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International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society
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The role of young members in the peer review process

May 30, 2022
Series:Peer Reviewing
For this episode of the special series focused on peer reviews, Dr. Daniel Di Luca speaks with Prof. Marcelo Merello about the role of young members and trainees in the peer review process.

[00:00:00] Dr. Daniel Di Luca:
Hello and welcome to the MDS Podcast, the official podcast channel from the International Movement Disorder Society. I am Daniel Di Luca, Movement Disorders Fellow at Toronto Western hospital, University of Toronto. I am also the co-chair of the MDS Peer Reviewing Program, along with my colleagues, Dr. Kirby and Dr. Persad.

For today's episode, it's our pleasure to have professor Merello. Professor Merello was born in Argentina and graduated from the school of medicine in Buenos Aires University, where he later took his PhD degree. He completed an internal medicine residency at Simic and then neurology at FLENI, both in Buenos Aires. He was a Research Fellow in neurology at the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases, Queen Square and Research Register in Neurology at the Middlesex Hospital, both in London. Currently he's the head of the movement disorders section at the Raul Carrea Institute for Neurological Research FLENI in Buenos Aires, and director of neuroscience of the same Institute and currently teaching at the University of Buenos Aires, and as a professor of neurology at UCA. He is also principle clinical researcher of the CONICET, Argentina.

Dr. Morello has also co-authored over 250 papers in leading peer review journals in the field, written more than 20 book chapters. He also wrote, and co-edited six books. He was a member of the editorial board of Movement Disorders journal, and is currently co-editor-in-chief of Movement Disorders Clinical Practice Journal.

Professor Merello, welcome to the MDS peer review podcast. Thank you very much for being here today.

View full transcript

[00:01:45] Dr. Marcelo Merello:
Thank you, Daniel. Is it a pleasure to me to be here and participating in this podcast.

[00:01:51] Dr. Daniel Di Luca:
Thank you so much. We know as young members and trainees that doing our first peer reviews or when we get this invitation can be sometimes a little scary, and we don't know where to start. Can you just tell us if you think trainees and junior members can play a role in the peer review process? And if so, how do you see them?

[00:02:12] Dr. Marcelo Merello:
I think to be a peer reviewer is something that nobody teaches to you in the school or the residency, and definitely need some formal education. But sometimes something that I see in my fellows, which is something natural and the way that people evaluate, on the rounds, the articles. When they present an argument, sometimes they quote papers where anecdotic. Sometimes they quote papers that don't have proper evidence or are probably badly designed. So it's important for mentors just to teach in daily practice to identify good research from bad research.

To be a reviewer is not to transmit to the editors that there are some mistakes in spelling, that some words are missing or there are some problems in format. What we want to learn from the reviewersis their opinion. Is this worth? Is this valid? Is the hypothesis proved by the methods? Are the results coherent with the methods? And were they also able to discuss the results in a manner that will transmit to the reader?

 So this is what we expect from a good reviewer. And sometimes the best part of the revisions are not the ones they transmit to the authors, but the one they transmit to the editors in the confident commentaries. I agree that minor things should be pointed out to the authors because receiving the reviewer's commentaries is always, it's very helpful. It's teaching. I have learned a lot of my career from the reviewers. I have learned a lot from the rejections, to say, "wow, I haven't looked at that."

Of course something that we always ask for reviews is to be polite. To be polite, and to understand that what they are reading is a paper from a colleague that was made in good faith, that it took a lot of time from this person to prepare this work. And the work could be good, could be bad, but definitely it took a lot of work for the person who did it. So these also deserve respect, and deserves proper evaluation. That's in general, what we expect from a reviewer.

[00:04:52] Dr. Daniel Di Luca:
Yeah, excellent points. And I think it's certainly helpful to have your perspective on that.

Now can you comment your perspective on what is the incentive for someone to peer review and especially young trainees?

[00:05:06] Dr. Marcelo Merello:
It's an excellent point. I can tell you as an editor, every time it's more difficult to get good reviewers. Because, you see you are very busy in your clinic. You have your own research. You have your into your own interests. And one day, you receive a paper you need to read, you need to interpret, you need to go to pub med to check what they say. If you are not an expert on the field and it takes a lot of time. And, what do you have in compensation?

Some people say nothing. I know there's lots of people say nothing, that I'm doing this for nothing. And this is not true. This is a great opportunity to read about your field. And even if the paper is not properly written, not properly supported or conducted, there's always something to learn. There's always something to learn.

And currently, this is the only thing that we have in retribution to the reviewers. There is no economic compensation, but this is about keeping the field moving forward and to learn.

 sometimes as editors, we receive some papers and we sent to — I can tell you, and this happened in most journals — more than 15, we sent more than 15 invitations for reviewers. So we'd sit together and say, 15 people who receive this invitation declined to do it. Why? Because when they see the abstract, they see there is no learning point on this paper. So if the reviewers are not interested, probably the readers won't.

[00:06:52] Dr. Daniel Di Luca:
That's very interesting. Now objectively, how do you think reviewers should summarize their comments and suggestions for you? Is there any specific way that you think it should be done?

