The hidden side of clinical trials

Watch the AllTrials TEDx talk on YouTube

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Evidence matters to the public

Join us on 1st November at Parliament to make the case

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Plant Science Panel

Insecticides, biofuels, GMOs …

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'The Ugly Truth'

by Tracey Brown, director of Sense About Science

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November 2014 workshop

Peer Review: The Nuts & Bolts

St Andrews University hosted our most recent Peer Review workshop on the 21st November. Early Career Researchers (ECRs) from a diverse range of fields gathered to discuss the issues surrounding peer review and to hear advice from a panel of editors.

The event was transmitted live to enable ECRs from around the world to follow the discussion. Participants discussed the strengths and weaknesses of, and alternatives to, peer review. A lack of formal training in peer review was a common concern, as was the trepidation in submitting a first review.

Panel speaker

During the panel session Stephanie Harriman gave an introduction to the role of an editor and explained that peer review comments were not the sole factor in the decision as to whether a paper is accepted for publication. Stephanie went on to suggest that for researchers publishing their own work, it’s best to agree the authorship order pre-submission, to avoid difficulties further along the process. Irene Hames described the recent explosion in peer-review innovation which has given rise to a range of different publishing methods and styles; she also advocated that ECRs set up an OrcID. Irene then explained that editors and publishers have different systems, but that peer review should be treated as a dialogue and therefore ECRs can request clarification if they are unsure, and if they are treated badly should not feel obliged to review for that journal again. Verity Brown described how she finds and selects reviewers and how to be a good reviewer: respond promptly, declare any conflicts, follow instructions, and give detailed, well justified and constructive comments. One of Verity’s top tips is to state explicitly which aspects of the paper you are taking responsibility for as a reviewer when you submit your peer review.


The subsequent discussions revealed that ‘reviewers are only human’ so ECRs should not be fearful of making a mistake, especially as editors often use ECRs alongside more experienced reviewers. ECRs can also volunteer to act as peer reviewers, either through their supervisor (if supervisors pass a peer review request to their student they should acknowledge this to the journal) or by approaching journals directly, for example at conference stands. The participants also discussed the importance of explaining peer-review to the public and how it can empower people to make better evidence-based decisions. Sabina Michnowicz from Sense About Science then reinforced this message by describing our public tool, Ask for Evidence.

Peer review group discussion

Articles by participants

Anna Cupani

Anna Cupani is currently working on her PhD in Chemical Engineering at Imperial College, London in a joint collaboration with a Belgian research institute, VITO. She is interested in science communication and is member of Voice of Young Science. Anna shared her thoughts about the workshop on F1000.


Jillian HartJillian Hart wrote a blog on BioMed Central after attending the workshop. Jillian is a graduate of the University of Dundee obtaining an MA and MSc degree. She is now part of the Cancer Care Research Centre based at the University of Stirling where she works as a Research Assistant.


Benjamin PortelliBenjamin James Portelli obtained an M.A. degree in Psychology from the University of Aberdeen, sparking his curiosity about the brain’s role in vision. He is presently undertaking PhD study at the University of St Andrews, researching Visual Perception. Benjamin has shared his thoughts about the workshop on Taylor and Francis Online


Hannah AitchisonHannah Aitchison obtained a Masters degree in Chemistry with a one year industrial placement from the University of St Andrews in 2011. Recently, she completed my Ph.D. in Surface Chemistry, also at the University of St Andrews, where she investigated molecular self-assembly at the liquid-solid interface. Hannah has described her experience of the workshop in a Sage Connection blog.


With thanks to our partners: BioMed Central, Elsevier, F1000Research, Medical Research Council , PLOS, PRE (Peer Review Evaluation), SAGE, Taylor & Francis Group, University of St. Andrews, Wiley.

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Our partners Taylor & Francis Group interviewed Victoria Murphy from Sense About Science about the workshop, you can read the interview here

VoYS pinboard

  • Top tip 1: Ask for Evidence. If you’re being sold a product or asked to believe a claim then you deserve to know whether it’s based on evidence – or imagination.

  • Top tip 2: Detox. It’s a marketing myth – our body does it without pricey potions and detox diets.

  • Top tip 3: Superfood. There is no such thing, just foods that are high in some nutrients.

  • Top tip 4: Cleansing. You shouldn’t be trying to cleanse anything other than your skin or hair.

  • Top tip 5: If it sounds too good to be true… it probably is.

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