Over the year, many LS reviewers have made outstanding contributions to the peer review process. They demonstrated professional effort and enthusiasm in their reviews and provided comments that genuinely help the authors to enhance their work.
Hereby, we would like to highlight some of our outstanding reviewers, with a brief interview of their thoughts and insights as a reviewer. Allow us to express our heartfelt gratitude for their tremendous effort and valuable contributions to the scientific process.
Siv Fonnes, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
Steve Coppens, University Hospitals in Leuven, Belgium
Yagan Pillay, Prince Albert, Canada
Zenichi Morise, Fujita Health University, Japan
Edward Matsumoto, McMaster University, Canada
Siv Fonnes is a postdoctoral researcher at Centre for Perioperative Optimisation at the Department of Surgery and an assistant managing editor at Cochrane Colorectal both situated at Herlev Gentofte Hospital, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. Her research mainly falls into two areas. The first area is general surgery, especially appendicitis and hernias. The second area concerns with publication and dissemination of research, especially regarding Cochrane reviews, systematic reviews, and meta-analysis. Her recent research projects focus on the gut microbiome in patients suffering from appendicitis or appendicitis-mimicking symptoms. Diagnostic laparoscopy and appendectomy are both regarded as simple and safe procedures by surgeons. However, for the patients, it may be the first time they undergo general anaesthesia and a surgical procedure, and they will have a subsequent convalescence period. Furthermore, not all patients suffer from appendicitis. These research projects will hopefully give a better understanding of the pathophysiology of appendicitis, improve the preoperative diagnostic methods, and help target the treatment for patients with abdominal pain, so some patients may avoid unnecessary surgery. More information about Dr. Fonnes can be accessed through ResearchGate, Google Scholar, Orcid and LinkedIn.
Dr. Fonnes considers a healthy peer review system to be both “professional and timely”. By “professional” she means giving feedback in a respectful and thoughtful manner. All researchers have used resources on preparing their research and manuscript, and this should be acknowledged by the peer reviewer. And by “timely” she means providing both peer review and editorial handling as efficiently as possible, so manuscript handling is not delayed for several months or years, which unfortunately may sometimes be the case.
Nonetheless, on the basis of a good system, biases are still inevitable in peer review. To minimize biases, Dr. Fonnes thinks the first step is to acknowledge their existence. Practically, she often uses a reporting guideline when reading through a manuscript to aid focusing on providing feedback on the sections of the manuscript that will eventually increase the transparency of the reporting. She suggests the use of equator-network which she finds extremely helpful to identify relevant guidelines.
Data sharing is getting more prevalent in scientific writing in recent years. To Dr. Fonnes, this is a topic with both benefits and drawbacks. On the one hand, data sharing will be beneficial in providing accurate evidence, thus eventually help future patients, and she supports the efforts made to promote data sharing. However, the safety of the participants’ data and the legislation regarding research data constitute a potential dilemma in some countries. The data and personal contribution of these participants should be handled with care and respect, so while the goal is admirable and important, the logistics may sometimes make sharing of transparent and accurate data impossible.
“I often find myself learning from and being inspired by peer reviewing manuscripts written by fellow researchers. Also, I feel obligated to conduct peer review for fellow researchers as I myself am depended on them when I submit a manuscript. Lastly, I find that simply keeping track of the number of peer reviews I have conducted add to my motivation. I use Publons and I am grateful for the service they provide,” says Dr. Fonnes.
(By Brad Li, Eunice X. Xu)
Dr. Steve Coppens is a clinical director of regional anesthesia and head of the Department of Anesthesiology at the University Hospitals in Leuven, Belgium. Dr. Coppens obtained his medical degree Cum Laudat at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium in 1996. He completed his residency in Anesthesiology in 2001 at the University Hospitals of Leuven. He worked from 2001 to 2008 in private practice and developed his skills for regional anesthesia. From 2008 to 2012, he worked in a level one trauma center in the Netherlands, where his core business was developing locoregional standards and enhancing ultrasound skills for trauma patients. He implemented a newly developed locoregional learning program in Leuven and was instrumental in developing the regional anesthesia fellowship program, recognized by the ESRA as center of excellence. PhD on enhanced recovery programs and RA in thoracic and major abdominal surgery is currently in progress. You may access Dr. Coppens’s profiles through LinkedIn, Twitter and Orcid.
