In 2022, TGH reviewers continue to make outstanding contributions to the peer review process. They demonstrated professional effort and enthusiasm in their reviews and provided comments that genuinely help the authors to enhance their work.
Hereby, we would like to highlight some of our outstanding reviewers, with a brief interview of their thoughts and insights as a reviewer. Allow us to express our heartfelt gratitude for their tremendous effort and valuable contributions to the scientific process.
Epameinondas Dogeas, Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center, USA
Takeshi Okamoto, Japanese Foundation for Cancer Research, Japan
Dr. Epameinondas Dogeas is a Surgical Oncologist practicing at the Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center in Phoenix, AZ, USA. He was born and raised in Athens, Greece, where he also received his medical education from the University of Athens School of Medicine. He completed his internship in General Surgery at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, followed by General Surgery residency at the University of Texas Southwestern. After residency graduation, he pursued further training in cancer surgery in the form of a two-year, dual fellowship in Complex General Surgical Oncology and Hepatopancreatobiliary (HPB) surgery at the University of Pittsburgh. His clinical practice focuses on the surgical management of complex gastrointestinal and HPB malignancies, including performing robotic-assisted complex abdominal operations. In the research arena, Dr. Dogeas’s interests encompass clinical outcomes of primary and metastatic hepatic neoplasms, investigating the diverse biology of neuroendocrine tumors and understanding the mechanisms of chemotherapy resistance in colorectal cancer. You may follow Dr. Dogeas on Twitter @edogeas.
In Dr. Dogeas’ opinion, a healthy peer-review system is unbiased, objective, and transparent. Additionally, a healthy reviewer aims to improve the scientific impact of the work that he referees, by ensuring that the methodology is sound, that the conclusions are solidly based on the results and that all pertinent limitations and future directions are discussed in the manuscript. Finally, the points raised in a healthy review should be specific and always articulated in a collegial manner. There should be no role for subjectivity, pontification or deprecation in a healthy review.
It is true that the peer-review system has served the scientific community well for a long period of time, but Dr. Dogeas believes that it has several limitations in its current form. Reviewers are usually busy healthcare professionals or biomedical researchers that engage in peer review voluntarily on top of their other obligations. Therefore, reviewers often perform peer review during their “time off” work, such as weekends, which can eventually lead to burn out. This conflict is particularly pressing in today’s world where there is increasing institutional emphasis on clinical productivity metrics. Furthermore, the current system does not provide a universally accepted method for reviewers to take credit for their time and effort spent in peer review. Consequently, Dr. Dogeas thinks that efforts to improve the peer-review system should focus on recognizing the work of reviewers, which will ensure the long-term viability of the peer-review process. The “reviewer of the month” recognition by TGH is an example of such an effort.
As a reviewer, Dr. Dogeas emphasizes that adherence to reporting guidelines such as ARRIVE and TREND is essential. In fact, that will be one of the first things that he will investigate in a new manuscript for review. Reporting guidelines have been set in place to ensure that methodology remains consistent and to enable meaningful comparisons between the conclusions of different manuscripts. This is particularly important when pooling data together, such as in a systematic review or meta-analysis, where adherence to guidelines becomes critical. All in all, reporting guidelines exist to ensure that our work is reproducible, bias is minimized, and therefore authors should strive to adhere to them when drafting their manuscripts.
“Peer review is a pillar of scientific progress and therefore all biomedical scientists should participate in it when called upon. I rely on peer review to critique and improve my published work and, in turn, I consider it my responsibility to perform the same service for the work of others. I enjoy the opportunity to be amongst the first to see unpublished data and have an opportunity to engage in a productive dialogue with the authors to polish their work and ensure that the final manuscript will be well received by the scientific community,” says Dr. Dogeas.
