Developing #TrustInPeerReview from author to audience, Part 3: Trust is demonstrated by the publisher

team reviewing togetherSo far this week, we have explored aspects of how trust in peer review is fostered and maintained in academic publishing environments. Specifically, we have examined the responsibility of authors to establish trust through honest manuscript submission and of reviewers to further develop that trust by conducting unbiased and quality reviews.

In this post, we’re going to look at how the publisher is ultimately responsible for demonstrating that established trust to and audience of readers.

Protector of intellectual property rights

Through her application of a “Trusts model” to the peer review process in last week’s Scholarly Kitchen article, Jasmine Wallace identified the publisher as the “protector” with responsibilities “to make sure all legal obligations are upheld and that everyone included in the relationship is given what they are needed in an equitable way”. In this role, the publisher is responsible for protecting the intellectual property of the authors as it is distributed to the beneficiaries of the readership community.

Wallace adds clarity to the publisher’s role in the peer review process identifying specific activities including: “[making] sure all parties are protected, [making] sure all parties are being honest (no stealing, misrepresenting, spreading false truths, etc.) and …to ensure we are not abusing the relationship by being overprotective and failing to add to the trust quotient in our relationship.”

This risk of overprotecting the author or the community of readers is where a publisher has greatest influence on trust in the peer review process. While policies and procedures are necessary to ensure an effective peer review process is conducted, overly restrictive policies and procedures create a perception of distrust by the publisher of the parties (authors and reviewers) involved in the process. That perception may carry forth into a public distrust of the process.

Trust is built through relationships

The quality of the relationships between authors, editors, and reviewers is what precedes publishers’ ability to demonstrate trust in the process. According to Lettie Conrad, “Publishers trust editors to facilitate high-quality articles; reviewers trust authors to contribute authentic ideas and analysis; authors trust everyone involved to develop and represent their work with integrity.”

She adds, “Trust in peer review includes attending to the big and little ways we are investing in our relationships (or not) with editors, authors, and reviewers.” Without relationships among the people involved in the process, trust cannot be formed. Without an actual existence of trust, publishers will find it difficult, if not impossible, to demonstrate that trust to their audience.

Trust relies on meeting expectations

These trusting relationships don’t just happen, however. They are built on the foundation of established expectations and the meeting of those expectations by the individuals involved. Todd Carpenter stated, “Clarity of expectations, communication about those expectations, recognition for, and potentially metrics around those contributions would go a long way to improving peer review.” It’s not so much that expectations don’t already exist as much as that they are not clearly communicated and met.

The varying degree of expectations present in peer review processes – and, more specifically, who is expected to perform the tasks for those expectations – is another source of distrust in the process. Phill Jones said, “Let’s stop asking peer-review to do everything and build processes into scholarly workflows that provide feedback and correction at more appropriate stages.” Adding, “When we stop asking so much of peer-review, we might feel more comfortable that it can fulfill its purpose.”

Solving both of these issues may be as simple as being more transparent in the process. Alice Meadows suggests that publishers “Make it easy for people to find information about the peer review process, and make sure that information is clear, accurate, and comprehensive.”

Publishers can only demonstrate a trust in peer review if that trust exists. In order to foster that trust, publishers have a responsibility of creating clear and transparent processes that establish expectations for authors, editors, and reviewers at all stages of the process and makes it clear how those expectations have been met. When those involved in the process meet their individual expectations, publishers can feel confident that they have protected the intellectual rights of their authors while providing benefit to their readership community.


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.