In a post on the Marie Curie Alumni Association (MCAA) website “what a shame”, Riccardo Biondi raised the issue of peer reviews for scientific papers. There is a tendency for scientific papers to be published unchecked. This has the result that huge numbers of papers are published, but quality is not guaranteed. And the internet means that these papers are seen far and wide. Addressing this lack of control needs practical solutions to safeguard quality.

Riccardo Biondi   Barry Guihen

Intrigued as to whether Riccardo Biondi and Barry Guihen may have some of the answers, we met up to discuss their views on the tools needed to tackle the problem.

Potential tools to tackle the problems

What, for you, are the main problems with today’s scientific publishing process?

Riccardo Biondi. Publishing today is becoming just a business and a matter of money. Peer-review is not taken into account by some journals. The problem nowadays is that some journals publish papers without taking care of the quality and they are getting paid for this! I have reviewed many papers in the last two years for some open access journals and they were extremely bad. Of course, I didn’t accept them, and I couldn’t believe that other reviewers would accept them. A few weeks later, these papers were published. And this happens when you pay a few hundred euros - your paper is published. The main problem is that now we are all evaluated in terms of figures. When one of your publications is published, you increase your impact. That is probably the main problem.

Barry Guihen. Money is always an issue, be it in having to pay to be published or the cost of subscriptions.

Tool 1: Identification of journals which don’t respect quality

Do you think that it would be helpful for Marie Curie Alumni to have access to a list of journals which don’t pay attention to the quality of papers?

Riccardo Biondi. Absolutely, yes. Marie Curie Fellows are working on high quality research projects all over the world and we should therefore publish only high quality papers.

Barry Guihen. Yes, this would help to know where best to focus attention.

A list of open access journals, provided by Devrim Kilinc is already available here.

A MCAA list of open and non open access journals could be created.

Tool 2: A peer review service

The UK’s Research Information Network has published “Peer review – A guide for researchers”. Do you think that the creation of an MCAA peer review service could be useful for the Community?

Riccardo Biondi. Absolutley yes, for the reasons already mentioned, I think that we could improve the review service. We should focus on high quality journals and not on the low quality list that has been created. This would be very useful. Even reviewing for free can always be interesting to the extent that the reviewer can get new ideas by doing this work. This is the real meaning of peer review. It would also be helpful for all the Marie Curie Alumni.

Barry Guihen. RIN’s document is a useful general guide to the peer review process. However, were the MCAA to produce such a guide, it would be best to focus on issues that MC researchers are likely to face, such as publishing work based across disciplines, or publishing in a field that is outside the researcher’s usual area of focus.

A blog or a group “peer-review” service could be created where Alumni could exchange and propose services.

Tool 3: Some guidelines for the attention of journals

A code of conduct and best practice guidelines for journal editors has been created and is available here. Is this code well-known among MCF and journals which publish MCFs’ papers? Do you consider that it would be useful to MCF to promote their own ethics Charter?

Riccardo Biondi. I didn’t know this ethics paper (it’s the first time I’ve seen it) and don’t know if MCFs are aware of it. I am not sure whether another ethics Charter would be useful. This topic might be raised and discussed among MCAs so as to decide if we should promote it. If not, we could suggest our modifications to the existing guidelines.

Barry Guihen. Perhaps a more efficient use of resources is to promote an existing code that is in line with the values of MCF, working with other agencies to agree on a de facto standard.

An interactive page of the website could be created and put at the disposal of the MCF to shape a participatory Charter if the MCAA decides not to promote the existing code of conduct.

Tool 4: the creation of a MCAA Ethics Working Group

The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) was created in 1997 and is open to editors and publishers of academic journals and others. Is this Committee well-known among MCFs? Do you think that journals should subscribe to a MCAA Ethics Committee based on the participatory guidelines evoked above?

Riccardo Biondi. If a Committee already exists, the MCAA could contribute to that one without creating something new. There is no interest in duplicating entities. We are all researchers and we should collaborate. The MCAs might collaborate with this Committee if it is efficient. We should create a working group so as to open debates among MCAs, this is a big issue and solutions might be found thanks to dialogue.

Barry Guihen. MCAA is a new organisation, and it should be encouraging journals to consider it. Like the Charter, perhaps it is best for the MCAA to work with preexisting groups, adding their voice to others to create consistent and unified guidelines, for the benefit of all researchers and journals.

The MCAA Board could decide to create a MCAA Ethics working group.