“Skip the ego, and help the authors rather than yourself,” says Dr. Coppens when he is asked what a constructive review is. To him, a review would be constructive when the reviewer actively reads the paper, not as a means to show the editor how eloquent he/she is and how many faults or problems he/she can detect, but instead thinks about how the paper can be elevated to become better and maybe even great. On the contrary, a review would be destructive when the reviewer simply aims at displaying his/her own knowledge, showing off how much he/she knows about the topic, and writing as many comments as he/she can, not in a way to make the paper better, but in a way to promote oneself. Instead of being rude and impolite when addressing one’s concerns, a good reviewer should applaud everyone who puts effort in something. Even if it is not good, there are always redeeming factor and possibilities to make it better.
Speaking of the qualities a reviewer should possess, Dr. Coppens stresses that a reviewer should have the knowledge of one’s own strong and weak points, “You might be good at structured writing and possess a lot of knowledge of the literature and the topic, but maybe not so good at statistics, or the other way around. Seeking advice and adding your own doubts about the parts you cannot adequately evaluate yourself, e.g. advice an external statistician to double check if you are unsure yourself. Be humble. Be open. I always write my name after a review, because I stand by my decision.”
From a reviewer’s perspective, Dr. Coppens urges authors to follow reporting guidelines, e.g. STROBE and CONSORT during preparation of their manuscripts. Being methodical and using a standardized way is the only way to prevent making errors and to be thorough. It would be shame and a waste of time to put effort and work into research which ultimately fails and even arrives to wrong conclusions. Every researcher has a responsibility in that and that is why this methodical aspect is so important also for reviewers.
“I spend my allotted me-time to do peer reviews, and it might not be good for my work-life balance. I do extend my deadlines a few times because of this time shortages. However, somebody’s got to do this,” says Dr. Coppens.
(By Brad Li, Eunice X. Xu)
Dr. Yagan Pillay serves as a general surgeon in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Canada. He completed his undergraduate education in South Africa. After completing medical school in Manipal, India and houseman ship in Durban, South Africa, he went into family practice in rural South Africa for two years before returning to do his surgical residency at the Nelson Mandela Medical School from 2000-2005. He worked as a trauma surgeon at University of Malaya Medical Centre in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from 2007-2008 and then returned to Prince Albert in 2008. His practice encompasses all aspects of rural surgery including endoscopy and rural clinics. His surgical interests are hernia and laparoscopic surgery. Dr. Pillay is actively involved in the teaching of undergraduate medical students, surgery residents and acute care fellows. In 2019, he became a council member of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan. A detailed profile of Dr. Pillay can be accessed here.
Dr. Pillay believes peer review plays a valuable role in science by verifying the credibility of scientific articles. Scientists do not have the requisite knowledge to be able to understand all the concepts being discussed in an academic paper. Peer reviewers with adequate knowledge of the science behind will be able to discern the scientific validity of the paper in question. This leads to a sense of trust in the publication and the journal itself.
During review, there are a number of questions a reviewer should ask, according to Dr. Pillay: 1) Is the article authentic? 2) Are the facts checked out? 3) Are the references used valid to the paper at hand? 4) What are the potential pitfalls that prevent publication of the paper? He further explains, “To ensure we deliver a scientifically valid article thereby allowing us as scientists to retain public trust especially in times like nowadays with the COVID pandemic, our search for the scientific truth must be above reproach.”
Viewing from a reviewer’s angle, Dr. Pillay highlights the significance for authors to disclose Conflict of Interest (COI). If the research is being paid for by pharmaceuticals or medical products companies, the relationship must be laid out clearly in the COI. Only then can the research presented be reviewed with all the known variables. If an undisclosed relationship is discovered later, all academic credibility of the authors will be tainted. While funding is important, it should in no way influence the outcomes of the study at hand.
(By Brad Li, Eunice X. Xu)
Zenichi Morise M.D., Ph.D., FACS, is Professor and Chairman at the Department of Surgery Fujita Health University School of Medicine, Founding Past Director of Fujita Health University Okazaki Medical Center, and Deputy Chief Editor, Fujita Medical Journal (The Official Journal of Fujita Health University), Japan. He serves on editorial boards of World Journal of Gastroenterology, Frontiers in Surgery, World Journal of Gastrointestinal Surgery, Fujita Medical Journal, and Mini-invasive Surgery. He is actively involved in academic activities. He is a Fellow of American College of Surgeons, Founding Member of International Laparoscopic Liver Society, and Member of International Society of Surgery, Society for Surgery of the Alimentary Tract, American Gastroenterological Association and International Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary Association. You may take a look at Dr. Morise’s reserch profile here.
