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Improve peer review by making the reviewers better suited to task

Improve peer review by making the reviewers better suited to task
04 Aug 2014

A ‘kitemark’ that identifies randomized-controlled trials reviewed by specially trained peer reviewers would improve public trust in the robustness of clinical trials, according to an opinion piece in the open access journal BMC Medicine. Jigisha Patel, BioMed Central’s Medical Editor argues that peer review should be recognized as a professional skill in the clinical medical field. The article was openly peer reviewed and the reports published alongside, as is the case for all BMC Medicine articles.

Peer review and its effectiveness is the subject of much heated debate within medical and scientific communities at the moment. This is coupled with the ongoing public discussion about the need for greater openness and the transparency in how clinical trials are conducted.

Jigisha Patel’s opinion piece discusses her experiences as a junior doctor, and how she took for granted that when research was published in a medical journal that editors selected the best qualified people to review clinical trials. However, there is often disagreement over what peer review is, and there is variation in instructions for peer reviewers from journal to journal and on who is eligible to be a peer reviewer.

Jigisha Patel says: “While innovations in trial reporting and the peer review process have increased transparency, there has been little progress in defining the aims and effects or improving the quality of peer review itself. There is vast volume of health information available to the lay person with little or no guidance on its quality or trustworthiness.”

This opinion piece underwent open peer review - as is the case with all iseries clinical journals – which means the authors and reviewers identities are known to each other. In addition, the reports will be published alongside the article, which provides more transparency for the reader.

One of the peer reviewers, Doug Altman, Director of Centre for Statistics in Medicine at Oxford University, said in his report: “The issues raised [in this article] are of major importance to the integrity and value of the medical research literature. The problems identified are well known of course, and in my view not amenable to easy resolution….The main problem though is that nobody has the power to change the system and it is the system that is the problem….But we should try to make progress and this paper offers one way forward.”

Jigisha Patel proposes a possible solution: “Peer review of randomized controlled trials should be recognized as a professional skill. Peer reviewers could be taught to spot fundamental flaws and be periodically evaluated to make sure they do, in the same way that any other knowledge or skill that affects patient care is. Every randomized controlled trial, and its peer review reports if made public, whether published online, on paper, open access or subscription only, with open or closed peer review, or peer reviewed before or after publication could then have a searchable ‘quality assurance’ symbol”


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Notes to editor:
1. Opinion
Why training and specialization is needed for peer review: A case study of peer review for randomized controlled trials
Jigisha Patel
BMC Medicine 2014, 12:128
During embargo, article available here:

After embargo, article available at journal website here.

Please name the journal in any story you write. If you are writing for the web, please link to the article. All articles are available free of charge, according to BioMed Central's open access policy.

2. This article underwent open peer review, and was reviewed by Doug Altman and David Moher. The reports and entire pre-publication history are available here.

3. Jigisha Patel earned her first degree in Medicine and her PhD on the post-prandial regulation of regional blood flow in humans from Queen Mary, University of London. As well as spending several years in hospital clinical practice followed by a year at the National Institutes of Health for her PhD, Jigisha has taught on the Professional Development course for medical students at University College London Medical School and human biology at the Open University. Jigisha joined BioMed Central in 2007 and had editorial responsibility for over 30 medical journals in the BMC series. In her current role she has responsibility for the editorial policies and peer review processes of BioMed Central’s medical journals.

4. BMC Medicine is the flagship medical journal of the BMC series, publishing original research, commentaries and reviews that are either of significant interest to all areas of medicine and clinical practice, or provide key translational or clinical advances in a specific field.

5. BioMed Central is an STM (Science, Technology and Medicine) publisher which has pioneered the open access publishing model. All peer-reviewed research articles published by BioMed Central are made immediately and freely accessible online, and are licensed to allow redistribution and reuse. BioMed Central is part of Springer Science+Business Media, a leading global publisher in the STM sector.