Peer Review Week 2017: 3. Transparency Is Reproducibility

September 15, 2017 · 0 comments

David Kristovich, chief editor of the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology, explains how AMS peer review process, as a somewhat private process, ultimately produces the necessary transparency.

Peer review is an unpublished exchange between authors, editors and reviewers. It is meant to assure quality in a journal. At the same time, Kristovich noted that peer review is not just something readers are trusting, blindly. Rather, the peer review process is meant to lead to a more fundamental transparency—namely, it leads to papers that reveal enough to be reproducible.

“Transparency focuses on the way we tend to approach our science,” Kristovich said during an interview at the AMS Publications Commission meeting in Boston in May. “If someone can repeat all of the steps you took in conducting a study, they should come up with the same answer.”

“The most important part of a paper is to clearly define how you did all the important steps. Why did I choose this method? Why didn’t I do this, instead?”

Transparency also is enhanced by revealing information about potential biases, assumptions, and possible errors. This raises fundamental questions about the limits of information one can include in a paper, to cover every aspect of a research project.

“Studies often take years to complete,” Kristovich pointed out. “Realistically, can you put in every step, everything you were thinking about, every day of the study? The answer is, no you can’t. So a big part of the decision process is, ‘What is relevant to the conclusions I ended up with?’”

The transparency of scientific publishing then depends on peer review to uphold this standard, while recognizing that the process of science itself is inherently opaque to the researchers themselves, while they’re doing their work.

“The difference between scientific research and development of a product, or doing a homework assignment—thinking about my kids—is that you don’t know what the real answer is,” Kristovich said. Science “changes your thinking as you move along, so at each step you’re learning what steps you should be taking.”

You can hear the entire interview here.