[00:07:04] Dr. Marcelo Merello:
Go for the wider conceptualization of the paper. Sometimes the editor needs to three or four sentences, a summary of the paper. Of course, we, the editors, read the paper, but this is interesting because sometimes when a paper is badly written — and I'm not talking about the language I'm talking about, the way that some people write — maybe the reviews didn't understand the paper. So first, we need to be sure that the reviewer understand the paper.

Second, we expect a conceptual comment about the paper. This paper ... this paper is new. This paper is scientifically sound. This paper is conceptually right. The methods are appropriate. The N of patients are appropriate. They use the appropriate statistic methods. The results are sound, are new, are confirmatory. And the authors really make a point on the discussion of the paper. So this is the first things that we like to see from a reviewer.

Then they say, okay, what are the major issues of this paper? And then they can put the major issues. And the minor issues are pretty minor.

Of course, we like to have this personal feeling about the paper in the personal commentaries to the editor.

[00:08:32] Dr. Daniel Di Luca:
It's a great point that the structure remains the same. And that's what you like to see in, especially the confidential comments, which sometimes we, we might forget to add quite a lot of details there.

[00:08:43] Dr. Marcelo Merello:
You know, I teach my fellows on how to review a paper ...and they don't know I'm teaching them to do that. Because every time they bring me a new paper, I say, okay, tell me what's new in this paper. Why this paper is important? Are you sure that the end that they have used it the appropriate? So, it's not something separately. It's a way that a young person interpret the literature. Because if you are not a good reviewer for yourself, when you go to Pub Med, or when you open MDCP and MDJ or whatever, you want success in your research.

[00:09:23] Dr. Daniel Di Luca:
That's a great point. And as we're talking about equity quite a lot at MDS, and diversity, we obviously have a huge part of MDS and MDS-PAS that comes from non English speaking countries. And we're both non native speakers, and we know the challenges of writing in English and academic writing. Would you have any thoughts on, or advice on, how to review a paper, how to write your review, as a non-English speaker?

[00:09:52] Dr. Marcelo Merello:
Yeah, I'm Argentinian. And I'm not a perfect English speaker. My co-editor is from India. He speaks fantastic English. The former editor for MDJ was from Spain. So, I don't think it's an issue. I don't think an issue.

I think it is an issue about writing the paper because you know, the language of the science is the English, and the English is telegraphic. Is very precise, un like our maybe Spanish or Portuguese or the Latin language, where many flourish. And we need to avoid this kind of way of writing a scientific writer.

Reviewer is not, is not an issue. I would say that I wouldn't be preoccupied about receiving a review, when clearly I noticed that the reviewer is not an English speaker. In fact, a great proportion, a great proportion of our reviewers are not the English speakers.

Dr. Daniel Di Luca: That's great. So I think the take home point is that don't be scared of writing a review or reviewing a paper.

Dr. Marcelo Merello: Absolutely.

[00:10:57] Dr. Daniel Di Luca:
And in your experience, do you have any common mistakes that you obviously see from trainees and that you think they're not aware on their first formal peer reviews?

[00:11:08] Dr. Marcelo Merello:
I think the lack of conceptualization of the paper. They're going straight to the obvious things, to the minor things. And what we expect from the reviewers is, I think you are an expert in this field. I need you to tell me whether this paper has been well conducted, has new results, and has something for my readers. That's what I need from the reviewers. Everything else is easy. Everyone can see the rest of the thing. But these three things are the critical points that we are looking for.

[00:11:46] Dr. Daniel Di Luca:
Excellent. And finally, would you have any advice to give to early career, researchers or young members about being a peer reviewer, something that maybe you would not have thought at our stage that you would have liked to known with your expertise now?

[00:12:05] Dr. Marcelo Merello:
I will say that always accept invitations. Always. This is a learning point. This is very important. Write the editors, letting them know that you are interested in review papers, certain area of the field. This is very important. You say, "My name is, I don't know, John Smith. I'm very interested in reviewing papers on dystonia. Please see some of my papers or my Google scholar, check to see who I am." And we always take note, pass this name to the secretary, and we put this person in the list of the reviewers.

Yeah, it's important — I mean, we need a new blood within reviewers. Because otherwise we, the editors, create a bias, a bias in the evaluation. Because we know very well, many reviewers. And in advance, we may predict this reviewer will say, 'No, this is publishable' or 'Yes, yes, this is publishable.' So we need not to enter in thisbias of reviewer selection. For that, we need new reviewers. All the time.

It's important that colleagues start to recommend you when they publish a paper, you as a reviewer.

[00:13:17] Dr. Daniel Di Luca:
That's fantastic. Thank you very much, Professor Merello.

Today we had the pleasure of talking to Professor Merello about the role of young trainees and young members in the peer review process. Thank you all for listening.

Special thank you to:

Marcelo Merello, MD, PhD
Professor of Neurodegenerative Disorders
Universidad Católica Argentina
Raul Carrea Institute
Buenos Aires, Argentina

Daniel Garbin Di Luca, MD   

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