A Scoping Review of the Roles and Tasks of Peer Reviewers in the Biomedical Journal Editorial Process

Ketevan Glonti,1,2 Daniel Cauchi,3 Erik Cobo,4 Isabelle Boutron,2,5 David Moher,6 Darko Hren1 

Objective The purpose of this scoping review was to systematically determine what is known about the role and tasks of peer reviewers of biomedical journals.

Design We searched the following 8 electronic databases: the Cochrane Library, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature; Educational Resources Information Centre; EMBASE; MEDLINE; PsycINFO; Scopus, Web of Science for literature that included competency-related statements pertaining to the role and tasks of peer reviewers of biomedical journals The database search was supplemented by a review of grey literature at individual journal websites.

Results We screened 23,176 bibliographic records and identified 184 potentially relevant full-text publications, 174 of which were editorials, containing 53 unique statements related to the roles and tasks of peer reviewers of biomedical journal articles. We grouped these statements into 7 themes: (1) tasks related to reviewing the manuscript (eg, evaluate and improve manuscript quality; identify and alert to flaws in research design; aid authors in revising their manuscript for resubmission elsewhere); (2) tasks related to the editorial process (eg, assist editorial decision making regarding manuscript significance, pertinence to the journal discipline, and acceptance or rejection; advise editor on clinical credibility and usefulness for readers and/or practitioners; communicate ethical concerns to editors); (3) gate keeping role in maintaining journal reputation and credibility by ensuring that only good science is widely disseminated; (4) obligation for timely review (eg, need to respond in a timely manner); (5) obligation of confidentiality (eg, not sharing information with colleagues and others; destroying manuscript following review); (6) responsibility to exercise integrity while criticizing honestly and constructively, without bias; and (7) moral obligation to review as exercise of good citizenship (eg, civic duty of being a member of the scientific community).

Conclusions We found considerable variation in expectations and descriptions of tasks, roles, and responsibilities of peer reviewers involved in the editorial process of biomedical journals. These outcomes provide insight into the extent and nature of existing literature in this area, possibly leading to a future typology.

1Department of Psychology, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Split, Split, Croatia, kglonti@unist.hr; 2Université Paris Descartes, Sorbonne Paris Cité, Paris, France; 3Ministry for Health, Malta; 4Statistics and Operations Research Department, Barcelona-Tech, UPC, c/Jordi Girona, Barcelona, Spain; 5Centre d'épidémiologie Clinique, Hôpital Hôtel-Dieu, Notre-Dame, Paris, France; 6Center for Journalology, Clinical Epidemiology Program, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Ottawa, Canada

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: Isabelle Boutron and David Moher are members of the Peer Review Congress Advisory Board but were not involved in the review or decision for this abstract.

Funding/Support: Ketevan Glonti, Erik Cobo, Isabelle Boutron and Darko Hren were supported by a grant by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No 676207.

Role of the Funder/Sponsor: The funders had no role in the study design, data collection and analysis, or preparation of the abstract.

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