; assistance can be obtained using current software at this point in the review. The whole text should be cross-checked with the tables and the figures. These initial parts must be evaluated without any tolerance and should form the first part of a reviewer guideline.
If the paper presents original data in an authentic way, then presentation of the results, comparison of the results respective to previous papers, and a satisfying conclusion should be sought. At these points, the reviewer should be more constructive and supportive to the authors with a kind and comprehensive feedback letter that points out the shortcomings of the manuscript while suggesting some additions. Meticulously prepared and well-presented papers should be directed to the journal’s Editorial Board for early acceptance. So, the second part of the checklist should lead the reviewer to return sturdy and constructive feedback.
The last part of the review checklist should invite the reviewer to describe their personal opinion on the manuscript. This holds importance to the Editorial Board for both making a decision to accept or reject, as well as evaluating the reviewer’s capabilities and reasonings behind their decisions.
Overall, this whole process should be made under a strict and organised peer review guideline protocol.
How would you improve the peer review process?
It is a kind of voluntary work, like charity, so one improvement may be to allow colleagues who are interested in reviewing to more easily be included in the peer review panels. Recently, many great improvements have been made to the peer review process, such as the inclusion of specialist aides who evaluate statistics, calculations, and other technical parts of the manuscripts. Also, plagiarism-detecting software is now widely used, and I think it has made a significant impact. Finally, reviewers should be competent on the topics of the manuscripts they evaluate and avoid commenting on manuscripts that present a study on a topic that they do not have enough experience.
After the review is complete, returning kind feedback to reviewers will boost their enthusiasm, which is the only support received by these people who are putting a great deal of effort into the peer review process.
Thank you for reading, kindest regards to all staff, editors, followers, and subscribers of the European Medical Journal.