Editorial Peer Review

I have expressed my opinions before concerning the unethical function of our current systems of editorial peer review (Robergs RA. JEPonline 2003; 6(2):1-xiii), at least in the context of my discipline areas spanning exercise physiology, sports medicine and applied physiology. To learn more of the academic interest in the performance of editorial peer review, simply go to Google Scholar and perform a search on this topic. You will be amazed to see the prolific commentary and research that is now common-place for assessing the performance attributes of peer review. In fact, it is clear that progressively since the late 1990's, scientists have applied their skills to the scientific evaluation of the process of editorial peer review.  Such work is encouraging, but greater encouragement would occur if there is noted evidence of change for the better. I have yet to see this.

For now, I want to focus on specific traits of the current process that my experiences reveal to be most dysfunctional.

1. Authors are assumed to be far from "expert" in the hierarchy of peer review.

What are the rights of an author in the editorial peer review process?  My experience is that we do not have any. Once we submit to most journals, we are left out of the decision-making game that governs acceptance or rejection. In most circumstances, the author is not even given the opportunity to question and provide a rebuttal to a negative review. The reviewers are perceived to be the only experts, and what they say is all that matters. This is not good enough!

2. Editors do not have to justify their negative decisions.

As an extension to item 1 above, a negative decision is not required to be explained in any detail. Some editors often cite the standard explanations for a negative decision based on "not ranking high enough for the quality of the journal", "too many submissions to accept all quality manuscripts", or the one that really stirs my emotion "your methods and results are not consistent with current standards". But mostly, there is no explanation! This would all be resolved if authors were allowed to constructively challenge the reviewers, and where possible identify their bias. But of course, this would place too much demand on an already stressed editorial peer review system. Yet science and humanity deserve better.

3. An increasing incidence of manuscript triage at editorial screening that precludes peer review.

How have we allowed to let this procedure grow and become abused in editorial peer review? While I recognize that there has always been a form of triage in this system, as this is in part a duty of the editor, my experience is that triage is increasing and moving away from an initial check on quality to another expression of system and journal bias.

4. Blinded review.

This one really bothers me given that most of the journals of my field allow the author to request specific scientists/scholars to not be involved in the peer review. The author can explain this request, and most often this would be based on preventing bias from entering the review. However, when the peer reviewers are kept confidential, the author has no knowledge of whether the editor honored the exclusion. In reference to item 1 above, surely it is the right of an author to be informed if the request for peer reviewer exclusion was or was not honored, and why!

5. Confidential comments from the reviewer to the editor.

If you have functioned as a reviewer, you know that you can give confidential comments to the editor. What is this item for in the review process? How is this not an open door to the influx of bias in peer review?