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Review of "Safeguarding Scientific Integrity: Examining Conflicts of Interest in the Peer Review Process"

Published onOct 28, 2023
Review of "Safeguarding Scientific Integrity: Examining Conflicts of Interest in the Peer Review Process"

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This paper presents a case study analyzing the expertise, conflicts of interest, and objectivity of editors, authors, and reviewers for a special issue published in a Frontiers journal. The authors conclude that two articles in the special issue have undisclosed conflicts of interest between editors, authors, and reviewers. The authors also provide recommendations for safeguarding research integrity in peer review.

Overall I believe this paper makes a valuable contribution to discussions about integrity in peer review. However, some parts of the paper require clarification or further elaboration. Below I provide more detailed comments.

First of all, I wonder how the special issue studied by the authors was selected. I couldn’t find this information in the paper.

“Because the peer review process and workflow can vary by publisher and journal (Brezis & Birukou, 2020) and a common peer review workflow has not been codified, the peer review processes do not fully guarantee research integrity.”: I don’t understand the reasoning in this sentence. The idea seems to be that guaranteeing research integrity requires ‘a common peer review workflow’. Why would it be necessary to have such a workflow? This is not clear to me.

“the difference between gaming and manipulating peer review”: I don’t understand this difference. Aren’t they the same?

“No data collection of what was stated in the peer reviews of the articles was obtained and could not be used to assess the objectivity of their reviews”: This sentence needs to be fixed.

“They have strong political affiliations if”: This sentence is not clear. I am not sure to whom ‘they’ refers. Moreover, I don’t understand why being a member of an organization implies having a conflict of interest. For instance, many researchers are affiliated with a university. Does this mean they have a conflict of interest? Or is the sentence about other types of organizations? Some clarification is needed.

“act as expert witnesses aligning with political beliefs”: This is not clear to me either. Perhaps it may help to provide an example.

“the authors conducted an exploratory network analysis”: I would suggest writing ‘we’ instead of ‘the authors’.

The results are presented in a number of tables and figures. I find it difficult to see how the results in the different tables and figures relate to each other. It would be helpful if the authors, reviewers, and editors could be numbered (author 1, author 2, …, reviewer 1, reviewer 2, …, etc.) and the same numbers could consistently be used in all figures and tables.

“primary authors”: It is not clear to me how the notion of primary author is defined.

Figure 1: It would be helpful to include a legend, similar to the legend in Figure 2.

“Specifically, we found significant overlap in affiliation and authorship between the author, editor, and peer reviewers of two of papers 103 and 105 (Figure 2).”: This seems to be the main finding of the case study, but the authors don’t show what exactly is going on. The ‘significant overlap in affiliation and authorship between the author, editor, and peer reviewers’ needs to be shown in more detail. Without this it is hard for readers to understand the nature of the (alleged) problems with the two papers.

“other research has discussed many cases of manipulating special issues”: References to the relevant literature are missing.

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