(By Brad Li, Eunice X. Xu)
Takeshi Okamoto is a medical oncologist and therapeutic endoscopist specializing in hepatic and pancreatobiliary malignancies at the Cancer Institute Hospital, Japanese Foundation for Cancer Research in Tokyo, Japan. He was raised in Japan, Canada, the United States, and Taiwan before graduating from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, He worked for Goldman Sachs and Microsoft before founding Afia Corporation in 2003. He subsequently went back to medical school, graduating from Tokai University and spending the first ten years of his medical career at St. Luke’s International Hospital in Tokyo. In addition to board certifications in gastroenterology, gastrointestinal endoscopy, hepatology, and oncology, he has passed the California bar and is a US certified public accountant. His research interests include chemotherapy for hepatobiliary malignancies and endoscopic ultrasound-guided interventions. He is also an avid believer in writing case reports, being the first author of almost 40 case reports to date. Connect with Dr. Okamoto on LinkedIn.
TGH: What role does peer review play in science?
Dr. Okamoto: Peer review has been a cornerstone of scientific research for a long time. The process helps ensure that research is conducted correctly and that the appropriate conclusions are drawn. Reviewers also check for biases and review the relevant literature to identify inconsistencies and to determine where the novelty of the study lies. Moreover, the peer-review process adds credibility to scientific publications, taking some burden off the reader to fend for themselves when interpreting them.
Peer review may be similar to pro bono legal work. In both, the burden on the professional is not negligible. There may be some lessons to be learned from how the courts and bar associations fill the need. Bar associations strongly recommend and provide guidelines to encourage pro bono work. Some recognize professionals who contribute significantly, which is also increasingly done in the medical field. Some states also provide continuing legal education credits as incentives. There are also several unique problems in medical research. First, there is no centralized database of researchers for journal editors to approach. Second, reviewers have little incentive to provide excellent reviews, and are not punished for providing sloppy reviews. Third, journals are increasingly reaching out to a global reviewer pool, and some authors may have difficulties with the English language or understanding the standard of care in faraway countries. Fourth, most reviewers learn by doing; there is little opportunity to learn the art of reviewing, although online resources are available. The increasing number of reports makes it necessary to secure and educate a larger number of reviewers.
TGH: What do you consider as an objective review? How do you make sure your review is objective?
Dr. Okamoto: An objective review starts with adherence with reporting guidelines. Each review should be conducted in the same manner to minimize reviewer bias. However, not all reviews are created equal; the reviewer does not necessarily receive a manuscript on a topic right up his/her alley. My approach is to quickly read the entire article once, including the conflicts of interest (COIs). I then search the available literature, without relying on the authors’ references, to gain as current and objective a view as possible on the topic. I then reread each section more carefully, taking notes on errors and biases. When reviewing data tables, I focus more on the “pertinent negatives” to ensure that the authors have not omitted relevant variables that may raise suspicion of selective reporting. Sometimes linguistic errors can get in the way of an objective review. Grammatical and spelling errors are generally seen as unacceptable, creating a strong bias against the authors. However, not all valuable research is conducted by fluent English speakers, and researchers may not have access to high-quality English editing. Therefore, I always do my best to look at the science content behind the language.
TGH: Is it important for authors to disclose COI? To what extent would a COI influence a research?
Dr. Okamoto: Most scientists are proud of their work and will not let COIs get in the way of providing objective, unbiased data and conclusions. That being said, COIs can also create bias in ways that scientists themselves are not aware of. For example, an unconscious bias may arise when a scientist repeatedly attends webinars or conferences from a given pharmaceutical company. We are bombarded with a continuous stream of biases from birth, and it may not be an exaggeration to say that we are the result of the biases to which we have been exposed during our lifetime. To at least clarify recent interactions that may potentially create a large bias by disclosing COIs therefore seems to be appropriate. I believe transparent disclosure of at least financial COIs is essential. However, COIs can also be difficult to interpret. When researchers truly “err on the side of disclosure” there can be a long list of companies for each author, and the strength of each tie remains unknown. In addition to adequate COI disclosure, authors should take measures to minimize actual or apparent bias through appropriate study design, avoiding selective report and overly optimistic conclusions. Reviewers and editors must also be cautious of potential biases and provide appropriate feedback, particularly when financial COIs are involved.
(By Lareina Lim, Brad Li)