To Dr. Morise, peer review plays a vital role in science. Since scientists sometimes do not know the specific condition and standard of each area around the world even for their own specialty fields, they can learn about the world standard under the process of peer review.
There are some key qualities a peer reviewer should possess, in Dr. Morise’s opinion. They should possess wide range of knowledge and solid opinion around their fields. Furthermore, they should also have the flexibility of hearing/accepting new findings/conceptual changes.
From a reviewer’s point of view, Dr. Morise emphasizes the need for research to apply for institutional review board (IRB) approval. To him, studies should be universally acceptable, not be arbitrary, even from their planning stage. IRB can secure that point.
“There could be sometimes whole new findings and conceptual changes in submitted papers. Also, through peer reviewing, we can realize what’s happening in each area around the world,” says Dr. Morise.
(By Brad Li, Eunice X. Xu)
Edward D. Matsumoto
Dr. Edward Matsumoto is an Associate Professor in the Division of Urology, Department of Surgery at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. He is the Program Director of the Advanced Laparoscopic, Robotics, and Endourology Fellowship and affiliated with the Centre for Minimal Access Surgery at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton. Dr. Matsumoto’s clinical interests include advanced endourological surgery, including laparoscopic and robotic radical prostatectomy, and minimally invasive management of kidney cancers and stone disease. His research interests include a multifaceted approach to surgical education, primarily focusing on laparoscopic and robotic simulation training (including the development and validation of simulation models) and the assessment of technical skills and intraoperative performance. He has over 100 peer-reviewed publications, has written 12 textbook chapters, and regularly presents his research at local, national, and international meetings. The list of Dr. Matsumoto’s works can be found here.
LS: Why do we need peer review?
Dr. Matsumoto: Peer review is the foundation of academia. “Seeking the truth” is what we as researchers strive for, and peer review is the “sine qua non” process of research. Without peer review, research publications are not worth the paper (or digital memory) they are printed on. Clinicians cannot make important health decisions without validated and peer-reviewed data and clinical guidelines. Lives and the health of people depend upon reliable and valid research. As clinicians, we value research that is well-designed and critically appraised. Unfortunately, social media, or “Facebook Medicine”, often distorts the truth by placing the emphasis on “likes” or “views” as a way of validating opinions as fact. This has created a dangerous paradigm in the world today. Widespread misinformation about COVID-19 is an unfortunate example of how seeking the truth has fallen by the wayside. The peer-review process remains a vitally important academic duty we as researchers must perform.
LS: What are the qualities a reviewer should possess?
Dr. Matsumoto: Reviewers should have a sound understanding of research methodology and statistical acumen in order to provide high-quality feedback and recommendations to improve the dissemination of research. Furthermore, reviewers should have a strong background and demonstrated experience in the content being peer-reviewed. Familiarity with the nuances of the particular field will generate a robust critical appraisal of the body of work. It is vital to the peer-review process that the reviewer possess this expertise and recognize whether they are suited to perform a given review, as this allows for a just review process that will provide the most useful feedback and lead to a quality paper.
LS: Is it important for authors to disclose Conflict of Interest (COI)?
Dr. Matsumoto: Without question, it is important for authors to disclose any COI, as well as any funding sources used to conduct the research. Readers should be provided this knowledge, as interpretation of studies and their results may be influenced by authors’ COI and funding sources. Sound research methodology minimizes the potential for biases, and the peer-review process should identify studies where COI and funding sources may have influenced outcomes. Interpretation of studies is left to the end reader and disclosure of COI is critical to this process.
LS: Would you like to say a few words to encourage all the other reviewers?
Dr. Matsumoto: Peer review can be a thankless job, but at the same time can be personally rewarding. It can take up a significant amount of time and most often there is no financial reward. However, reviewers are the “gatekeepers” of the academic world. The efforts of reviewers allow us to trust the research we read in journals and apply data and recommendations to our clinical practice. We are fortunate to have many qualified reviewers that hold the peer-review process in the highest regard and take pride in their contribution to academia. As researchers, we rely on peer review to improve our own work; therefore, it is important to give back to this process as a reviewer.
(By Brad Li, Eunice X. Xu)