For Journal of Hydrometeorology Chief Editor Christa Peters-Lidard, peer review upholds essential standards for a journal. “Maintaining that integrity is very important to me,” she said during an interview at the AMS Publications Commission meeting in Boston, in May. Historically, the burden of integrity has fallen on editors as much as authors and reviewers.
The peer review process we follow at the AMS is an anonymous process. Authors do not know who their reviewers are. So it’s really up to us, as the editors and chief editors, to ensure that the authors have a fair opportunity to not only get reviews that are constructive and not attacking them personally, but also by people that are recognized experts in the field.
Even when reviewers are not experts, “they know enough about it to ask the right questions, and that leads the author to write the arguments and discussion in a way that, in the end, can have more impact because more people can understand it.”
Anonymity has its advantages for upholding integrity, especially in relatively small field, like hydrometeorology. Peters-Lidard pointed anonymity helps reviewers state viewpoints honestly and helps authors receive those comments as constructive, rather than personal.
“In my experience there have been almost uniformly constructive reviews,” Peters-Lidard says, and that means papers improve during peer review. “Knowing who the authors are, we know what their focus has been, where their blind spots might be, and how we can lead them to recognize the full scope of the processes that might be involved in whatever they’re studying. Ultimately that context helps the reviewer in making the right types of suggestions.
But the need for integrity is subtly shifting its burden onto authors more and more heavily. Peters-Lidard spoke about the trend in science towards an end-to-end transparency in how conclusions were reached. She sees this movement in climate assessment work, for example, where the policy implications are clear. Other peer reviewed research developing this way.
We’re moving the direction where ultimately you have a repository of code that you deliver with the article….Part of that also relates to a data issue. In the geosciences we speak of ‘provenance,’ where we know not only the source of the data—you know, the satellite or the sensor—but we know which version of the processing was applied, when it was downloaded, and how it was averaged or processed. It’s back to that reproducibility idea a little bit but also there are questions about the statistical methods….We’re moving in this direction but we’re not there yet.
Hear the full interview: