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Developing #TrustInPeerReview from author to audience, Part 1: Trust starts with the author

As noted yesterday, this week marks the sixth annual Peer Review Week event with a focus this year on “shining a light on how the peer review process works and why it helps build trust in research” through its theme, Trust in Peer Review.

In keeping with this theme, while focusing on the role that authors have in the establishment of trust in the peer review process, we will spend the next few days exploring how trust in peer review is established, maintained, and delivered. As the original creator of the work, trust starts with the author.

A trust model in the publishing space

In last week’s Scholarly Kitchen article, Jasmine Wallace outlined “a trust model in the publishing space” which provides the foundation for our discussion over the coming days. In this model, she identified three key players: the author, the community, and the publisher, as follows:  

“Authors are the settlor(s), or, the individuals who have legal ownership of their intellectual property and right to being equitable with that property. The community on the other hand are the beneficiaries, or, the individuals who benefit from the property and are “expected” to be equitable. The publisher is therefore left as the protector, or, the party who is responsible for preserving intellectual property.”

In the same article, David Smith notes that problems with trust stem from “bad actors” in the process citing manipulations present in published research and stating that peer review is “predicated as it is on the premise that peers are presenting their research in good faith”. This means, as Haseeb Irfanullah notes, “Editors trust authors to submit authentic research to publish.”

Garbage in, garbage out

As noted by Merlin Crossley in his 2018 article, When to trust (and not to trust) peer reviewed science, “Even if everything is done properly, peer review is not infallible. If authors fake their data very cleverly, for example, then it may be difficult to detect.” Even reviewers who are well-established in the discipline have not likely conducted the research being presented for publication and must trust that the data represented by the author is accurately depicted in the manuscript.

Failure by an author to accurately represent the data is the first point of failure of public trust in the entire peer review system. Yale University acknowledges the reliance of trust on the ethical practices of everyone involved in the process, stating “The public’s trust in and benefit from academic research and scholarship relies upon all those involved in the scholarly endeavor adhering to the highest ethical standards, including standards related to publication and dissemination of findings and conclusions.”

Establishing trust requires being trustworthy

Whether a student or faculty member, everyone in academia has encountered an Academic Integrity statement in a course syllabus or college catalog. Academic study from early childhood through post-doctoral research expects proper representation of ideas. Although often considered strictly from the plagiarism perspective of proper citation, academic integrity extends to the accurate dissemination of ideas, methods, and conclusions at all levels of the research and writing process.

Focused on the building of “mutually respectful relationships” for enhancing trust among researchers and the community they serve, Consuelo H. Wilkins identified certain traits of those worthy of trust. “Characteristics of trustworthy researchers include being empathetic, accessible, approachable, honest, respectful, attentive, and humble. These characteristics are as important as, if not more than, technical competence and prestige of the research institution.”

As academic authors, the integrity of our research and writing practices are the foundation for the development, demonstration, and appreciation of the trust that can be maintained throughout the rest of the peer review process. Without integrity from the authoring community, the public trust can never be maintained.

Eric Schmieder

Eric Schmieder is the Membership Marketing Manager for TAA. He has taught computer technology concepts to curriculum, continuing education, and corporate training students since 2001. A lifelong learner, teacher, and textbook author, Eric seeks to use technology in ways that improve results in his daily processes and in the lives of those he serves. His latest textbook, Web, Database, and Programming: A foundational approach to data-driven application development using HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, MySQL, and PHP, First Edition, is available now through Sentia Publishing.