Together with her co-editors Annika Björkdahl has instituted a prize for the best review. They want to shine a light on the work that many researchers carry out to improve a colleague’s article and to raise the scientific quality.

Best review prize leads to higher status

Svenska 2018-11-28

Peer review – collegial scrutiny of scientific articles – is a cornerstone of academic publishing. Yet the work is usually unpaid, and is also carried out anonymously. Now the Swedish editors of an international journal have instituted a prize to celebrate the best review of the year.

Annika Björkdahl is the managing editor of the international journal Cooperation and Conflict. Together with her co-editors Martin Hall and Ted Svensson, she has instituted a prize for the best review of the year.

“We want to shine a light on the often undervalued work that many researchers carry out to improve a colleague’s article and to raise the scientific quality with constructive comments. It is fun to be leading the way in new publication strategies. We hope that more journals will copy us,” says Annika Björkdahl, who is Professor of Politics at Lund University.

Apart from prize money of 1 000 EUR, funded by the publishing house Sage, which publishes the journal, the prize winner has their review published together with the reviewed article.

Good learning process

“In this way, it becomes a good learning process too, where colleagues can see what a really good peer review looks like. The most important thing is, of course, that the scientific contribution to the research field becomes clearer.”

But if you can’t write in a way that is appealing, then the material doesn’t have any impact, Annika Björkdahl points out.

“Therefore, the prize is both about improvements to the content and about more text-centred comments.”

The three editors choose the winner, and on this first occasion they were absolutely united in their choice. The prize went to Branwen Gruffydd Jones at Cardiff University, and Annika Björkdahl describes her review as impressive, constructive and thorough.

In the award justification, the editors write that Branwen had not just fulfilled the criteria for the prize, and in that way helped researchers to improve their articles significantly, but her comments also inspire discussions about the research field.

Difficult to find reviewers

The prize was presented at a scientific conference in San Francisco, where the editors were met by much happy cheering, but also by surprise: “Can you publish a review?”. Yes, you can, provided that both the reviewer and the reviewee consent.

Annika Björkdahl herself would really prefer a much more transparent review process, without anonymous reviewers. But she realises that there would be clear disadvantages, not least an increased risk of controversy between colleagues.

“But peer review in itself is something everybody gains from. The authors get help to raise the quality of their production. As editor, you need your reviewers to guarantee good scientific quality, because you do not yourself have a full grasp of the field. And the reviewers have the opportunity to see where the research frontier is, so those who carry out many reviews find it easier to stay at the forefront.”

At the same time, reviewing is time-consuming and is normally not rewarded with either money or merit. That shows when you go looking for reviewers, establishes Annika Björkdahl.

“It is becoming more and more difficult to find reviewers. Life in academia is so hectic, the rush to publish means that few have the opportunity to take the time to do it. After all, researchers only get credit for what they publish themselves, and that drives an egotism that risks undermining the collective responsibility for science.”

Unclear future with different merits

What the future holds for academic publishing and peer review is an open question. Annika Björkdahl sees a greatly changing landscape. Ranking and impact factors are becoming ever more important, at the same time as the demands for open access publishing are increasing.

“Open access journals are not normally included in the ranking, and rarely have an impact factor, yet more and more universities and funding bodies will require research to be published with open access.”

This can change how researchers gain merit, says Annika Björkdahl. Will these journals raise their scientific quality and start to be considered as giving greater merit than today? And if junior researchers perhaps have not had the opportunity to publish in top-ranked journals simply because these have not switched to open access, how will their merits compare to those of more senior researchers?

“It will be very exciting to see how this develops.”

Text: Lisa Kirsebom
Photo: Kennet Ruona

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