Adrià Delhom becomes Trusted Reviewer of IoP

We are very happy to announce that in March 2021, our colleague Adrià Delhom i Latorre received a notificacion from the Institute of Physics (IoP) to let him know he had been named "Trusted Reviewer". According to the IoP website, "Achieving ‘IOP trusted reviewer’ status demonstrates an exceptionally high level of peer review competency".  Below he tells us in his own words about his experience in the refereeing process. Our most sincere Congratulations, Adri! 

During the first two years of my PhD I have been gaining experience in publishing research papers, both with collaborators and alone. At some point, I received my first request for being the reviewer of a pre-print that was submitted for Physics Letters B, a journal where I had published a couple of papers before. Although I am not sure how this happened, I guess that it was through an (anonymous) colleague, who noticed my works and thought that I could be a good reviewer for that related work, hence recommending my nomination to the editor whenever she/he has to decline the offer to review it for her/his reasons (maybe lack of time?). In any case, I accepted to review the manuscript, which I ended up accepting as the authors carefully took into account my criticisms. Some time later, I received another request for reviewing an article, but this time for the journal Classical and Quantum Gravity, which belongs to IOP Science and where I have also published an article. The type of papers that are submitted to this journal are typically long and technical but, after a quick overall read, I though that I could do a good job as a reviewer, given that it was within my range of expertise. 

Surprisingly, some months after the review process ended, the IOP decided to give me an IOP Trusted Review status, which, according to their website “is designed to recognise the very best peer reviewers in the physical sciences. We anticipate that only the top 15% of our reviewers will achieve this recognition.” Apparently, there are three ways to obtain the certificate. Two of them involve taking courses and seminars on quality reviewing (which I did not do and therefore do not have an opinion of), and the third way is, in their words “submitting a review of outstanding quality, without first undertaking peer review training. Any reviewer who submits a review graded as 5 out of 5 by our peer review editors will achieve IOP trusted reviewer status”. Given that I obtained this recognition via this third way, and I know which referee report was the one that made me earn it (because I have only refereed one manuscript for an IOP journal), it could be a good idea to explain to other researchers how I did the report an why I decided to do it in this way without having any training in the peer review process.  

After accepting the request, I started to go through the manuscript carefully, even checking some of the equations if I was not sure that they followed logically one from previous considerations. After having gone through the manuscript carefully for several times, I concluded that the research was valuable, but I managed to point out several issues, suggesting improvements when I could. These issues and suggestions were of the following nature:

  • I spotted weak points in the argumentation and/or the conclusions drawn by the authors which I believed that did not followed logically from their considerations, but required extra assumptions. I also thought that there were some statements that are often read in the literature or heard at meetings but which are closer to be opinions of the scientists rather than clear established knowledge. I carefully explained my concerns to the authors in the report so that they could explain their view in their response or implement modifications if they thought that it was appropriated.
  • I realised that the way in which some ideas were presented could be simplified, improving the readability of the manuscript by smoothening the flow of concepts through it. I explained my suggestions to the authors, carefully stating the reasons why I thought it would improve readability.
  • The calculations lead to some surprising results which appeared to have been overlooked by the authors. I exposed to the authors these (apparently overlooked) results and urged them to add comments on them, broadening (just a bit) the range of their conclusions.
  • I realised that there were certain points of the discussion in which the authors have made too few emphasis according to my view. Then, in my response, I explained why I though that they should expand the discussion on that direction, suggesting relevant works on the issues.
  • I also checked their references and saw that there were some recent developments in the field, as well as some original works, that appeared to have been missed by the authors. I explained to them where I thought that adding these works would improve the quality of the manuscript by contextualising it better into the current state of the field and by appropriately referencing the original works where some results used by the authors were first presented.

After my report was submitted, the authors responded back, having implemented most of my suggestions, but explaining their points regarding other suggestions which they would not agree with. Most of the suggestions in which they disagreed were due to a misunderstanding of their message in the original manuscript and others were due to more personal views on matters that do not have a crystal clear answer in purely scientific terms. Thus, I explained them in a second report why I have misunderstood their message in several places, suggesting rephrasing that could transmit it more effectively. As well, in this second report, I admitted that although I do not agree with their answers to my criticisms regarding those statements which were `not purely scientific’  (which often have to do with interpretations of new physical theories that are not yet stablished), I understand that these disagreements were due to my personal views on the issues and that, given that there is no clear scientific conclusion on these matters yet, I must allow the authors to express their views if they are within the limits of reasonable science. However, I suggested that it would also improve the quality of the manuscript if the places where these views play a role were clearly stated, so that the reader does not confuse established scientific knowledge with the personal view of the authors on matters which are still being researched and are yet to be clearly understood. Finally the authors implemented these suggestions and thanked my contributions through the review process, and I recommended publication of the manuscript to the editor. 

In summary, the way in which I faced the reviewing process was inspired by the point of view on current scientific papers which I developed through my PhD, when I have had to read tones of publications on many topics. Although I think that they are an extremely valuable tool for (and indeed the core of) scientific progress, more times that I would like I have found myself having a bittersweet feeling that the way in which we present scientific results in publications could (and must!) be better aligned with the principles of good science. Let me explain: As happened with te manuscript that I received to review, I have often find that the way in which certain statements which are still being debated and should clearly be indicated as opinions of the authors are presented is far from honest with the current established knowledge. Thus, it becomes hard for the reader to distinguish personal views on not yet resolved matters with established knowledge. I believe that the existence of this phenomenon in scientific literature is unavoidable due to the different cognitive biases that all humans suffer. However, it is our duty as scientists to minimise the amount of times in which this happens in scientific literature, and try our best to clearly distinguish established knowledge from personal insights, which despite valuable for conducting research, shall not be confused with scientific truths. Having said this It was a great surprise for me to see that the efforts I took for placing a constructive review which tried to go in this direction were recognised by the Associated Editor, who must have scored my review with 5/5 points according to the IOP guidelines to obtain the IOP Trusted Reviewer status. Although I am inclined to think that, in the end, what have been recognised are my intentions to go in the direction mentioned above making the manuscript as scientifically precise as I can, I cannot forget that this is also what I want to believe and that I do suffer from cognitive biases too. Hence the reason why my report was recognised could well be other. I will never know. But in any case, I believe that we must all do what is in our hands to improve the way in which we communicate science to our peers.


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