A – ESE Author Q&A: Omar Sabaj Meruane

In the latest edition of our ESE Author Q&A series, we speak to Omar Sabaj Meruane of Universidad de La Serena, who published the article ‘Relationship between the duration of peer-review, publication decision, and agreement among reviewers in three Chilean journals’ in the November 2015 issue of European Science Editing 41(4).

This article is of particular interest to peer review administrators and editors looking to increase the efficiency of their peer review processes, providing a novel insight into the relationships between peer review time and reviewers recommendations.

The article is now free to access from the EASE website. Download it here.

EASE:  Before we ask about some questions about yourself, please introduce our readers to the article you published in ESE.

Omar Sabaj Meruane: We explored the relation between time and agreement. We established different stages in the peer review process (reviewer selection, Notification, Publication, total review time, response to author and total time) for three international journals belonging to the fields of humanities, engineering, and higher education. In total, the peer review processes of 369 papers were analysed. Then we separated processes according to the level of agreement (low, partial and total agreement) and decision type. Total peer review time was greater for articles that were accepted. For all three of the journals examined, publication period was the longest stage, and time taken to select referees was longest for the humanities journal. Partial agreement between reviewers was related to longer publication times in the university teaching journal, while there was no relationship between reviewer agreement and publication time in the engineering journal. Duration of the peer review process was related to decision type. Relationship between level of agreement between reviewers and the duration of the various stages of the publication process was found to vary between disciplines.

EASE: What is your main area of research?

OSM: My main area of research is linguistics, specifically, the Analysis of Scientific Discourse. I am interested in exploring how the sociological attributes of scientists correlate with their discursive behaviour, when participating in constructing scientific knowledge

EASE:  How long have you been involved in this area?

OSM: I have been working in this area for 7 years. I have won two grant funds to study, first, the disciplinary variation of research articles rhetorical structure. The second grant, from which my article in ESE is a product, is devoted to analyse the peer review process.

EASE: Do you work in a group, or on your own?

OSM: We work with a large group of graduate and postgraduate students. I also have a colleague who is responsible as a co-researcher of our project. He is Carlos González (co-author of the paper) who works at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. He is also the editor of Onomázein, a very prestigious journal devoted to linguistics (www.onomazein.net)

EASE:  What are some of the innovative aspects you could tell us about your research?

OSM:  The more innovative aspect of our research programme (that is not well represented in the article we wrote for ESE) is the combination of discourse Analysis and Social Network Analysis. For years, these two disciplines have not been connected. For example, there are a lot of works analysing the review report, which give us a very detailed characteristics of this occluded genre, but we are not able to know which the sociological attributes of the reviewers are.  Thus, this lack of interaction between these two disciplines (Discourse Analysis and Social Network Analysis) , limits our understanding of how scientists behave discursively when participating in the collective system of generating scientific knowledge (peer review).

The specific innovation of the ESEarticle is the relation of time and agreement in the peer review process. One could hypothesize that if two people have to asses an object, time could be critical in arriving to a same (agreement) assessment. But this is not the case, at least not in all disciplines. So time is partially related to the probability that two reviewers agree on the publication recommendation of a paper.  The other innovation of our paper consists in the conceptualization of time. Most studies in the peer review process make general distinctions for example, from submission to decision, and from decision to publication (in the case of accepted articles). As we made more fine-grained distinction for several stages (reviewers selection time, revision time, notification time, among others) we had a better understanding of the duration of the process, so that  we can derive some tips to editors. For example, from our data we could see two patterns that characterize two typical bottle necks in managing time of peer review. The first problematic stage is the selection of referees that could take a very long time in humanities. Revision time (i.e. the average time of the two reviewers) is very similar across disciplines. The second pattern, typical for engineering, is that every stage is fairly fast, except for publication time (i.e from decision to publication). In the first case, to shorten the total time of peer review an editor should make efforts to enlarge his/her reviewer’s database. In the second case, the editor should think to augment the number of issues per year.

EASE:  What do you consider to be your best paper or work, and why?

A recent paper that appeared in The Journal of Scholarly Publishing: Sabaj, O.; González, C. & Pina-Stranger, A. (2016). What we still don’t know about Peer Review. Journal of Scholarly Publishing 47 (2), 180-212.

We like this paper mainly because it shows various gaps in the research of peer review, so that it is useful to delineate a future research programme, where there are fully innovative opportunities. Our main claim is that we must be more interdisciplinary in approaching the very heart of scientific endeavour, namely, Peer review. Specifically, we think that exploring the nature of the discourse of reviewers report will be more enlighten if we relate the characteristics of those texts with the attributes (sociological, scientometrical) of the referees who produce them. But, as much of the information of the peer review process is confidential, it is impossible to conduct research of the process without the help and collaboration of editors.  
EASE:  Do you have any interesting work or papers that may be completed in the next year or so, that you are able to speak about?

OSM:  We are finishing two works that go on in the same line of research, which is to establish a relation between discursive and sociological attributes. Some questions we try to resolve in these works are: Do senior researchers give better feedback in the peer review process?  Does the evaluation report vary according to the sociological attributes of the reviewers?

What we are trying to configure is what we call a theory of scientific behaviour that uses methods and categories form both Discourse analysis and Social Network Analysis.

EASE:  What motivated you to write for European Science Editing?

OSM:  The prestige of the journal, the peer review process which is fast and detailed. The editors keep fluent contact with authors.

EASE:  What impact do you hope this paper could have, what changes could it make?

OSM:  It could help editor to better manage time in the peer review process.

EASE:  If people want to read more about this subject, can you name one or two specific articles they should read?

Björk B, Solomon D. The publishing delay in scholarly peer-reviewed journals. Journal of Informetrics. 2013;7:914-923. DOI: 10.1016/j.joi.2013.09.001

Lyman R.L. A three-decade history of the duration of peer review. Journal of Scholarly Publishing. 2013; 44(3):211–220. DOI: 10.3138/jsp.44.3.001

Azar O. Rejections and the importance of first response times. International Journal of Social Economics. 2004;31(3):259-274. DOI: 10.1108/03068290410518247

EASE:  Are there any websites or other resources related to your paper they should seek out?

OSM:  www.omarsabaj.cl


Read Omar’s article in the full November issue of the ESE Journal archive on the EASE website here.

Omar can be found on Twitter at @omi_sabaj

Interview conducted by Duncan Nicholasof the EASE Council.