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Multidisciplinary Peer Review at PLOS ONE – improving the quality of peer review for interdisciplinary research

As we celebrate Peer Review Week, we are grateful for the contributions of reviewers and editors across a vast number of disciplines who make peer review possible for all areas of science. Since its inception, PLOS ONE has been intended as a home for all academic research disciplines. More than that, one of the founding aims of the journal is to provide both a home and a rigorous peer review for multidisciplinary research.

 

Multidisciplinary research has blossomed over the past several decades, creating a greater need for cross-discipline reviewers to assess this research. For example, as global climate change becomes an ever-increasing issue for our planet, researchers in fields as disparate as geophysics, paleoclimatology, and ecology work together to produce better models and predict ecosystem changes. We have also seen the increasingly productive application of computer science and engineering techniques to medicine and clinical research. And, as we gain the ability to gather and analyze seemingly endless collections of data, the resulting data science research is inherently multidisciplinary.

 

Facilitating peer review for these multidisciplinary studies presents a unique set of challenges. Gaining the contributions of reviewers with the right set of expertise for a given study is both the most important and one of the most difficult aspects of successful peer review. For research that spans several subject areas, this difficulty can become even more pronounced. As PLOS ONE Academic Editor Nicolas Fiorini attests:

“As it is difficult to find reviewers that have a background in both domains, often we have to rely on experts on a single domain to assess the quality of the article. However, experts in only one of the fields of a manuscript may fail to realize the value brought by the paper. I believe it’s the Editor’s job to take this into account and to make an appropriate decision based on this bias.”

 

Clearly, interdisciplinary research can require a unique mindset and expertise by the editors and reviewers assessing the work.

 

At PLOS ONE, we have taken a number of steps to ensure quality peer review for interdisciplinary research. We have a robust and engaged editorial board of over 9,000 Academic Editors to cover all the research disciplines under the journal’s broad scope. Our internal editorial staff work closely with our Academic Editors to handle multidisciplinary research submissions and find appropriate reviewers who can assess the different fields represented in a manuscript. For example, our staff provide assistance in situations where submissions may require a statistical review. We also maintain strong journal policies that provide guidance to our Academic Editors, such as our clear requirements for studies which present the results of health-related interventions. As a journal that represents all scientific fields, PLOS ONE has the foundation to provide quality peer review for multidisciplinary research articles that might have trouble finding a home in subject-specific journals.

 

“The structures that support interdisciplinary review are definitely crucial. I think PLOS One has good structures that support interdisciplinary review.” – Puwadej Meknapapong, Author

 

Providing quality multidisciplinary peer review can also strengthen the quality of the published article and help authors prepare their research to be received by a broader audience. Reviewers from diverse fields assessing the same article can help highlight and improve different points of the manuscript and ensure scientific rigor for all aspects of the research.

 

“Thanks to the interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary review [at PLOS ONE] we could reinforce the message of our findings and our discussion.”  – -Antonio Martinez Millana, Author

 

“My research is inter- as well as transdisciplinary, since I use information from engineering, geology, biology, and medicine in order to reconstruct how the species lived in the past, so to receive these different angles of criticisms from reviewers, pushes me to improve the final quality of my work and make it possible to be truly multi- disciplinary.”

-Karen Moreno F., Author

 

To all of our PLOS ONE editors who have worked to find reviewers from disparate subject areas and our reviewers who provided a complementary perspective on cross-disciplinary studies, we can’t thank you enough. We’re committed to sustaining and supporting the work that you do and promoting the multidisciplinary research you make possible. The future of scientific research is only looking to be more interdisciplinary- we know how important it is to have the right processes in place to continue to effectively evaluate this research. We are actively looking into ways of making updates to our processes to further strengthen interdisciplinary review- leave a comment below, tweet us, or send a message to the journal office with your own ideas!

 

This blog post was written by Kaelyn Lemon, Erika Mann and Anna Simonin.

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